A lot of real and digital ink will be spilled over Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. As the conclusion to the commercially, critically and geek-approved Nolan Batman Trilogy of films, it’s a big deal and one that came burdened with a lot of hype. At some point I plan (but then, I have lots of plans that never get underway) to pick up my Spandex Cinema mantel again but do shorter reviews using video, with this trilogy being one I’d like to pick through. But in the mean time, here are my thoughts, in no particular order.
Mild ***SPOILERS*** to follow.
It’s A Strong Movie Closing A Strong Superhero Trilogy
“The Dark Knights Rises” will get a lot of “it was good, but…” style reviews. Due to what it is, the film came burdened with a lot of expectations and not all of those could be met. This shouldn’t overshadow that it is a good movie, a 5 out of 5 stars within the superhero / comic book film pantheon.
All The Flaws Of The Previous Films Are Visible Here
Despite some of the accolades they receive, neither “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight” were flawless films. Director Christopher Nolan (and I’m pointing the blame his way, because his name is above the masthead) has his weaknesses that creep into these films. These weaknesses include:
- Not being able to shoot good hand-to-hand fight scenes. He doesn’t seem to be able to do it. The view point is in too close, the pacing is uneven and although ‘realistic’ due to less rapid fight edits Batman just seems to move too slowly to not be shot a lot. (It helps that every gun-toting thug wants to get in close to Batman though.)
- Not shooting the chase action scenes in a way that makes clear the relative positions of everyone involved. Again, it’s better in this film, but he tends to ‘cross the centre’ and flip directions depending on which character he’s showing on screen, which makes it harder to track who is where during these chases. Seriously, Nolan – use a second unit director to shoot the action bits and hire one who does it well.
- The internal film chronology is messed up, as in, “Wait, I thought Batman was over there doing this at the same time this other bit was happening, but he’s here now too!”. Or it seems to go from “We’ve got five months” to “We’ve got two weeks” to “We have twelve hours” only because the movie characters tell us, not because it is visible to the audience. Yes, it snows, then the snow goes, but the narrative still seems jumpy.
- It’s not as bad as in “The Dark Knight”, but “… Rises” includes villains who seem to have read a lot of the script when planning out their master schemes.
Sleight of Hand
There are some very good nods to comic / Batman fans here. That’s all I’ll say.
Symbolism! Metaphor! Politics!
Where “Batman Begins” was a more traditional comic book origin story, “The Dark Knight” attracted evaluations that compared it to an endorsement of the United States’ policies of forced extradition of terrorist suspects, use of torture on suspects and electronic surveillance of its citizens for the ‘greater good’. Batman ends up vilified at the end of that movie, but his actions saved lives. With “The Dark Knight Rises” there is talk of tough crime laws that have worked in Gotham that some people want to now repeal, Commissioner Gordon’s use of myths around Harvey Dent to achieve the goals he wanted (but at the cost of his family and conscience) while there is a strong theme of the 1% versus the (very easily led) 99% leading to Occupy Gotham followed by the oddly bloodless Gotham Spring.
It isn’t hard to see the politics in this kind of script which is sure to get a lot of people talking, only to eventually settle on, “It’s alright because Batman did it”.
Speeches and Pronouncements
The script is over-written. Where it was acceptable in “The Dark Knight” for Michael Caine’s Alfred to provide some verbal exposition at a few points, a lot of characters do it in “… Rises”. Especially Alfred. We get it – you care for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne and think he’s headed down a fatal path with Batman – but could you please stop going on about it? Thanks. Show, don’t tell.
Which leads us to the problem of Tom Hardy’s Bane. Some will say the major problem with this character is the voice, but that’s not it. It is that he talks too much rather than doing. Where “The Dark Knight” showed the (late Heath Ledger) Joker demonstrating his character though actions (said actions distracting us from that film’s other flaws), Bane wants to have a chat about everything. His best scenes are where he fights Batman / others, or demonstrating his fearsome physicality. Unfortunately he doesn’t do enough of that.
Anne Hathaway does turn what could be a very underwritten persona in Selina Kyle into a true character. She’d arguably the freshest thing this movie has to offer. She also lets her expressions communicate to the audience what is going on internally rather than constantly talking about them (although her mask makes this easier for her than for Hardy’s Bane).
Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Jim Gordon is also excellent, showing (not telling!) a man tormented by the decisions he made to reach a desired end goal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake was a well-acted part, but I’m not sure I really liked his character as the only cop in Gotham who gets what is going on.
I’d like to point out that Cillian Murphy makes another appearance as Dr Jonathan Crane aka The Scarecrow in this film, and it’s a fun role.
So, as I said upfront, “The Dark Knight Rises” was good, but had a number of issues that stood out. I don’t think that any of these issues make it worse than “The Dark Knight”, but “… Rises” lacks a Joker-like mesmerising villain character to raise (*sigh*) it to the same level as its predecessor. It’s still a 5 out of 5 film for me though.