Here’s a probably longer-than-usual impressions/review piece (not that I do too many of these anyway) for The Dark Knight Rises. I watched it in an IMAX theatre in the afternoon on opening day.
Will avoid spoilers as far as I can.
Some Things I Liked
- Not a Box of Chocolates: That is, you always know what you’re going to get with Christopher Nolan as far as spectacle and showmanship go. The opening sequence may not be quite as intriguing and dramatic as the robbery in The Dark Knight, but it does set the tone for the rest of the film in its sheer vastness and wow factor. Nolan thrives on the huge set-pieces, and The Dark Knight Rises does not disappoint.
- My City of Ruins: Sometimes it feels as if the trilogy is more about Gotham City than it is about Batman. It has always been something of a superficially decent city trying to keep itself from falling apart. That threatening underbelly finally spills out and enters broad daylight here. I’m not sure I would call it a joy to watch, but seeing it come to life was basically one of the more enjoyable things in the movie for me.
- Bane: I thought the whole Bane narrative was for the most part well done, with an engaging background/origin story that rendered him both fearsome and attractive as a character. (With things that complicate this even further late in the film.) On film, Tom Hardy pulls off the role with aplomb and conjures all the menace he possibly could behind that mask.
- Wayne: One of the biggest issues I had with The Dark Knight was how the limited Bruce Wayne and Batman moments basically made Batman looked shallow and something like a caricature. In this picture, Bruce Wayne gets a lot more screen time and does have his fair share of drama, and that was a definite plus for me.
- He Should be so Lucky: Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is just delightful to watch, and certainly offers something substantial to balance out the more grrr-rawr-argh brand of masculinity that the rest of the picture is so interested in.
- Kung-fu Fighting: I’m thinking it’s because they weren’t out-and-out action sequences and were meant to showcase the body in space and the physicality (both in terms of excess and struggle) of both Batman and Bane, but the fight scenes were rather more coherent to watch in this one.
- The Die is Cast: Sure, it kind of was to be expected, since many of them are returning actors in the series, but the cast (for the lead characters, at least) turns in a great performance. Apart from Hathaway’s charming Catwoman and Hardy’s Bane, Michael Caine has what I think are two of his best moments in this series here, while Gary Oldman is as impressive as he has always been. (Morgan Freeman doesn’t exactly have the most expressive of roles in these Batman pictures, but he does do what he can with it.)
- Mythological Figures: In spite of the change in setting, the leaning-towards-realistic tone, and Nolan’s pursuit of his own filmic and political agendas, the Batman mythology has been cleverly worked into the pictures through all sorts of little details in the trilogy, and this is more in evidence here than in the preceding entries.
Some Things I Didn’t Like
- The Devil is in…: I watched this with a friend and I wouldn’t say that we’re the most picky people where plots (and plot holes) are concerned, but some quick discussions shortly after the film threw up so many questions (and not the right kind, mind you) with regards to the plot that it became rather analogous to our porous Gotham City. Without giving anything away, it just felt as if the Nolan Brothers didn’t take care of the details as much as they should have. Very often, I found myself asking, Why is this here? Why would you do that? How come it didn’t do this? How is this even possible? I’m definitely no stickler for realism and believability, but some things just felt poorly explained, highly implausibly, or just plain carelessly written.
- I am not the Batman: While Bruce Wayne got his screen time, Batman just didn’t spend very much time being Batman. Setting aside the fact that this isn’t exactly the Batman from the comics (World’s Greatest Detective and all that jazz), Batman just didn’t do too many Batman things. Since The Dark Knight, the films have seemed to abandon the more distinctive qualities of the hero (fear, theatricality, etc.), which would otherwise distinguish him from other random superdudes. The problem is exacerbated because Batman spends a lot of time hiding behind technology like some glorified James Bond.
- And Then We Came to the End: I found the ending disappointing because it was a bit of a convenient thing that didn’t see any great big fight or struggle or self-enlightenment come into play. This was especially so because it is the end of a rather long trilogy of pictures, and to not see Batman punch things, use his skills, struggle against some big bad was all rather… short on gratification.
- Let’s Talk Politics: The film’s politics are certainly not for everyone, but the more troubling issue as far as the movie itself goes is how the politics can dominate the picture and get in the way of the entertainment. I wouldn’t call this a major issue, but it was something of an irritation.
- Why so Serious?: Nolan’s Batman movies have all been rather super-serious. This one cranks it up a notch, I think, and there are one or two moments where it can seem a bit hilarious. You know those moments.
And a Bunch of Mixed Feelings
- IMAX: Okay, this isn’t about the film but I guess mixed feelings is the place to put it. The IMAX was great, visually, especially after that rather disappointing theatre when I watched that Spider-Man movie. All that high-tech sound was a bit loud for me though, but I think it was just me.
- Epic: I didn’t put this in any of the sections above because it didn’t seem fair to like or dislike this aspect of the film, but the movie basically has something of an epic structure, which is fine given the pomp and grandiosity that it wants to conduct itself with. However, it also means that there isn’t any of that level of engagement that we saw between the (for lack of better terms) good guys and bad guys in The Dark Knight. In that picture, the Joker would do something, and Batman and the cops would react, and then the Joker would do something else, and it would just go on in this back-and-forth manner. Here, you just get Bane and his friends doing their thing and everyone else not being able to even put up a fight for about 80% of the film. This makes it all rather less exciting, and also contributes to that gratification issue I mentioned with regards to the ending.
- That Dog Chasing Cars: A related issue, perhaps. Part of what made The Dark Knight more successful for me than Batman Begins was watching the Joker’s whole “plan” develop. It was one of the most enjoyable things in that film. Moreover, the Joker’s final gambit wasn’t some conventional destroy-the-city plot, and its resolution had pretty much nothing to do with saving the day. In Batman Begins, we kind of get a generic superhero plot, with a fancy doomsday weapon, some convenient kill-switch mechanism, and a competent if entirely predictable resolution. The Dark Knight Rises has a plot that falls somewhere in between, though it does lean closer towards Batman Begins. There is something of a clever plot, but I didn’t care for it in the same way I cared for the Joker’s “schemes”. And, perhaps for a few good reasons (including the fact that this is the last film in the trilogy), The Dark Knight Rises opts for a safer conclusion as well.
- The Symbolic: Before watching this movie, I was concerned that the whole Batman as an icon/symbol thing would be so overblown that the film would turn out silly. That wasn’t quite the case. In fact, it almost seemed like they played that down a bit too much. Having built up the whole idea that Batman is needed as some kind of symbol for Gotham’s people, it didn’t feel as if the people were actually all that interested. Very few of them save for a few children, Detective Blake, and a maybe one other character or so really needed Batman as that icon. In Gotham’s darkest hour, what they really needed was apparently for Batman to save the day again.
- That Batman Face: You know, the one he has on all the time. I think it doesn’t help Batman’s case, but I find it hilarious and it’s also one of my favourite parts of all three movies. Same goes for the voice.
So, in that more general sense, I think most people who have caught the first two movies will be reasonably satisfied with this movie. My Didn’t Like section probably makes it all sound really bad, but the truth is it is still an entertaining if somewhat over-ponderous way to spend an evening or afternoon, and while not the highest point in the series, does certainly have its moments.