2012, Christopher Nolan
Following the massive success of The Dark Knight was never going to be an easy task, with critics and audiences alike having practically insurmountable expectations for The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final film in his Batman trilogy. For me, there was about as much that I liked about Dark Knight as there was that I disliked, so thankfully my expectations weren’t nearly as high as most going into this one. Still, I can’t help but feeling a little…disappointed by the way things were resolved by the end of this trilogy. Actually, maybe scratch that a little bit, I think the final resolution was handled well but the way we got there wasn’t so much. The Dark Knight Rises was, similar to its predecessor, a film with a lot of things that I liked but an equal or perhaps slightly larger amount of things that I wasn’t fond of.
I’ll start with the positives. This series of films has always been primarily about the characters for me, about the relationships between Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and those closest to him and in that respect I think Dark Knight Rises really excelled. Despite the fact that Alfred (Michael Caine) is frustratingly absent for a majority of the picture (which is a complaint I have), the film hits its emotional peak whenever he is on screen and he presents that human core which he always has been used as to center this saga around. The relationship between Alfred and Wayne is my favorite thing about this series and this conclusion builds so well upon what Nolan had established with these two characters in the first two films, aided by very strong performances from Caine and Bale.
Along with that relationship, the other one that holds the most significance for me is that between Wayne and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), which likewise was able to grow so well in this film. Gordon is a vital part of Nolan’s trilogy and here he becomes even more important, as a symbol for what the lies that new Gotham had been built upon meant for its people and for Wayne himself. With the best of intentions, Gordon and Wayne comprised a strategy to erect a false idol in the form of the deceased Harvey Dent after the events of The Dark Knight, but being able to see the personal torture that wreaked upon both men was a painful experience, again made all the more effective by the actors portraying them.
The Dark Knight Rises does its best work in building on the relationships that have been evolving throughout the saga, but it also introduces plenty (too many) new characters to the fold which ended up bringing with it some positives and some negatives. The ones I liked come in the form of Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake. I have a couple complaints about each character, particularly the way that Kyle’s allure, intrigue and personal vendettas are all but abandoned after the first act, but both actors bring a lot of skill to their roles and make the characters two bright points in the overall picture.
When Hathaway was first cast as Kyle I have to admit that I was one of those who thought she was all wrong for the part, fully believing that she wouldn’t be able to bring the sexuality and mystery of the character to a believable level. Thankfully, I was proven wrong within her first few scenes, with Hathaway bringing a playfulness to the character that presented a welcome contrast to the grim setting that Gotham found itself in here. The direction the character eventually went wasn’t something I was too fond of, but Hathaway was believable all the way through and I wasn’t expecting that at all.
Gordon-Levitt’s Blake was one of my favorite aspects of the film, and without spoiling anything (though I’m admittedly about the last person in the world to see this film), the way that they utilize him as a symbol for what Batman means to the average person was brilliantly handled. Levitt brought a maturity to the role that he hasn’t been able to do in his career so far, and this was a guy I was constantly rooting for and wanting to stand behind. Whereas Bruce Wayne falsely thought Harvey Dent was the one who could bring a human face to the things his Batman symbolized for Gotham, The Dark Knight Rises presents a new hero who could represent those things, and that hero is John Blake.
Now onto those new characters I wasn’t a fan of, starting with the supposed big villain of the piece, Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s not fair to compare anyone to the iconic status of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight, which already put Bane’s arrival at a disadvantage over just how staggering an impression he made, but even without taking that into consideration this is a character who felt considerably less memorable out of the gate. Bane is a hulking figure, but the way that Nolan wrote him felt too much like a repetition of many of the ideas that we had already seen used in this series multiple times, with a lot of his big schemes feeling like ones that would have come from anyone else in the series. Nolan didn’t give Bane enough of a distinct figure, despite Hardy giving the physicality of the role his best effort. The first big confrontation between Bane and Batman is one of the highlights of the film, an absolutely grueling beatdown of the hero we all idolized, but after that the character becomes considerably less impressive all the way to the final act which betrays practically everything they had established him as up until the point.
The other new character who fell considerably short of their esteem for me was Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, someone who right away never felt quite right fitting into Nolan’s Gotham or among these characters. The relationship that develops between her and Bruce is so thin and abrupt it borders on parody, and the final act reveals with Tate are laughable to say the least. This was just a poorly handled character from premise all the way through to execution, and Cotillard’s performance is a major weak point in a relatively sterling cast.
I’ve spent this review so far talking about the characters themselves, which makes sense since that’s a lot of what Nolan’s trilogy held in significance for me, but a lot of the other aspects of this film hold some major complaints for me as well. For starters, this is probably the first time in a Nolan film where I thought the sound design was distractingly bad. Usually his action sequences floor me, but here they mostly felt grating and overbearing, making the dialogue often incoherent as a result. I personally couldn’t understand what Bane was saying through his mask a good 80% of the time, but even beyond that there were plenty of times where I couldn’t hear what other characters were saying just because the resounding sound was far too overbearing. The film is also quite oddly paced, with awkward jumps through time, a first act that takes way too much time to establish the new state of Gotham and a final act that feels too rushed. The way that Nolan once again uses the villain’s time-based plot honestly felt incredibly lazy, given that he used that exact same strategy to heighten the tension in the previous film.
The Dark Knight felt like there was too much going on for one film to really properly contain, and while The Dark Knight Rises shows some of those same symptoms once again, it more accurately just feels like something that is broken into too many different pieces and not properly placed together. I liked plenty of things about it, particularly the emotional strength that the recurring characters held for me, but there are so many complaints that bring my opinion of it down considerably. Inconsistencies in character, pacing troubles, repetition on a writing level and a really staggering amount of plot holes that make no sense at all — The Dark Knight Rises certainly had itself stuck in a place where the expectations were going to be near impossible to overcome, but I was still hoping that I could have gotten so much more out of it.
Film #359 of The 365 Film Challenge.