Directed by: Christopher Nolan || Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven
Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan || Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Mathew Modine
Music by: Hans Zimmer || Cinematography: Wally Pfister || Editing by: Lee Smith || Country: United States, United Kingdom || Language: English
Running Time: 165 minutes
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is the much anticipated followup to The Dark Knight (2008). Its predecessor had legitimized superhero-movies as veritable cinematic art as well as bankable franchises, and reaffirmed Batman as the cultural phenomenon who will put butts in seats no matter what the decade. Its sequel was no doubt altered in the aftermath of Heath Ledger’s untimely death before the release of The Dark Knight, and quite frankly, I have a hard time believing that would-be alternate sequel continuing the Joker plot-thread could have been more disappointing than The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR). I found this film to be far more disappointing than a more recent Batman film-incarnation, as a matter of fact. Read on, if you’re so incredulous…
To put it bluntly, TDKR is not only the weakest film in Nolan’s Bat Trilogy, it’s also the least impressive film Nolan has made yet. To say that Rises feels anywhere near as powerful and well written as either Batman Begins (2005) or The Dark Knight makes no sense to me. Quite frankly, it feels poorly realized, overly long, and hamfisted. The biggest problem with Nolan’s final Dark Knight chapter is that its story is poorly developed and is by far the most nonsensical of the trilogy. The film’s plot is also the largest in scale and the most ambitious of the three, which explains the screenplay’s inconsistent execution to a large extent. In its obnoxious 165 minute length, Rises fails to describe a single, well focused narrative, as its sprawling cast of characters and cliched doomsday conflict continually weigh down the much anticipated conclusion to Nolan’s tale.
TDKR stumbles in trying to continue the trilogy’s theme of telling a story about a city, that city of course being Gotham itself. The series has striven to illustrate Dickensian themes of justice vs. revenge, love vs. hatred, and order vs. chaos. In Rises, these Dickensian allusions are at their most blunt with Anne Hathaway ominously warning Christian Bale of a “storm coming” for the rich who have lived large on borrowed time, Tom Hardy bellowing speeches of working class revolution, giving Gotham “back to the people,” brief depictions of street riots and mob-run tribunals of the corporate elite, and even a reading of the final poignant lines of A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Gary Oldman. You can draw direct parallels from many French Revolution historical figures and characters from Two Cities to characters in TDKR. Bane is Maximilien Robespierre, Miranda Tate is Madame Defarge, and Batman could be either Sydney Carton or the Scarlet Pimpernel, the original masked hero and fictional savior of victims of the Reign of Terror (and also a wealthy aristocrat, like Bruce Wayne).
We hear that Harvey Dent’s posthumous policies have helped stunt organized crime, but we see little of the evils committed by the white collar criminals such as John Daggett (Ben Mendohlson) and Philip Stryver (Burn Gorman) in their wake, how the system abuses those without wealth and power. Since we never see or feel much, if any, of the wealthy’s white collar crimes against the lower classes, Bane’s (Tom Hardy) calls for social revolution and the subsequent riots and tribunals feel unwarranted. There is little emotional impact from any of the subsequent riots, neither disturbing shock nor grim satisfaction.
Instead, TDKR spends much of its bloated running time introducing uninteresting, unnecessary supporting characters like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Matthew Modine. All three of these roles are tedious and their purposes, repetitive. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne spends much of the film either moping around for no reason at all, or incapacitated with a broken back in a prison.
TDKR’s problems extend beyond its script into its direction as well. I’m not sure whether Nolan bit off more than he could chew with TDKR’s bombastic story, or if he had simply grown tired of Batman after writing and directing three films. While the close-quarters-combat (CQC) avoids the shaky-cam and hyper-editing of his earlier films, the slow, plodding choreography photographed in wide-angle isn’t much of a replacement. Batman’s primary confrontations with his antagonist, Bane, are physical this time around, as opposed to ideological or emotional, like his battles with Ra’s Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson) or the Joker (Heath Ledger); as such, his fistfights are of much higher importance, and they don’t deliver. The chase sequences are also dull and uninteresting, while the shootouts are tame and bloodless. The film also switches aspect ratios so frequently that it becomes distracting, particularly during the epic set-pieces.
TDKR is not a terrible film, despite how much I’ve ranted against it, but it is a massive disappointment. Its acting is solid across the board, even for its superfluous characters like Gordon-Levitt and Modine, and Tom Hardy is the most charismatic, memorable part of the entire movie. The film’s score, set-design, and overall production values are extraordinarily high. I just wish all this talent and FX-ingenuity had been in service of a more coherent story with more likable characters.
I am more than proud of Nolan’s work on this trilogy — a trilogy that was crafted by his leadership above all else, and a trilogy that returned the iconic superhero of Batman to fine form and cultural relevancy once again. He did a great job with Begins and TDK, but with this last installment, not so much. I guess I feel about Rises the way most people seem to feel about the Caped Crusader’s latest on-screen incarnation, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) — impressive in a visual and FX-driven sense, but lacking in character development and a captivating story. For my part, the differentiation is that Zack Snyder’s interpretation never seemed too grounded in realism to begin with, despite however many critics and fanboys lambaste the film for being dark or violent. Dawn of Justice is a melodrama, and one with far better action-filmmaking and FX than anything in The Dark Knight trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012) — yeah, I said it.
To me, Batman v Superman is a comic book-film that’s not afraid to be violent and weird, while The Dark Knight Rises is a crime drama that doesn’t want to be too violent, but at the same time dabbles in over-the-top superhero-spectacle, bad fight choreography, and hackneyed nuclear bomb-plot devices. It’s caught in the middle between Nolan’s established crime drama aesthetic, a modern homage to Michael Mann-thrillers with a light Batman-paint coating, and Zack Snyder’s unabashed, hardcore comic book-fever dreams, also known as hyper-violent, melodramatic, masculine fantasies. The Dark Knight Rises is neither here nor there, and to me, doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Dark Knight Rises fails to deliver the emotional impact of its predecessors due to its focus shifting from its setting and Bruce Wayne’s personal mission to a myriad of pointless minor characters. Many plot developments are either poorly motivated or nonsensical. Much of the hand-to-hand combat is slow, plodding, and laughable.
— However… Tom Hardy’s Bane is interesting and imposing when you can understand what he’s saying. Christian Bale is as reliable as always, yet he barely wears the cape and cowl for more than 25 minutes (seriously, I counted). Anne Hathaway is great as Selina Kyle. Several set-pieces are well staged, choreographed, and edited, such as Hardy’s Blackgate Prison speech.
—> ON THE FENCE: It’s hard to lambaste this film too much considering what Batman looked like on the silver screen before Nolan came along, but the fact of the matter is The Dark Knight Rises is a letdown.
? Batman Begins: WHERE WERE THE OTHER DRUGS GOING?! The Dark Knight: WHERE ARE THEY?! The Dark Knight Rises: WHERE’S THE TRIGGER?! Jesus Christ, Batman, the next thing you know, you’ll be screaming at people about where you left your car keys.
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