Watched Jul 22, 2012
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Darren Goodfellow said:
The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's final film of the 'Dark Knight Trilogy' is neither the rousing, trilogy capping finale that Bat-jihadists had clamoured for nor the disastrous 'Spider-Man 3' of the set; instead it is an overlong yet strangely rushed hybrid, where thrillingly staged set pieces and ambitious, even controversial themes, sit uneasily aside muddled motivations and "Hey wait a minute...." logic gaps.
But is it enjoyable? Does it entertain? The answer is a resounding yes but not for the reasons you may think.
Before I get into this film I should clarify where I stand on the other two entries in the series, 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight'. In 2005, when Batman swooped towards the camera after telling Sergeant Jim Gordon that he'd never have to thank him, I almost stood up and applauded. Someone got it. Someone got Batman. I was as giddy as a schoolboy. Every part of the film, from Bruce's journey from angry boy to dark protector, from his wonderful toys and extended Bat-family of helpers, to the explanation of his training and the ties to his eventual enemy - it was an amalgam of 70yrs worth of Bat-lore that felt real and fresh and exciting. Sure, nit-pickers cry "But, but...the microwaves at the end only vaporise the water-supply! That machine would kill everyone in the city instead! This duex ex machina has spoilt the illusion of reality carefully built up around this fictional man who dresses as a small mammal!" Guys, suspend your disbelief. This is an adaptation of a comic after all. The train finale is thrilling in execution and is joyous to watch. DEAL WITH IT.
In 2008, lightening struck twice when 'The Dark Knight' was released. An organic extension of the previous film, this film would follow Batman as he dealt with a city reacting to his appearance, which had cannily been foreshadowed at the end of 'Batman Begins'. Enough has already been said of Heath Ledger's Joker, who was a feral and uncontrolled maniac - but a maniac who had the measure of Batman from day one - but he was in no doubt the major reasons why this film became such a critical, as well as Box Office success. His untimely death would leave a hole in the planned third film's storyline...one that I'm not convinced was patched. The film would show that Batman was prepared to hang up the cowl and leave this city in the hands of a 'White Knight', Harvey Dent, and the new D.A and with the newly promoted Commissioner Gordon but The Joker would rip that dream apart and would take something even closer to Bruce Wayne away too. And that is where 'The Dark Knight Rises' picks up... 8 years later.
The new film opens with a reclusive Bruce Wayne, who has long since retired both Batman but also his own life. Comparisons are made to Howard Hughes but in reality, Wayne is not mentally ill; he has descended into a state of eternal grief, which has a pull even stronger than his desire for crime fighting. As a terrorist guerilla descends on Gotham with a strange (honestly, a really strange) plan and the "Cat" burglar Seline Kyle catches his attention, he once again picks up the cowl, against both doctor's advice and the advice of his surrogate father, Alfred. Things do not go well for Batman.
The reason? Bane: a terrorist, born and raised in a desert prison who appears to be a social-revolutionary, determined to expose the corruption behind the 'Harvey Dent' act and to smash social inequality, one ivory tower at a time.
Bane, played in collaboration between the actor Tom Hardy and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk body from 'The Avengers' was...very, very strange. There have been more column inches devoted to Bane's voice than on any other aspect of this film's production - including the casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle - but in reality, apart from being hard to make out sometimes, it was really not a big deal. His plan? Well, that's one of those big logic gaps I was talking about earlier and that was a big deal but I'll come back to them in a while.
Ultimately, Hardy as Bane was something of a letdown. As presented in this film he does not come across as a tactical genius or as a superhuman foe. He looked it. The early scene where Gordon is brought to him in the sewers finds him hunched over like a gorilla, bare-chested and enormous. When he stands up his men and the viewers pulls back to make room for him. I had high hopes for what Nolan would have this monster do. ..but he wasted him. For most of the film his bull-like chest is covered by a camo-vest and Del Boy's jacket, which makes him look swollen rather than swole. While the film does let him kill many people with his bare hands the violence is off-screen and subdued, which again, disappoints. The rating is not the issue here - Ledger's Joker came across as more threatening with his knives and smiles in a 12A - instead, and ironically, it's all in the execution. I was very pleased when Bane was announced as the villain this time round, as I thought Nolan could do wonders with him. I was wrong. Though his delivery of the "What a lovely, lovely voice." line was excellent and was one of the few laughs at my screening.
And so to Hathaway's Selina Kyle; who was pointedly never called Catwoman once - she didn't even own a cat! Hathaway was outstanding in the film but had very, very little to work with. Presented as being more than capable of looking after herself but in deep to the wrong people she had a very shallow 'redemption' arc to follow. It's to her credit that she made so much of an impact at all; though I did think that the push and pull between her and Wayne was very believable.
Another new addition was Joseph Gordon Levitt's John Blake, an idealistic beat cop whose job is to quickly unravel the major plot points for the audience. He is fine in the role, providing a nice reality check to Bruce Wayne and doing much of the running that Batman cannot due to his appointment with Bane's knee. I know that his character has angered some Bat-fans to the point of death-threats but he works for me. While not spectacular I like where the series leaves him and what that could mean for the future.
Series stalwarts Oldman, Caine and Freeman get small thrift in a film that is nearly three hours long and I cannot tell you why. Caine in particular is only present at the beginning and end of the film and is sorely missed as he is the heart and soul of the series, providing Wayne with moral guidance. I actually found Oldman's performance to be as little off in this film as if his Gordon was losing his mind. Maybe it was intentional but it struck me as odd. So too did Freeman's seemingly dead left hand which I kept focusing on until I googled it and found that it actually is dead, due to an injury that he sustained three years ago in a car crash and which made me feel like a shit. :(
And so to plot. This is where this film goes off the rails for me. Bane's plan, to show the world that Gotham is held ransom and is undergoing a revolution before he blows it up with a big fucking bomb is fine. It is a comic book movie after all. The trouble is that the film only tells us about this - it never shows it. When Gotham is under siege we're told that 12,000 people are trapped on the island. All we ever see is Bane's 40 or so bad guys, some random prisoners freed by him and a couple of hundred uniformed cops and Gordon and Blake's Groovy gang. WHERE ARE THE ORDINARY CITIZENS?
The film goes to some lengths to show us the dire straits - the bridges are blown and the tunnels sealed and Bane will blow the bomb if anyone tries to leave but even with the government supplies shipped in the city looks...fine. I’ve seen more damage in Cardiff city centre come Saturday morning. Literally no-one is shown affected by the siege. When Gordon turns up at Matthew Modine's door to berate him for turning his back on the city, Modine talks about his fear of Bane's men but he is dressed like it's a lazy Sunday and looks like Gordon has just interrupted his nap. This, more than anything else, means this film falls below the standard of the other entries - and I can even forgive the seemingly omnipotent and teleporting Joker in 'The Dark Knight'.
But it's not all bad! The reveal of Talia As Ghul was excellently done, not for its uniqueness but for its mirroring of her father's reveal in Batman Begins. Her revelation of the shared back-story between herself and Bane was nice, giving him an unexpected depth, which the film hadn't managed to do by that point and as Space Renege Ulala pointed out above, her stabbing of Bruce is a direct enactment of her father's advice to Bruce in 'Begins'. I hadn't considered that her accusation of murder to Bruce would make him think of the cycle that he is continuing but it's an excellent spot and makes me appreciate then end even more. But more on that later...
The action in the film is good if not amazing with the bulk of it coming from 'The Bat', the new toy of the film. It's fine but I always preferred the 'Tumbler' and was sorry to see it not appear on Bat's side. Where the film does excel is in its middle section, where Bruce is imprisoned. For me, this was a genuinely great sequence that nearly had me punching the air at its climax and its call-backs to 'Begins' well-sequence - and its surprise cameo by a certain wolf-punching gentlemen- mean this is the highlight of the film for me. Given a choice I would have cut the siege of Gotham story and watched 20 more mins of Bruce in the pit.
And so to the end...it's with no exaggeration that I say this ending is causing major waves in Bat-fan circles. Harry Knowles, the Aint It Cool News Webmaster and sometime Hellboy monster has put a bounty of $10M on the head of Christopher Nolan for his "brutal, shit-rape of Batman"*. You only have to dip into the forum of www.Nolanfans.com to see that the ending has divided fans down the middle like Harvey's face. Personally? I liked it. It felt like a proper resolution to the story started in 'Begins', with Bruce finally able to move beyond Batman. OR DID HE?
Nolan of course left us all dangling at the end of 'Inception', waiting to see if the top would fall but in that film it didn't matter if it was a dream or not and here I do think that what we see is in fact reality. But the way that the end plays out, a perfect facsimile of one character's hope from earlier in the film does make me suspicious...and I'm not the only one to think that.
Not that it matters, as Nolan, while he has been adamant that he is done with Batman, has left Warner Bros. an ending that allows them to continue the franchise without a full re-boot or even re-casting. Again, fanboys are frothing. I'm not as invested as they are so was happy with it, even if it was unexpected.
Overall, I loved what Nolan did with Bruce Wayne, the journey he took him on across all three films even if I didn't like how that journey was undertaken some of the time.
'Batman Begins' was a five star film. 'The Dark Knight' was a four star film. 'The Dark Knight Rises' is a three star film with four star ideas.