This review focuses on, you guessed it, the women of Dark Knight Rises. Herein I’ll tell you what I thought of Selina Kyle and Miranda Tate, and as was the case in the past two reviews PREPARE FOR MAJOR SPOILERS.
Any fan of Christopher Nolan is likely aware of the fact that as to this date he has not released a single film featuring a female lead. Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception, and now Dark Knight Rises have all featured male protagonists with female characters all occupying various levels of supporting roles. While I don’t necessarily take offense at this, I do wish Nolan would occasionally make an effort to create stronger female protagonists and the first two batman films were no exception. Essentially the only female character of note in both of those movies is Rachel Dawes, and even she exists primarily as a love interest for Bruce and despite all of her spunkiness in the courtroom she is routinely saved by the caped crusader rather than the other way around. In The Dark Knight Rises he takes a step forward with the introduction of Selina and Miranda, but the film is still overwhelmingly dominated by male characters.
Just to give you a visual, here are all of the female characters who are given significant speaking roles:
Now here are all of the male characters with significant speaking roles
- Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)
- Alfred (Michael Caine)
- Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)
- Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman)
- John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)
- Bane (Tom Hardy)
- Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn)
- Foley (Matthew Modine)
- Captain Jones (Daniel Sunjata)
- The Mayor (Nestor Carbonell)
- The CIA agent (Aidan Gillen)
- Barsad (Josh Stewart)
- Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson)
- Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy)
- Father Reilly(Chris Ellis)
- Stryver(Burn Gorman)
I could seriously go on, but to re-cap we’re currently at Girls: 3, Boys 16. I do recognize that comic book narratives have always been unfairly skewed towards male characters, and that the Batman universe is just as guilty as any other in this sense. However, Nolan has shown again and again with his Batman films that he is not afraid to break free from the confines of most comic book norms, so there really is no reason he could have shaken it up a little bit by taking Captain Jones or Daggett or nearly any other non-comic book character in the film and making them a woman.
All of that aside, let’s take a deeper look at the women which are featured, starting with Selina Kyle. As I said in my first review of the film, a lot of people were unsure about the addition of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman when the news first came out. With the recent memory of the terrible Catwoman film starring a laughably hammy performance by Halle Berry, every ounce of that skepticism was well warranted. Even earlier, more liked versions of the character didn’t feel like they would fit very well with Nolan’s gritty atmosphere that had been established since the first few scenes of Batman Begins. As I watched the movie though, I found myself completely forgetting about Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and every other past version of the character. The actual name “Catwoman” is never expressly uttered, and aside from the ears at the masquerade ball and the black catsuit (Pun not intended) there is very little linking Selina to her past incarnations. In fact, the only scenes in which I wasn’t quite impressed with the character were those that more expressly referenced those past versions (In particular I found the apparently mandatory “Cat got your tongue?” line to be completely unnecessary). Everything else about Selina feels just as visceral and believable as any other resident of Nolan’s Gotham city. Between Hathaway’s spot on mix of confidence, deceitfulness and earnest emotion and some dynamite writing showcased spectacularly in her scenes with both Bruce and Batman, Selina Kyle was often the most riveting character on screen even while surrounded by the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine or Tom Hardy.
Last but not least, lets take a look at Miranda Tate. Tate is first shown to us as a wealthy member of the Wayne Enterprises board and a chief investor in a recent unsuccessful Fusion project put forth years earlier by Bruce during the time he was still active at the company. I’ve loved Marion Cotillard in every role that I’ve seen her in. She has the sort of classic beauty and grace that seems to be largely absent in our current cultural landscape, and she’s just as lovely here as ever. On my first viewing of the movie, however, my goodwill towards Cotillard did not fully extend myself to her character. Tate is perfectly charming and has more than a few moments of “Bazinga” worthy wit, but part of the problem with trying to fit as many characters into a movie as Nolan did in DKR is that some are going to be left by the wayside with respect to their development and Tate seemed to fall into this category. Her hook-up with Bruce after what one of my fellow bloggers described as “the proverbial Sex-Rain” all felt a bit too sudden and gave me more of the feeling that her character was there more to further develop Bruce Wayne’s character than to make a real mark of her own.
And then the reveal came, and armed with that new knowledge I later went in for a second viewing of the film and found myself much, much more satisfied with Tate’s Character. LAST CHANCE, IF YOU DON’T WANT THE BIGGEST TWIST OF THE FILM RUINED FOR YOU THEN TURN BACK NOW.
That reveal of course was that of the true identity of Miranda Tate: Talia Al Ghul, daughter of one Ra’s Al Ghul who we’ve come to be so very fond of. I had heard rumors over what role Cotillard would play and Talia Al Ghul was up there with the most common predictions. As time went on however, this prediction faded to the background and by the time I saw the movie I had all but forgotten about it. The lack of any mention of it pushed it even further from my mind until Tate’s true identity was revealed, at which point I can honestly say that I was genuinely surprised. Looking back, I feel that Nolan did a wonderful job of misleading us to achieve this effect, focusing on Bane himself as the main subject of past revelations and leading us to assume that he himself was the child of Batman’s mentor. As a quick note, several reviewers have mentioned dissatisfaction with the lateness of this reveal, claiming that it doesn’t allow the film much time to explore the identity of Talia beyond her explanation of the truth to a wounded Batman. I actually disagree with this in that I feel that the impact of the reveal was even greater with its place in the finale of the film, in that it took a scene in which our attention is so focused on the final battle between Batman and Bane that we almost forget Tate is even there let alone that she might not be who she has claimed to be for the entire film.
I could give my two cents worth on Juno Temple’s character, but there’s not much that needs to be said. I’m assuming Nolan put her there to give a sort of “Big-sisterly” angle to Selina, but the lack of development of their relationship makes her presence in the film more or less forgettable.
Check back tomorrow for my segment on Gotham City’s boys in blue (by which I mean law enforcement officers in case idioms are lost on you).