What happened between The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)? A little digging will tell you that they were going to bring back the Joker character from The Dark Knight until Heath Ledger passed away. It is said that, out of respect for Ledger’s performance, director Christopher Nolan did not want to recast the character in The Dark Knight Rises. This is a memo that was apparently not passed on to either Zach Snyder or Jared Leto in any of the films since Nolan’s trilogy. Then again, given the completely discombobulated state of the DC cinematic universe, who really knows what happened? My guess is that Ledger’s unfortunate demise meant that they had to scramble to figure out what to do with The Dark Knight Rises. If you have seen the film, then you will know that this was at task at which they completely failed.
For a brief moment, The Dark Knight Rises picks up where its predecessor left off, with police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) speaking at a memorial service dedicated to fallen district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). The events of that fall are known to us who have seen the previous film, but not so much to the rest of Gotham City. We then shift to a far-flung area of the world where the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is looking for a mysterious masked terrorist known simply as Bane (Tom Hardy). The CIA has captured a group of suspects, including nuclear physicist Dr. Leonid Pavel (Alon Aboutboul), and are attempting to interrogate them aboard a plane. One these hooded figures turns out to be Bane, and this is something he had been anticipating, wanting to capture Dr. Pavel the whole time. Bane accomplishes these things with a daring mid-air heist . . . and then we do not see him again for a while. Jumping ahead eight more years, and we are back in Gotham where a fundraiser is being held in honor of Harvey’s memory at the stately mansion of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Among the staff who are serving at the event is one Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Her demure servant persona is a charade for her life as a cat burglar. Her target is a special vault in Bruce’s private living quarters. Bruce happens upon this heist shortly after the fact, but is unable to prevent the theft because years of being Batman have left him a shattered shell of his former self. Her real goal, though, is to lift finger prints in order to give them to Wayne Enterprises rival John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn). He is also secretly working for Bane, who has now set up shop in the sewers underneath Gotham City. In the exchange with John’s people, Selina alerts the police to the deal, which also brings Commissioner Gordon to the scene (for some reason). When he ends up being a part of the detail that goes underneath the city in pursuit, he is captured by Bane. One of the officers who managed to escape is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Because he has somehow figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, John travels to Wayne Manor to ask Bruce to return as the Caped Crusader. This is given an extra level of importance when the stock market is attack by Bane and his men, which finally brings Batman back into action. Bruce also reemerges in the real world, joining his company once more in order to name the philanthropic Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) as the new chief executive officer (CEO) of the corporation that bears his name. As Batman, he convinces Selina to take him to Bane, which turns out to be a trap. Bane easily handles Batman, breaking the vigilante’s back while also breaking into the secret room at Wayne Enterprises where former Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman) developed many of Batman’s gadgets. Bruce is then sent to a prison on the other side of the world where his crippled form is forced to sit and watch as his beloved Gotham City is taken over by Bane. Bane literally cuts the metropolis off from the rest of the world, releasing all the criminals to run the town, and threatening to detonate a nuclear bomb if anyone attempts to escape or any kind of rescue mission is mounted. Remember Dr. Pavel? He is brought in to turn an energy source Bruce had been developing into a weapon. In his hole prison (literally a whole in the ground that can only be accessed by rope, Bruce uses the news of Gotham City events to fuel his (miraculous) come back from injury, and climb the sheer wall face to freedom. He then manages to (somehow) get back into Gotham City where he meets up with Selina and devise a plan to stop Bane and save the city. Selina’s job is ensuring an escape route for Gotham’s citizens, while Batman, with John’s help, frees the police force that had been trapped underground for the past three months to go after Bane. This time, Batman triumphs, only to be betrayed by Miranda. As it turns out, she is the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), the head of a criminal organization known as the League of Shadows. She stabs Batman and makes her way to the bomb, intent on setting it off. It takes Batman in his flying vehicle (Lucius, its developer, simply refers to it as “the bat”) flying it out to sea and letting it explode harmlessly over the water (except for the fish, I suppose). Everyone presumes Batman is dead, but Bruce’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine) has one last glimpse of his old employer on holiday with Selina as the film closes.
I could go on and on about the dumb moments in The Dark Knight Rises. How does a knee brace suddenly make an apparently crippled Bruce Wayne be Batman again? How is John able to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman? How does Batman survive a nuclear blast? A lot of people would also add how Bane’s mask made it hard to understand the words the character speaks. I did not have that trouble. Another aspect that is brought up and never paid off in the film is Selina’s overarching goal of obtaining a computer program that would allow her to completely erase her checkered past and start over again. It has an interesting Catholic name known as “clean slate.” How is that Catholic, you may ask? Because that is what happens when you go to Confession. Many that are not Catholics have trouble with this concept, even fellow Christians who also believe that God forgives our sins. Why that should be any different if you tell your offenses to a priest in a Confessional, I do not know. That is not the point. Instead, there is a belief that the Sacrament of Reconciliation gives the recalcitrant the opportunity to begin again with their relationship with God. Sin takes us away from that goal, and by definition, reconciliation gets us back on the right path. This is what Selina is looking for in a computer program, and John is unwittingly correct when he says to her that there is no computer program that can accomplish that feat. The reason I said this set up is never paid off is because, despite Bruce saying that the program does in fact exist, we never see it employed. Instead, we are supposed to assume (I guess) that when we see Selina at the café with Bruce at the end that she has begun her new life. Maybe she went to Confession? Who knows?
You can stop watching Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy after The Dark Knight. Nothing of importance happens in The Dark Knight Rises. For a Batman movie that lasts almost three hours, Bruce Wayne clocks in maybe about forty-five minutes as the Caped Crusader. Much of the rest of the time, he is trying to work himself back into shape to don the costume of the famous vigilante. Take this nonsense with the other inexplicable moments listed above, and you have one giant mess of a movie that can just as easily be avoided.