dark knight rises talia

The Slow Knife

But does it all work? No. There’s one specific plotline that hinders The Dark Knight Rise. A plotline that, had it been removed, would’ve resulted in a film better than The Dark Knight. And I’m sure you can guess what it is – the Miranda Tate plotline.

When Marion Cotillard joined the Rises cast, internet speculation immediately began assuming she would be playing Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ras al Ghul, the villain from Batman Begins. Everyone involved with the film – including Cotillard – denied it. But in the end, the obvious was true – Cotillard’s character, Miranda Tate, was actually Talia in disguise – seeking revenge for her father’s death.

There are a few key reasons why this just doesn’t work. First and foremost: it ties Rises too tightly to Begins. One of The Dark Knight’s strengths was its ability to stand on its own. If you hadn’t seen Batman Begins, you’d still have a firm grasp on what was happening. Rises doesn’t unfold like that. It’s so reliant on previous entries, primarily Begins, that it suffers.

The second reason this doesn’t work is because it’s just so damn predictable. We know it’s coming the minute Cotillard shows up, and we’re just waiting for it to happen. And the third reason it fails is that it ultimately robs Bane of much of his power. Hardy’s Bane remains a formidable, scary foe for almost the entire film. But the minute Talia reveals herself, Bane is suddenly just a flunky. A hapless henchman. Almost all of his menace is gone.

It doesn’t help that Cotillard’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. When she fully turns into Talia, she decides to embrace her evilness tenfold, delivering each line as if she were a Bond villain revealing a dastardly plan for world domination.

Had The Dark Knight Rises removed Miranda Tate/Talia entirely, the film would flourish. On top of that, it would play out almost the same exact way. On top of all that, adding Talia into the mix smacks of fan service – something Nolan never seemed particularly interesting in before. I want to shout back in time to Nolan: “Nix the Talia stuff! Save the film!” Alas, it’s not to be.

bane

A Far, Far Better Thing

And yet, despite this major flaw, The Dark Knight Rises triumphs. Here is Nolan applying everything he’s learned from these Bat-films, and using it to the extreme. The chase sequences, scored by Zimmer’s pulse-pounding music, are breathtaking. The filmmaker stages a raid on the stock exchange that gives way to a motorcycle chase, and we’re there with him every step of the way. The climactic chase, in which Batman flies his bat-plane to try to stop Talia, is exhilarating.

At one point, Bruce Wayne ends up in a prison pit. He must climb out of the pit – with a broken back, to boot – to return to Gotham. Is this ludicrous? Yes, it is. But god damn it, it works. Nolan baits us, twice – showing Bruce trying, and failing, to climb out of the pit. When he finally does it – as the prisoners below all chant – it’s a stand-up-and-cheer moment. Bruce has overcome his physical and mental demons. He’s crawled out of hell. He’s headed back to save his city.

Then there are the smaller moments – Batman and Catwoman fighting side-by-side on a rooftop; Bane casually laying a hand on his financer (Ben Mendelsohn!) to show he has complete control over him; Catwoman throwing out the line “I guess we’re both suckers” before she and Batman share a big, passionate kiss; Michael Caine’s Alfred weeping at Bruce Wayne’s grave, devastated he’s failed him; and the haunting moment where Batman flies the nuclear bomb out to sea, and the people of Gotham watch as a mushroom cloud forms in the distance.

It culminates in a thing Nolan does so well – the closing montage. We watch as order is restored to Gotham. We watch as John Blake discovers the Batcave. We watch as Alfred heads off to Italy and learns that Bruce Wayne is, in fact, still alive, and living it up with Selina Kyle. And of course, Gordon reading from A Tale of Two Cities. Reading a passage from the end of the book that sums up the entire film so brilliantly:

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

Nolan closed his Dark Knight Trilogy on a finite note. Sure, Warner Bros. could’ve kept it going with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead, perhaps. But it’s clear that’s not Nolan’s concern here. He was done with Batman once and for all. It was his far, far better thing, and he was going off to a far, far better rest (or at least a well-earned vacation). Bigger, more personal films would follow. And the Dark Knight trilogy would stand on its own. No other comic book franchise has ever come close to equaling it. No other comic book franchise ever will.

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