The Dark Knight Rises was always doomed to languish in its predecessor’s massive shadow, but Nolan’s final entry to the Dark Knight Saga feels sloppy and sluggish compared to his masterpieces. (8/10)
Living up to The Dark Knight was always going to be a herculean task, but no one was thought to be better suited to it than returning director Christopher Nolan. Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises falls rather short of its predecessor’s quality, but is still a vaguely entertaining movie in its own right. Tragically stripped of Heath Ledger, whose remarkable performance as the Joker single-handedly elevated The Dark Knight from great to excellent, Nolan compensates with a larger, grander story. The Dark Knight’s storyline and Ledger’s acting gave Batman, and by extension, comic-book movies a hitherto unprecedented level of credibility, with dark, realistic story elements, deep, vivid characters and a polished sophistication. It is a shame then that that legacy was so easy destroyed; The Dark Knight Rises suffers from the unhappy return of comic-book logic and clunky plot construction that allows for unexplained appearances and clichéd last minute heroics. The acting performances are outstanding, but the new villains’ performances, while distinctive and memorable in their own right, lack the power and iconic nature of Ledger’s. Where the first two installments of the trilogy felt episodic, The Dark Knight Rises seems created to be part of a greater whole, as Bane brings Gotham closer to the edge of despair and destruction that any villain before him. This movie lets Nolan tie up the trilogy’s overarching storyline – the rise, fall and eventual rebirth of Gotham’s Dark Knight.
Unlike its predecessors, The Dark Knight focuses on Bruce Wayne’s character, instead of Batman’s relentless drive for justice and vengeance. While Bane and the threat he poses to Gotham drives the plot, the story is centered on Wayne’s search for happiness outside of the cape and the cowl. Despite the more intimate, personal story, Nolan has vastly enlarged the scale of the movie; where the Joker terrorized Gotham for a few weeks at most, Bane is able to cut Gotham off from the world and hold it at gunpoint for five full months. Bane was an excellent choice of villain for this movie – he is a terrifying being, much like the Joker before him, but for completely different reasons. The fear the Joker inspired stemmed from his unpredictability and raging insanity but Bane is physically intimidating, highly intelligent and filled with a subdued, precise malice. Catwoman’s introduction is a breath of fresh air; Nolan captures the essence of the love-hate relationship that Batman and Catwoman share, though the actors’ chemistry is what really makes it work. While the premise of The Dark Knight Rises is certainly very promising, its execution leaves much to be desired. There are parts of the movie which feel clunky and irrelevant, such as the entire subplot behind the take-over for Wayne Enterprises. Though it served to introduce Talia and Bane into the mix, there have to be more succinct ways of doing so. Where The Dark Knight took pride in being a realistic depiction of a real-world Batman and Joker, The Dark Knight Rises simply stops trying after a while, despite Nolan’s claims prior to the movie’s release of finding “the reality in these fantastic stories”. It is never explained how Batman is able to move, let alone fight, without any cartilage on his knees, how merely strapping on a power walker restores him to his former self or how his back heals so quickly. Furthermore, there is virtually no explanation of how Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham from wherever he was, with neither money nor documents while still having time to casually stroll on thin ice and set-up inflammable Bat-Signs on buildings. I will likewise leave the calculation of how fast The Bat would have had to travel to clear 6 miles so soon to more capable hands. Nolan seems to have exchanged his dedication to realism and his attention to detail for a more symbolic approach – a fully lit Bat-symbol is hardly realistic in those conditions, but is nevertheless symbolic of the Batman’s rebirth.
Thematically, The Dark Knight Rises is about rebirth and revival, as Bruce Wayne tries to bring himself back into the game after 8 years away. Nolan knows what ideas he wants to explore in this movie but seems to overestimate how many of those ideas he can execute properly within the confines of the story. Batman’s personal story arc of revival after going through a baptism by fire is handled satisfactorily but Bane’s philosophical ramblings about balance, destiny and justice become hopelessly garbled as the plot develops and events unfold. For all of Bane’s ranting, we discover he is simply following Talia’s plan for vengeance almost blindly. The villains’ simplistic motive of revenge is a disappointing step down from the higher concepts of chaos and anarchy that the Joker fought for, or the more noble idea of justice that Ra’s al Ghul before him believed in. Nolan’s vision for the movie comes across as pretentious because he bandies these pseudo-philosophical concepts around but ultimately there is little in the movie to back his words up. Bane speaks of despair and crushing Gotham’s, and then Batman’s, souls but the audience sees little of this alleged despair beyond a few shots of Bale looking anguished. In fact, most of the Gotham we see during Bane’s insurgency is of the few police officers grimly fighting on against all odds, hardly the very picture of hopelessness and defeat. The movie’s, and the trilogy’s, epilogue goes some way in repairing the damage done by the rest of the plot, though. It was wonderful seeing Alfred rewarded for his loyalty and love by getting to see Bruce happy and as far away from the cape and cowl as possible, while the promise of a new Batman is certainly tantalizing. The notion that Nolan’s Batman would have sacrificed himself after saving his city, in keeping with the motif of either dying a hero or living to see yourself become a villain, is not without some merit. It would certainly have brought the character’s story full circle, but at the cost of ending the series on a downer. This might have been a better ending had the rest of the movie’s tone been suited to it, but this movie was ‘dark’ only in name and as such killing of the protagonist would have felt rather out of place.
What the plot lacks, the acting thankfully, more than makes up for. Christian Bale returns for the last time as the Caped Crusader, complete with his cringe-worthy Bat-Voice. However, his performance as Bruce Wayne is impeccable; the Wayne of comic-book lore was never a cheerful person and Bale was able to reflect that melancholy mixed with an appropriate amount of mental fatigue and despair. His frightening ability to seemingly alter his physique at will comes in handy as well – at the beginning, he is little more than a scrawny, haggard shadow of his former self, despite what his skills with a bow and arrow would indicate. However, by the end of the movie, Bale is in terrific shape and has his swagger and strength back (apparently, prison food was better than whatever crap Alfred fed him). Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is fiercely independent and dangerously competent, almost gleefully using her gender to her advantage, instead of being just a sex symbol. Yet, by occasionally showing vulnerability she remains accessible to the audience and likable as a character. Hathaway is able to portray the feminine (or is it feline) grace of her character excellently, being sassy, scathing and seductive as the situation dictates. Tom Hardy put in a remarkable shift as Bane but was partially hamstrung from having the greater part of his face obscured, leaving him little more than his voice and eyes to express himself with. To make matters worse, even his voice was often unintelligible due to the mask’s filter. To his credit however, Hardy was able to overcome all these obstacles to turn in a performance that was expressive and highly menacing. He conveyed the character’s unwavering conviction and his tears just before the character’s anticlimactic death made the character seem sympathetic, if only just for a moment. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows himself to be a versatile actor, playing street kid turned rookie cop, John Blake. Gordon-Levitt’s portrayal of the character shows a certain innocence and belief in the law that stops short of being construed as naïve. His character comes across as intelligence and tough despite Gordon-Levitt himself being far from intimidating, though he acquitted himself well enough in the few action sequences his character was involved in.
Nolan’s ability to shoot action sequences is still miles behind other action directors like Michael Bay, but he has nevertheless improved since Inception. The sequence where the explosives detonate, especially the ones on the bridges, were spectacular, demonstrating not just the magnitude of Bane’s plans but also leaving a troubling silence that allowed the audience to appreciate the impact of the events on screen. Nolan’s well documented love of real, live action scenes seems to have yielded to external pressure – The Dark Knight Rises has more CG effects than the two movies before it, put together. It’s understandable given the introduction of The Bat and the amount of vehicular warfare this movie involves. The fight scenes between Bane and Batman were absolutely spellbinding – watching Hardy take hit after hit from Batman without even flinching was a sharp reminder to the audience that Bane was physically and mentally every bit Batman’s equal. The subsequent beating that Batman took was riveting in its brutality and ended in one of the 90s most memorable comic scenes – the breaking of the Bat. The second, shorter fight between the two at the film’s climax was equally entertaining. Bane, in pain, and completely unrestrained, is an alarming prospect – no CG fight scene could have matched Hardy’s ferocity as he delivered body blow after body blow to Bale’s Batman. Despite the influx of CG effects into the movie, Nolan’s trilogy remains tremendously understated for a Hollywood blockbuster, especially, given its budget. Meanwhile, Hans Zimmer, the trilogy’s soundtrack composer, delivered yet again, with Catwoman’s ‘Mind If I Cut In’ theme and Bane’s ‘Gotham’s Reckoning’ theme both being equally memorable for the sheer excitement and anticipation they inspire in the audience.
Frankly, The Dark Knight Rises is only ‘dark’ in comparison to whatever Disney is putting out these days. As things stand, the Joker was a much greater threat to Gotham than Bane and Talia ever were. Though, Bane made Gotham a military state for a length of time, the Joker hurt Batman and Gotham on a much deeper level – he took their white knight, Harvey Dent, from them and took the love of Batman’s life from him. Bane’s legacy will pale in comparison. Nolan had an opportunity to truly drag Batman to his lowest low in this movie, to deny him love from Miranda, Selina and even Alfred, to deny him happiness and even to deny him life itself, but for reasons unknown decided against it. The Dark Knight Rises got a lot right and could definitely have gotten a lot more wrong. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t the best movie of the series but it does manage to conclusively, if rather clumsily, wrap everything up. Taken as a whole, Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is unquestionably one of the greatest Batman tales ever told, in any medium, but if The Dark Knight Rises was Nolan’s reckoning as Bane was Gotham’s, then Nolan has a deal to answer for.
Christian Bale (Batman/Bruce Wayne)
Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth)
Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle)
Tom Hardy (Bane)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake)
Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox)
Gary Oldman (Jim Gordon)
Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate/ Talia Al Ghul)