Movie Review – The Dark Knight Rises
July 20, 2012 3 Comments
In 2005, Christopher Nolan set out to essentially, in the eyes of comic book fans, right the wrongs of the past Batman films of old. The series has strayed away from what is a story about a conflicted individual, a man with a past marred in tragedy, but fuels his resolve to bring into the hearts of those who prey on the fearful. Outlandish sets, over the top villains and bat nipples were the lasting memory of an amazing comic book character who sacrifices himself for the greater good. Batman Begins would be the crowning achievement in comic book history, taking the colorful pages of comics and grounding the hero in a world which seemed all to real. In 2008, The Dark Knight built upon the foundation of the world that Nolan created and elevated to the pinnacle of comic book story telling and film making.
There has never been a more anticipated movie for a trilogy franchise than The Dark Knight Rises. The Magnum Opus to the final story in the Nolan Batman universe. Like all trilogies that come to an end, the story is bigger, the effects are louder, the action is increased and this is an all or nothing gamble to trying to exceed people expectations with the defining film to a story that watches a man overcome fear, rose up from the chaos of a madman and finally persevere through the pain of losing it all.
The Dark Knight Rises is the behemoth movie of the summer. The film opens up with an incredible mid-air hijack, extraction where we are first introduced to the Hannibal Lecter masked villain, Bane. A towering hulk of a man played by Tom Hardy. The airborne hijacking leads us to Gotham where the story from the 2nd film picks up 8 years later. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has been out of commission for those 8 years. Bruce has become a recluse, only to be brought out of retirement due to a new villain, Bane, who’s ties to The League of Shadows means that he is back to finish the job that Ra’s al Ghul wanted to do in “Batman Begins”. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and young, beat cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) start to uncover Bane’s plot on Gotham. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) starts to play cat and mouse game with Wayne/Batman’s interest, setting into motion the events that will lead to the downfall of Gotham.
I don’t want to give away a lot of the story, as there are several reveals and spoilers that will lessen the impact of the film. To say the least, I feel the The Dark Knight Rises feels too epic, too big, and too convoluted for it’s own good. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this movie, but when the first half of a 160 minute movie is just plot beat after plot beat with brooding acting and short exposition, I just don’t feel connected at all with the story. There is a lot of gears that have to turn just to get us to the second half of the film where we witness Gotham devolving into pure chaos.
But the plot beats move quickly, mainly with scenes of character exposition that is as if we just entered midway through the conversation. I think that this is a symptom of trying to go above and beyond the previous films, but there are just too many characters that is feels a bit rushed and disjointed. The film, director and actors just ask us to go along with the fact that Bane has some unbelievable ability to just show up wherever he wants and is already in control, no conflict at all. We don’t know how the league is just everywhere, but that they are and that’s that. Leaps in faith in story structure just seem to mount to against the overall enjoyment, but the film is saved due to the cast and action sequences.
Nothing is ever going to compare to the madness and psychotic brilliance that was The Joker in The Dark Knight. The Agent of Chaos challenged the morals of Batman, seemingly pushing him to the direction that he cannot be the righteous hero he wants to be. This go around, Tom Hardy plays the imposing figure of Bane, a man born in a Hell on Earth Prison and former member of The League of Shadows. A tactician of pain and power, Bane is a villain that finally gives Batman his equal in terms of strength and ability. Dismantling and breaking the will of Batman as he slowly begins to tear apart what he has fought for. I think Bane is far under utilizes a fully fleshed out villain. He is there more for the imposing presence he exudes, but his back story and motivation is overshadowed by the stories large narrative.
Anne Hathaway is a surprising character to the film, one that I dismissed initially after seeing the film. Her role as Selina Kyle is a representation of the citizens of Gotham as they begin to descend into madness and chaos due to Bane’s control of the city. She toes the line between fragile and powerful, self-serving and noble. You don’t know where she stands in all the madness, but you can tell that her goal is to survive at all costs. She can kick ass like the rest of the group, but often her sly mannerisms serve her best as she can play both sides of the conflict. Bruce Wayne/Batman actually have smaller roles in this film, as this isn’t about Batman really as it is about the secondary characters trying to survive without their savior. Still, Bale does hid gravel voiced Batman with incredible ferocity and gravitas, embodying the spirit of the beleaguered Batman while realizing his internal struggle to do everything to save his city will be what keeps the peace.
With 160 minutes of film to get through, sadly we lose sight of a lot of secondary characters. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is there, but only in ancillary roles, meant to just add and solve problems like a some weird Deus Ex Machina to the film. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is a pivotal character to the story, but isn’t really given any depth until it is completely relevant and convenient towards the very tail end of the film. Still Cotillard is graceful and elegant as her role Tate, a woman with a noble goal and hidden past. Michael Caine’s character Alfred is sadly missing from a large portion of the film. He is truly the lynch pin that keeps Batman and Wayne grounded to the reality of their situation. Caine is sadly underutilized, but it is part of the sacrifice to motivate Batman into action. Oldman and Gordon Levitt are get much larger roles in the film, teaming up both Gordon and Blake as a cohesive unit that do more for the city than Batman does. This is a foreshadow to a future friendship/relationship arch.
Nolan, over the course of his previous two films in the series, does grow immensely in terms of thematic development and grandiose set pieces. His action directing is phenomenal, with better fight framing and editing along with his ability to push the boundary of practical effects that don’t cheapen the thrill of the action. The bigger is better motif certainly took hold as the films explosions and action grew by leaps and bounds. It’s the most bombastic of his films, amping up the destruction and chaos, but still grounds the film in a strong reality that his universe has cultivated.
Thematically, Nolan explores the idea of pain, much like his exploration of Chaos and Fear in the previous two films. The pain of loss, physical, mental and spiritual pain is the centerpiece of the film. We witness society devolve into madness while Bane promises to show Batman/Bruce true pain in terms of watching the city he fought for be torn apart in front of his eyes. It’s a cruel tactic, ebbing away what Bruce has worked hard for, but it is the understanding that pain is also what drives us to do what we must to survive.
The Dark Knight Rises is the all or nothing film of the series. Nolan pushes us further into the dark, gloomy aspect of Batman mythos where in order to find salvation, we must first journey through the darkest parts of our life. We witness this tone and mood shift as the film crawls into the bleak despair of a city in chaos and Batman nowhere to be seen. We witness Batman as a broken man, with nothing but his city to fight for as everything is taken from him. It is this despair and hopelessness that fuels the rising of the people, Batman and the city itself.
The film overall has a lot of misses and a lot of strong points. The short comings of the film stem from the epic nature of the story and introduction of too many players to the film. The bigger action set pieces mask the plot holes and long run time, but it truly highlights the master technician that Nolan has become. For me, it is the weaker of the series, something that falls short of the hype and becomes too much of a bluster with everything that is happening. I think that a better focused film on the batter and broken Wayne would lend more to the struggles that he faces with the city he loves and protects, generating incredible moments of clarity and questioning what is morally right for him to do.
In the end, The Dark Knight Rises is big summer blockbuster that doesn’t fully live up to the hype of the series. It leans more towards action blockbuster rather than the character driven film that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight established. We are missing that connection to the characters, which only really shows up at poignant moments instead of the entire run of the film. But the long run time leads to big action set pieces which feels epic in nature as watch Batman and Bane slug it out. The total breakdown of society adds to the layers of the film and plot, while there are moments of brilliance from the large cast of characters.
I love this film for what it has given us. A true Batman film that redefined the genre and shows that hero’s can be grounded and complex. I enjoyed the ride, for as long as it was, and I can overlook the shortcomings as Nolan explores the depths of humanity and society, making it feel all too real at times. It’s a complete film, one that the audience ultimately needs to finish out the series, but not the film that we deserve.
Rating: 4 Cat-suited Anne Hathaways out of 5
Let the death threats, comments about my sexuality and saying my mom needs to be taken to pound town commence!
*images via RottenTomatoes