And with it comes a mass of hype and tragedy – the shootings in Aurora, Colorodo in the United States casting a pall over what should have otherwise been a typical opening weekend.
But putting aside the real world complications and the expectations for how Christopher Nolan would tie up one of the best takes on the super hero genre in, well, ever, how does ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ fare?
Pretty good. Which may come off as a back-handed compliment.
One can’t fault Nolan and company for the scope of the film. Its predecessor, ‘The Dark Knight’, is arguably one of the greatest super hero films (it helps that it is so grounded in being a great, gritty crime drama).
It is rare enough that a sequel would be better than the original, let alone the third film in a series being the best thus far (we’re looking at you, ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’).
In that aspect ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ fails; while a solid film in its own right, it is never able to match the sublimity of ‘The Dark Knight’. Part of this is due to Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as the Joker, whose complex and dark turn was a tour de force for the genre.
Which is not to say Bane, played by Tom Hardy, is not a worthy villain in the trilogy. Bane is actually a great foil for Batman in the film, and as the movie progresses and various layers to Bane’s personality and past are peeled away, we are presented with another complex villain of the kind Nolan excels at delivering.
Despite having a mask over his face limiting Hardy’s ability to emote, it’s a triumph of voice working and writing at how well Bane comes over. He is credible, cool, and calculating. And, as revealed later in the film (without trying to give away much), there is an emotional depth that is both unexpected and genuinely touching.
Anne Hathaway works as Catwoman, and looks great in the part, but the script fails to give her the same depth as Bane. Hathaway works to move certain key plot segments forward, and bring about a few of the crises in the film (not to mention one deus ex machina), but her talents are not fully realized here. Which is a shame, because the role could have been much more than this.
Hathaway’s Catwoman is deceptive, for sure, and pulls those few scenes off well where she is using her charms and guile to get what she wants. But this tapers off later in the film, and we get a rather flat version of the character. A shame.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Gotham police officer Blake, gets plenty to do as a good cop with a familiar upbringing. There’s a moral high ground that Blake fills which makes him a slightly one-note character, but Gordon-Levitt’s performance balances the character out and makes him more intriguing as the film progresses, and leaves some fascinating possibilities by the end.
The regulars from the trilogy do a fine job, but with the exception of Michael Caine their performances don’t particularly stand out. Bale is good as the embittered and weakened Bruce Wayne, and Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman (which means he could stand in a room and not say anything and still be better than most of Hollywood), but no performance really screams at me as noteworthy.
But the primary problems with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is not in the performances, but in the script. There are some flaws here that can’t be overlooked.
A minor nitpick is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character having guessed Batman’s true identity is a real stretch. By the end of the film it becomes obvious why they would give him this kind of push, but it still feels forced.
A larger problem is the timeline of events in the film. As I mentioned previously, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is ambitious in its scope, but stretches credibility in a few areas. The most obvious was Bane’s plan to have Gotham’s police force trapped underground for months. Sure, they’re fed food and water while Gotham is besieged. But when they are freed, they look pretty clean and chipper for having spent all that time, underground, with minimal food, no change of clothes, and next to no sunlight. And what’s even the point of feeding them if there’s the looming threat of detonating a device that would destroy the city? When the climactic battle begins, they’re shooting down those same officers. It would have been easier to have let them starve.
And who could have known that, to fix a broken back, you’ve just got to punch it and let the person hang by a rope for a little while?
The movie does deliver in most other areas. Bane’s “revolution” – a manufactured class war – is very relevant in today’s global economy. The cynicism around the Stock Exchange scene and the later uprising against the wealthy speaks to the simmering economic issues that have plagued us for the better part of the past decade. The movie not so subtly takes aim at the “1%”- even Bruce Wayne is not immune to this in the film. In this area ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ establishes relevancy.
It may seem that I’m being nitpicky about ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. And maybe I am. Truth be told, I loved the movie. I love how Nolan brought elements that tie the trilogy together, both in coming full circle to events in the first film and in showcasing the consequences from the conclusion to ‘The Dark Knight’.
As the final part of a trilogy, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a satisfying conclusion and riveting to watch. But objectively, I can’t ignore the faults in the film, which lay mostly in the script. There are moments that will make fanboys squee (you know which scene I’m talking about), and some nice touches that stuck with me (the final shot of the film, and its not-so-subtle thematic tie-in to the title).
Nolan is a masterful storyteller, and his work on this trilogy has been breathtaking. With rumors of a Batman film reboot coming down the line, it’s hard to imagine Nolan’s work on the franchise to ever be topped. His love for the source material clearly shows, and even if ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a flawed yet epic movie, it is still better than most of what else will be put out this year.