Review by C.J. Bunce
Thursday evening brought in the newest national movie theater marathon, this time for Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Starting at six p.m. with Batman Begins, followed by The Dark Knight and culminating with a midnight showing of the new feature film, fans of Nolan’s vision of Batman surely got their fix. Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is as it’s described–dark. But none as dark and bleak as the third and final installment.
Can you have fun at a movie that is so dark? The “dark” I am referring to in the context of Nolan’s film is “the bleak future ahead.” Batman films before Nolan also were dark, but in a fantasy, comic book way. I miss the sleek Batmobiles of earlier films. To be fair, the current various DC Comics Batman series are pretty dark–gruesome at times–so maybe movies are just mirroring the evolution of the comic stories. There’s a bit of a battle between making your story seem real and still have the rules of comic books apply. Battle scenes in the current franchise, with Tumbler tanks that could be right out of an Iraq army base, take away some of the fun, the fantasy, of watching superhero films. I want my Batman movies to be not only dark but also fun, and I am looking for escapism, not realism. If you have the same mindset, can you still have fun watching the new Batman movie? Sure. What I am not sure of is whether you may like The Dark Knight Rises more were you to see it without the benefit of the Dark Knight Marathon.
I attended last night’s screening of the full marathon with borg.com writer Art Schmidt. And we had fun. Crowds at these big screenings really want to be there, and really want to like the new movie. But where I had the most fun was re-watching Nolan’s second installment–The Dark Knight–on the big IMAX screen. And I think the crowd simply responded, audibly, better to The Dark Knight than The Dark Knight Rises. Would I have liked The Dark Knight Rises more had it not been viewed at the end of such a solid film as The Dark Knight? That’s the question I am left pondering.
I’d seen both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the theater when first released. I was not a fan of Batman Begins, other than I liked Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. I will acknowledge in the first two films the nods to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as a positive thing. I should have liked Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul, but didn’t. Last night, in the right mindset for a fun evening of movie watching, I was pleasantly surprised that I found Batman Begins to be better than I had remembered from viewing it in its initial release.
But it was installment two, The Dark Knight, that proved to be the highlight of the entire night. It cemented the reasoning for Heath Ledger being awarded an Academy Award for his performance as the Joker. His performance was both creepy and comical, despite his grim, psychotic nature. But Aaron Eckhart’s brilliant performance as Harvey Dent was not far behind. The writers of this “trilogy” seem to me to have screwed up somehow. Why? After watching all three films the real hero of the trilogy is unquestionably Harvey Dent. Despite him turning criminal after going through the murder of his fiance and the destruction of his face, he is entirely a sympathetic victim who acted heroically until his world was devastated. But this is all wrong–the hero of a Batman trilogy should be Batman, plain and simple. After watching the newest film, The Dark Knight Rises, we are left with a vision of Batman as a whiny adult who could not get beyond early tragedy in his life. Sure, he had it tough, and yes, he is a sympathetic character, but the character never really moves beyond the mindset of the young Bruce Wayne sitting in a cave. Classic Batman stories do not rely on Bruce Wayne moping around about his problems–he is able to push them aside and help other people. For me, the fatal flaw in Nolan’s trilogy is this basic thread at the core of Bruce Wayne’s character. What Batman fans want is a movie where Batman gets to be the hero, where he saves the day, and leaves a better world behind.
Most of The Dark Knight Rises does not even feature Christian Bale in the Batsuit. I’ve always thought a detective story focusing solely on Bruce Wayne and his analytical skills would be a great idea. For a book, yes. But now I know it doesn’t work for a movie. Fans want to see Batman being Batman. And not being beaten to a pulp by an ugly thug who has little motivation or character development. Tom Hardy’s Bane is just bad for the sake of being bad. Without revealing details, I think a plot twist at the end is predictable, and a last-minute attempt to make us feel sorry for Bane is too little, too late. You cannot really even tell what actor is playing Bane. The marquis credits say it is Tom Hardy, a solid young character actor who has been in Star Trek Nemesis, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Blackhawk Down and Inception, but how would any of us know who he was with that face-covering breathing apparatus? What does that thing even do? He acts like Darth Vader, even holding someone up by his neck. He sounds like Ian McKellan’s Gandalf. His dialogue is muffled. He speaks in loud shouts like the ringmaster at a circus.
Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda seemed to be an afterthought in the script, a character whose actions would have insulted the intelligence of the Wayne and Fox characters from prior films. There is no chemistry between Wayne and Miranda, yet out of nowhere they are a couple—right after Wayne speaks longingly of Rachel (who was killed by the Joker in the last film), and while we movie goers see him developing some attraction to Anne Hathaway’s Salina Kyle. (Seeing Batman Begins back to back with The Dark Knight also showed why Katie Holmes was better cast as Rachel than Maggie Gyllenhaal).
Caine, Bale, Freeman, and Oldman all were underused in The Dark Knight Rises, and when used they play caricatures of their roles from past films, even repeating scenes from the past two films, often doing things that seem out of character, like Caine turning his back on Bruce, like Gordon turning his back on Batman. Matthew Modine added to his list of drab roles by playing a police officer who came off as annoying and irrelevant. There are points where you don’t know whether to cheer the street mob or the police, the bad guys or the good. Ultimately everything becomes a free-for-all and Nolan tries to make Gotham a cross between the Holocaust and New York City in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a nice opportunity to shine in the film, but too much time is spent on his character, and not enough on Bruce Wayne or Batman, where the focus should have been. Throughout the movie you can’t help but look for how Gordon-Levitt will fill Batman’s shoes one day–like Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt in the last Indiana Jones movie. Note to Hollywood producers: if you are going to reboot your franchises every five years you don’t need to worry about taking valuable screen time to build up having younger characters pick up the reins for the title roles in future movies.
The best part of the movie was without a doubt Anne Hathaway as Salina Kyle. Although there were a few directing decisions that seemed like missed opportunities—like what could have been a more overt and less subtle switch from innocent maid to deceitful thief in a key early scene—her dialogue was the best of anyone’s in the film and her performance was also spot on. Her character had chemistry with Wayne, and if there was a saving grace to the movie it was the scenes of Batman and Catwoman together. Hathaway seemed literally to bring out better acting by Bale.
One good scene had Fox introduce Wayne to some new gadgetry, straight out of any Q scene in a 007 movie. Cameos from actors in past movies were also a nice addition, added some fun to the film, and the story at least made an effort to try to tie up storylines from early films.
Despair and hopelessness accounted for a long film that I thought would never end. Once it got to an ending, the creators could not decide which ending to use, so they used them all. The sound was loud throughout without letting up, lots of thumps and bass notes to tell you when you’re supposed to feel angst or fear. I know operatically the third scene of a three-part work often can have a large gothic, epic feel winding up to a conclusion, but the film did not feel like an ending, more like another installment in a continuing franchise. But the foundation of this third installment rests on the proposition that Harvey Dent was a bad guy in installment two. Harvey Dent was a victim who turned bad in the end. Gordon and Wayne do the right thing by not revealing the criminal acts he committed after his life was ruined. After all, Harvey Dent was dead. Yet so much of The Dark Knight Rises hinges on Gordon’s conflicts with this decision to keep this quiet. In the big scheme of things it’s not the gravity needed to support a film. It’s not enough to support a story and what happens to cause Gotham to fall apart.
The crowd had a good time but there sure was a lot to discuss afterward. Ultimately disappointment was what I walked away with for the new film, happy that I got to see The Dark Knight movie in the theater again, and it really left me looking forward to a new director and a new vision for future Batman films.
The Dark Knight Rises at our theater included a great, extended trailer for the next James Bond 007 film, Skyfall, including revealing the new Q actor as the young Ben Whishaw from The Hour—a very cool switch-up from the older characters playing Q in the past. We also saw a previously released trailer for The Hobbit, which looked great, and a fun preview for Expendables 2. The big reveal we were waiting for was the teaser trailer for DC Comics’ coming Superman reboot Man of Steel, and it was disappointing–very bland and unremarkable for what we heard was to be an exciting new preview.
It’s difficult not to judge The Dark Knight Rises against previous film, The Dark Knight, but it’s probably unfair. Halfway through TDKR, I started telling myself every time I was grossly disappointed or confused about a scene or story development: Don’t compare it to The Dark Knight, don’t compare it to The Dark Knight, don’t do it…
The real problem, however, is that the movie was disappointing even without the comparison. As Chris said, the Bane character was very underdeveloped, and in many ways came off badly. The mask was too large; It may allow Bane to beathe, but it suffocated any performance that Tom Hardy may have given. You could really only see his eyes, and though the eyes can convey great emotion, they hardly emoted anything during his scenes. Like Chris said, he was much more like Darth Vader, without the marvelous voice of James Earl Jones and the power of the Force. Bane’s lines were muffled and monotone throughout most of the movie. Bane was just bad.
The other big thing that stuck out to me were the half-hearted, completely misplaced references to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns comic series. There were four or five scenes clearly taken out of those books, and it was like Nolan was winking to the audience, whispering “Hey, I know you guys all want this comic to be made into a movie, so here’s some juicy pieces you’ll like.”
The problem with that is, though, it wasn’t The Dark Knight Returns. It wasn’t meant to be, it was never going to be. So the scenes that give reference to that great work, in my opinion, just leave the viewer even more disappointed that it wasn’t.
The last thing I will mention is something that Chris also alluded to; the political overtones of the movie missed the mark, big time. The societal allegory that the Nolans were aiming for felt wedged into the script like a square peg in a round hole. It wasn’t believable. It would be easy in today’t highly polarized political climate to jump on board the band wagon, and point to Nolan’s movie as just another great example of what’s wrong with our society today. But the suppossed rage that Bane ‘taps into’ from the down-trodden and unemployed in the movie, aimed at the ‘rich’, is never clearly defined and the scenes we see don’t run together well and more importantly they don’t convery or evoke the feelings that Nolan believes we’re meant to feel on that issue.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a mess of a movie. There are some good action sequences and some great supporting performances by Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, but overall the movie fails to deliver on several counts.