Film Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
This is how The Dark Knight Rises ends.
I kid, I kid! The above photo was shot between takes during the film's New York City shooting last year. But it's pretty awesome, right?
On a serious note, I want to implore that you don’t hold off on seeing The Dark Knight Rises in light of the tragedy in Aurora, CO. Movies are still an entertaining escape from the humdrum of daily life. Not going is exactly what the gunman wanted. Let's not give him this victory.
That being said, I saw The Dark Knight Rises yesterday with a few friends. As many can attest, it is probably the most anticipated film of the summer as it concludes Chris Nolan’s justifiably celebrated ‘Dark Knight Trilogy.’ So let’s get to the review!
This film takes place eight years after The Dark Knight, as Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s madness and became a hunted fugitive. Also, because of this, Gotham’s city government was able to push forward the Harvey Dent Act, which makes it easier to prosecute organized crime in Gotham. So in short, organized crime has been pretty much eradicated in Gotham. So that means, Batman and Commissioner Gordon won right? Right?
Wrong. All their success was based on a lie. As soon as Batman vanished into the shadows, so did Bruce Wayne from public life. Wayne has become a recluse who rarely leaves the rebuilt Wayne Manor. The physical scars are obvious, as he now relies on a cane to walk due to injuries suffered during his time as Batman. The psychological scars are even worse as he refuses to move on with his life. As Batman he had a purpose and a way to deal with the death of his parents. Not only that, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel of being Batman in the form of Rachel Dawes, his childhood sweetheart. But after the Joker killed her, Bruce sees nothing of value out there in the world. Alfred has tried to help his master and pseudo-son move on, but to no avail.
Also, Commissioner Gordon has not enjoyed the spoils of his ‘victory.’ The lie has eaten at him all these years, eventually costing him his wife and children who moved to Cleveland. He wants to reveal his deception and then resign as police commissioner, but can never find the right time (aka courage) to do so.
Enter Selina Kyle, who makes her debut as a character in the Nolan-verse. At first her purpose seems to be a jewel-thief who robs from the 1%, which Bruce Wayne is firmly a part of. But her trying to rob Bruce Wayne is actually what motivates him to get back out into the world. She has no allegiance other than to herself or whoever can get her a clean slate from her litany of crimes.
Then we have John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young cop whose keen instincts and strong sense of right and wrong make him a key ally to both Gordon and Batman upon the arrival of Bane.
Bane (Tom Hardy), an infamous mercenary and terrorist, has come to Gotham to complete what both Ra’s Al Ghul and the Joker couldn’t—destroy the city and its protector, the Dark Knight. Bane’s calculated and devastating attacks on Gotham are what finally brings Batman out of his self-imposed exile. But after all this time and all those injuries, it seems that Batman might have finally met his match.
Nolan really upped the stakes in this film. On a visual level you can see the entire budget on the screen, and I’m very grateful for Nolan being a huge proponent of practical effects over the excessive CGI we see in most blockbuster films of this scale. Gotham City truly felt like a real world megapolis, though it does come across as a mix of several big cities in the US due to Gotham’s exteriors being shot in Pittsburg, New York City, Newark and Los Angeles. It was a monumental achievement in film-making…but mainly on the technical and visual side of things. I’ll get into more detail in a bit.
Christian Bale delivered once again as an older, wearier and less-cocksure Bruce Wayne/Batman. He has truly succumbed to the pain that hobbled him his entire life, and feels he has no outlet for it until Bane starts causing trouble. But he has to come to terms with the mistakes he’s made both as Batman and Bruce Wayne in order to save the city he loves, and Bale delivers. However, his scenes with Anne Hathaway had a crackle to them which alleviated the gloom that is prevalent in the film. Their back and forth banter is straight out of the comics and cartoons, which is very much a good thing.
Speaking of Hathaway, as much as the suit was not my flavor, she did a great job as Selina Kyle (though the Halle Berry movie did set the bar at rock bottom). Kyle operates in a morally grey area throughout most of the film, doing whatever she has to and screwing over whoever she has to so she can survive. Aside from bringing the sexy, there were the great moments where Hathaway portrayed the vulnerable and conflicted woman underneath all that sass and swagger. In short, Anne delivered in spades. Bravo to her.
But back to Bruce Wayne. Here are a few things that didn’t make sense to me. For starters, given the extent of Bruce’s injuries, it would have made more sense had he been still active as Batman for the majority of the eight year jump. But when you look closely at the timeline of Nolan’s Batman films, Bruce Wayne was active as Batman for less than two years. All those lingering injuries would be more plausible if he had been active for around three plus years. And given that he is a freaking billionaire, wouldn’t Bruce have found ways to not only recover from the majority of his injuries but also prevent them? I know that Nolan’s world is steeped in reality, but when someone is a billionaire, a lot of that reality goes out the window. And in another note, once Bruce becomes Batman again, those pesky injuries (other than the back issue) seem to vanish. Huh?
Plus, Rachel’s death would have actually motivated Bruce to push himself as Batman, not hide out and do nothing. That doesn’t sound like the Bruce Wayne who went all across the world to find a way to fight injustice.
And now we get to Bane. He’s a beast in this film, heartless, driven by his own twisted belief system on destroying Gotham and proving himself the worthy successor to the League of Shadows that Bruce Wayne never aspired to be. Tom Hardy spent most of the film covered in a mask save one very brief flashback scene. However, he does wonders with just his eyes. Plus, the voice was not an issue as it was clearly cleaned up to be understandable. To think that Hardy has come so far since playing Captain Picard’s clone in the decisively bad Star Trek: Nemesis. And seriously, Bane should do poetry readings on Jimmy Kimmel Live. It would put Gary Oldman’s passage readings of Soulacoaster to shame.
However, I was hugely disappointed by Bane’s ‘fighting prowess.’ I expected to cringe at every blow he struck, recoil at every senseless killing. When the Joker did his ‘pencil trick’ during The Dark Knight, every living soul in the theater yelped and jumped out of their damn seats. Not so much here. I mean, he was just using a more aggressive version of Batman’s fighting style. For instance, when he got really gruesome or brutal, it either happened off-screen and we heard his victim screaming or the camera pulled back to a far off shot. FAIL. I know this is PG-13, but Nolan could have gotten away with a lot under this rating. If Bane was apparently so brutal even Ra's Al Ghul kicked him out of the League of Shadows, then let’s see that brutality onscreen.
On another note, the middle of the movie suffers from a lack of Batman and a rather contrive stretch of time in regards to Bane’s master plan. Bruce is essentially stuck in a prison for much of this part where he learns more about Bane’s origins and such. But it went on far too long.
But on a positive note, how could I not mention Hans Zimmer. He has been as much a part of Nolan's Batman as Nolan himself. His score was amazing, as expected. There are some familiar themes like Batman's throughout the film and the slight taint of the Joker still prevalent here and there, but Bane and Catwoman both get very distinctive themes as well which fit like gloves for their characters. There are differences in Batman's theme from the beginning of the film to once he puts back on the cape and cowl.
All in all, The Dark Knight Rises was a fun film and really closed out Chris Nolan’s run with Batman. The scope was epic compared even to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. But a lot of plot holes and bloat kept this movie from being great.
Spoilery specifics are about to be listed below.
WARNING: Extensive spoilers below if you haven’t seen the film. If you haven’t seen the film and are planning to, do NOT read any further.
Okay, on to some more plot specific stuff. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake was really great. There was a scene he had with Bruce in the early part of the film where he pretty much admitted that he knew Wayne was Batman. It could have been cheesy as hell but JGL’s acting made it resonate well. He still believed in Batman and does not believe that Batman is the murderer that every other cop in the city believes him to be. And even though Bruce finally gives up the cape and cowl at the end of the film, the John Blake character is a worthy successor (or so they hinted). Though, his ‘birth name’ being Robin was cheesy as hell.
The part that suffered the most was the middle portion of the film or anything involving the main weapon Bane was going to use on Gotham. There is no way that the U.S. government would have allowed Bane to hold its greatest city hostage for five months with a nuclear weapon and do no more than send in a few Special Forces operatives. Aside from it being unrealistic, that would just be plain embarrassing for the world’s largest economy on a global scale.
Not only that, the reason why there was a nuclear weapon was because Wayne Enterprises had been working on a fusion reactor to create clean, sustainable energy during the eight year jump before the film. But the moment he realized it could be used as a weapon, Bruce scrapped the project. This in turn, put Wayne Enterprises in a serious financial hole. So in short, it was Bruce Wayne’s fault that Gotham was being held hostage by a nuclear bomb. It doesn’t make sense why Wayne didn’t try to find a way to negate the project’s use as a bomb or at least dismantle it and destroy all records so it doesn't get used as by a rogue entity. Plus, when Bruce was bankrupted, wouldn’t he as a billionaire have countless other accounts and diversified assets all over to avoid something like bankruptcy? Who does Bruce Wayne’s finances, Lehman Brothers?!
And back to the middle portion of the plot, after Bane released all the prisoners from Black Gate prison and held Gotham City under martial law, we only saw the 1% getting sacked. There was no showcasing of these criminals attacking the 99%. That could have been a more potent gut punch to Bruce when he was being forced to watch Gotham’s suffering from prison. And on a smaller note, why didn’t Bane just kill all the cops trapped in the sewer systems? That way, those same cops he'd been supplying food to for five months might not become a problem later on. Didn’t they teach him how to tie up loose ends at Ninja Academy in Bhutan? Just a thought.
And while we are on this, Alfred ends up leaving Bruce because he refuses to watch him go down such a self-destructive path as Batman. Sorry, but Alfred Pennyworth would NEVER leave Bruce. At least not for the majority of the film (thanks methos84/Lou for the corrections). Alfred is loyal to the end. No matter what.
But one of the biggest missed opportunities was the story arc with ‘Miranda Tate’. That’s right, folks. Miranda Tate was just an alias for Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s. Granted, I was very pleased to have been proven right about her true identity despite the fake out with Bane being the son of Ra’s. In the comics Talia was always torn between her loyalty to her father and her love for Batman.
In my opinion, the romance between her and Bruce was forced and her whole character felt flat when she was revealed to be the true mastermind behind the plot to destroy Gotham as it was just a convenient plot twist. However, having her and Batman truly fall in love, and then him having to choose between saving Gotham and taking his place at her side as the heirs to Ra’s would have really stacked the odds for Batman!
Again, I liked The Dark Knight Rises, but because of its flaws I didn’t love it. But oh well, this film was still damn entertaining.
FYI, for those who haven't watched, here is the Jor-El version of the 'Man of Steel' teaser attached to The Dark Knight Rises. No sign of giant spiders, which is a good thing.