The Dark Knight Rises Review (SPOILERS)
Over the past decade, I've developed a fondness for even-numbered years. This is mainly because even-numbered years mean we get a new Chris Nolan movie to look forward to. Every other year, we are treated to narratively complex and fascinating films that manage to be both cerebral and pure fun—a dichotomy that is sadly rare in modern film.
2012 is an especially good year, because not only do we get a new Nolan movie, but on top of that it's a new Batman film, a sequel to The Dark Knight, viewed by many to be one of the best films of the new millennium. Needless to say, this is a highly anticipated film—something I've been looking forward to since the closing credits of Inception. So how does it compare to the others? Does it live up to the hype?
The Dark Knight Rises, the final Batman film in Nolan's trilogy, is perhaps his most ambitious film yet, at least in terms of sheer scope. There are a plethora of ideas and themes running through this film, not to mention interweaving plot threads and interesting thematic ties to its two predecessors. However, the execution of the film is unfortunately flawed in many aspects, the ideas hollow, leaving us with an imperfect offering.
Rises takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. Crime in Gotham is at an all-time low, thanks to the Dent act, a law passed in memory of Harvey Dent that I guess makes it super easy to arrest criminals or something. Because of this, there has been no need for Batman, but as Rachel Dawes stated in Dark Knight (and I'm paraphrasing), “there may come a time when Gotham no longer needs Batman. But I don't think there will ever come a time when Bruce Wayne no longer needs Batman.” This means that Bruce Wayne has become something of a recluse, a Howard Hughes-like shut-in with nothing to live for. This all changes when he catches wind of a criminal presence in Gotham in the form of the villainous Bane and his band of merry mercenaries. He dons his cowl once more to confront Bane, gets his ass kicked and re-crippled, and gets thrown into a prison in the Middle East while Bane takes over Gotham with the threat of nuclear destruction. In order to take back his city, Batman must escape the prison and uncover the truth behind Bane's plans, all before the nuclear device goes off. Also, Catwoman and Robin run around doing stuff, and Alfred's sad a lot.
To start with, the good. While Begins and Dark Knight largely functioned as their own standalone films, Rises seeks to be the puzzle piece that ties everything together, turning the three movies into a proper trilogy (as opposed to just being three Batman movies). Juggling plot threads from the first and second movies, Batman's larger arc can be clearly seen in this film, even if his transition from Dark Knight to Rises is a bit awkward (it's weird to go from “I've now met my eternal nemesis” to “well, I've got nothing to do anymore,” though I respect Nolan's decision to leave all traces of the Joker out of this film).
Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway are the newest antagonists to be added to the cast, and both of them do a pretty good job. I'd say that Hardy was downright excellent if not for a few plodding scenes where he seemed to be over-miming Bane's hand gestures in a kind of goofy way (the letter-reading scene, for example). His voice? Goofy as hell, but it kind of works. Hathaway's Catwoman isn't the same larger-than-life villain you got with Joker and Bane, and as such doesn't stand out quite as much, but still manages to really shine in a few spotlight scenes, and ultimately gives one of the better performances in the film.
Beyond that, there are some interesting ideas in the movie, even if they're not terribly well executed. The idea to link some of the themes behind the Occupy movement (namely, class warfare) to the people of Gotham certainly has potential, but is never realized. Similarly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character John “Robin” Blake is given a compelling character wrinkle near the beginning of the film (like The Avengers' Bruce Banner, he's always trying to contain his anger), but we never see this at any point in the film.
That's one of the film's biggest flaws, actually: we're constantly being told things, not shown. We're told about a class warfare that we don't see besides a shot of a hotel being looted. We're told John Blake has a darkness inside himself, but we never see that come into play. Even Bane fails to heed the “show, don't tell” rule when he tells the people of Gotham about Dent's corruption by reading a letter he claims was written by Gordon (perhaps the least compelling way to expose a conspiracy ever).
Likewise, the first ten minutes of the movie post-opener are heavily weighted down with exposition and monologues that fail to compel. Compare this to the first act of Dark Knight, which hits the ground running and doesn't let up until, well, the closing credits.
Add to that the various plot holes and leaps of logic (so the entire GCPD happened to get caught underground and live there for 5 months? How does every character just happen to know where people are when they need to be rescued? Wait, so Bruce and Miranda Tate are an item all of a sudden?) as well as the excessive hand-holding (Gordon just happens to carry his “Truth About Harvey Dent” speech with him everywhere he goes?), and what you end up with is a movie experience that quickly erodes under even the most average of scrutiny. And this isn't like Inception, where the various inconsistencies are secondary to the main message of the movie. In Rises, the plot holes are so large you can literally climb out of them.
The phrase “I wanted to like this movie” gets thrown around a lot, but oh my god you have no idea how much I wanted to like this movie. I kept trying to cut it slack, because Nolan is my boy after all, but each plot hole, shitty line of dialogue, or uninspired exposition scene further sapped my enthusiasm.
Again, the film isn't outright terrible. In its own way, it isn't even mediocre, as that implies it evokes an apathetic reaction from its audience. In my opinion, it's kind of shit, but at least it's shit that adopted a “go big or go home” attitude and managed to achieve both. It should be praised for its ambition, and damned for its execution.
Still, it won't stop me from looking forward to 2014 and whatever Nolan has in store for us then.