I am fully aware of the fact that by proclaiming my misgivings about The Dark Knight Rises I run the risk of being told to go find some other line of work or, even worse, go die. So with that in mind, here goes: I liked The Dark Knight Rises for the most part, but there were moments I wanted to take Christopher Nolan by his lapels and implore him to not make this movie so convoluted and dark. I know comic book movies have grown up, but sometimes the growth has got to be checked to see if it is still healthy.
I refer to the overblown references to the occupy movement and the need for the common people to rise up and take the world back from the bankers and rich people who are all holed up in their fancy apartments and offices. Do we really need something this close to our real world infused into a world that is ostensibly a world where we go to escape the troubles of our every day life? I saw this as a need on the part of Nolan, after the delicious mayhem of The Dark Knight, to root his fantasy even more in reality, something that is extremely hard to do and he succeeds only in part. It always comes across as an attempt to win the hearts of the blue-collar folks who frequent the movies more than those despicable rich people. Why not knock on their door and drag all their belongings into the street, because who are they to create a nice life for themselves. It is an incredibly cynical look at a real-life movement that in all its ridiculousness still had a great point and a mostly non-violent point at that (let’s hope the people in Oakland feel the same way).
With that out-of-the-way I must also say I didn’t feel bored for a majority of The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan manages to keep the pace up during the whopping 170 minute runtime, which is a feat in itself. We find ourselves about eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman is still on the run after taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s (a.k.a. Two-Face) death, something only Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth about. Gotham City needs its heroes and Gordon decides to keep the truth to himself, a tremendous burden that reflects on his face. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is holed up in his enormous mansion. He doesn’t want to show himself anymore after the love of his life died and he noticed Gotham apparently doesn’t need Batman anymore.
It is a visit from a beautiful young woman called Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a burglar after some family jewelry, that sets a new sequence of events in motion that will lead to a situation that could be the undoing of Gotham City, a city that looks more like New York City than Chicago this time around. Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman, leads Bruce Wayne to somebody called Bane (Tom Hardy), who wants to make some plans, that were initiated way back when Batman was also just starting out, come to fruition. Yes, to complete his trilogy Nolan goes back to the well and that leads me to one of the problems of this being a trilogy. But more on that later.
There is certainly a lot to like about The Dark Knight Rises. The music by Hans Zimmer is rousing as ever and the cinematography by Wally Pfister is eye-popping to say the least. Mind you, I did not see the movie in IMAX, so I can’t reach an honest verdict about the switching between IMAX and regular footage. The biggest problem I have, however, is with the screenplay. While intricately structured it is also incredibly clumsy at times. It is like in Inception, where every single step of the way was explained by the characters in dialogue. The possibility of an audience member not getting all the details is a horrifying idea to Nolan. He wants everything to be clear in the first viewing and that makes for some clumsy moments of overblown dialogue and situations.
Take for instance the moment that Jim Gordon has to address a crowd at the beginning of the movie. He has a speech in hand, but decides not to use it, because it contains a truth the city of Gotham is not ready for. Instead of having Gordon just put away the speech, Nolan has to have him explain to the crowd (read: the audience) that it contained a truth they would not be able to handle. This is all just to set up a plot point later in the movie that I will not divulge here. This is schlocky screenwriting at best. Nolan is said to be a director who trusts his performers to do their job, but in this instance he doesn’t trust in Oldman–arguably one of the best actors we have–to carry this scene. If he wants to create an intelligent comic book movie, he also has to allow the intelligence of the audience to work with him. And this is just one of several moments in the movie where you see Nolan standing in front of the screen in the theater screaming, “Do you get it? Good. Then we can move on!”
On a more positive note, I absolutely adored Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. I really like Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, but that was more because her Selina fit perfectly in Burton’s seedy world. Hathaway’s Selina is much more close to the Catwoman we know from the comics. She is a brilliant burglar, who literally has a love-hate relationship with Bruce Wayne. The way Hathaway plays her is fantastic. You never know from one moment to the next what she is up to. She can go from a kick-ass fighter to a whimpering victim within a heartbeat and that makes her a joy to watch. Hathaway is also the master of the understated look of disbelief and she uses that technique to great effect to undercut a lot of what the other characters are saying and doing. You always feel she is one step ahead of everybody, while in reality she really is not. She is cocky and far from perfect. She may be my favorite element from the movie and I hope to see more of her when the series progresses.
Then there is the whole connection to the previous installments. And, I guess, here be minor spoilers. To tie his trilogy neatly up in a bow Nolan goes back to Batman Begins with the return of the organization that trained Bruce Wayne in the first place. This weighs heavily on the plot of this movie and that leaves me to wonder what the purpose of The Dark Knight was other than to set up The Dark Knight Rises in its last few minutes. Of course, the return of The Joker would have been nearly impossible, but would it have been too much to ask to make a little more of a deal of this madman in the context of this third movie. After all, he was the one who trashed the city pretty good not too long ago. Also, he didn’t die in The Dark Knight, right? So he must still be locked up in Arkham for all I know. A little nod to this iconic character would have been nice and it would have made The Dark Knight a bit less useless in this trilogy. Heck, even Dr. Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. The Scarecrow from Batman Begins) makes another useless appearance.
The cast is generally fine. Bale delivers his dependable moody Bruce Wayne who has to go through an all new set of troubles, including having to open his own door. Tom Hardy is enormous as Bane, Batman’s evil enemy who doesn’t hesitate to blow up a football stadium to show us even America’s favorite sport isn’t safe from harm. While Hardy is physically intimidating he still has to wear that mask at all times, which makes his on-set dialogue nigh unusable. In its stead we get a voice that sounds like a bad imitation of a young Sean Connery filtered through a Darth Vader mask. Every time I heard him speak I was ripped out of the movie due to its ridiculousness. Why did they go for this voice? Did they want to make him more sophisticated or something? This is a hired thug who was supposed to sound like the enormous hulky mass of human tissue he is, not some college professor from Glasgow, Scotland. On top of that there was no mention at all about what that mask really does. It somehow prevents him from dying, but how it does that is never explained. I also wanted the Venom poison to play some sort of role in Bane’s existence, but that also didn’t happen. Well, you can’t win ’em all, I guess.
I was, however, glad to see a pivotal scene from the comic make its way into the movie. What that is I will not say, but believe me, I wasn’t very sure whether Nolan and his friends would have the guts to put it in here. It was a feeling of great triumph for fans of comics to see that nod to the source material appear in The Dark Knight Rises. The fight that leads up to that moment is also a great sequence of events that will have you glued to your seat. Great stuff. Same goes for the chases and other spectacular scenes in the movie. There are enough chases through the streets of Gotham to keep you occupied. The inclusion of a flying device for Batman was a nice touch. Also, the (partial) destruction of Gotham City at the hands of Bane is a thing of beauty in all its sparseness.
I know that after reading everything I have said above it is hard to believe I actually had a good time watching The Dark Knight Rises. I just didn’t have a great time watching it. Something I was hoping for because The Dark Knight was so damn good. With a Justice League movie on the horizon it is hard to imagine Warner Bros. going right ahead with making another stand-alone Batman movie. They will probably mimic Marvel in making movies that will all fold into the Justice League. Is this a good thing? Time will tell. All I need to know is that Nolan is probably out of the director’s chair to make room for a fresh and maybe less heavy approach to this material. The possible inclusion of a certain sidekick should prove to be interesting in that regard. Let’s just hope Nolan doesn’t maneuver stooge Zack Snyder into the main position like he did with Man of Steel. I shudder at the thought.