WARNING! WHAT FOLLOWS IS A REVIEW OF DARK KNIGHT RISES. IF YOU ARE AVOIDING SUCH THINGS, MOVE ALONG.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Like many people of my faith (those brothers and sisters of the bag and board who view Free Comic Book Day as a holy day of obligation), I spent last night/ this morning celebrating the release of the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman cycle. The experience was underwhelming. Painfully underwhelming. For me this movie suffers from the unforgivable sin of mediocrity. This final installment of Nolan’s cycle does not live up to the promise of the other two. Yes it works thematically, but it isn’t nearly as well crafted. In spite of the movie being much more robust in the action department, I was actually bored. I was never bored during Batman Begins, and I hate origin movies with a purple passion.
So the movie is 2hrs and 45mins long, and the story is a bit of a mess. Nolan tries to give everyone a denoument. I mean everyone: Bruce Wayne/ Batman, Jim Gordon, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Selina Kyle, Marion Cotillard’s character, Bane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, and a couple of other characters introduced and wrapped up in this movie. Suffice it to say with so many characters (9+) receiving story arcs, there’s not a lot of Batman happening. Breaking it down, you end up with about two hours of an average hostage situation movie with 45 mins of Batman happening around it. Which brings me back to the old saw, I go to see a Batman movie because I want to see BATMAN. But I digress… If you’ve seen any of the Die Hard movies, Air Force One, or a movie where bad guys take plucky hostages, you’ll have no problems recognizing/predicting all of the story beats. Those 45 bat-minutes? If you read Batman comics in the 1990’s, you’ll have no problem recognizing/predicting the story beats.
Actually, source material is a major problem here. With The Dark Knight, Nolan, Nolan, and Goyer took a smattering of story and character beats from over 60 years of stories involving the Joker. That wealth of material allowed Nolan and company to create a story that was at once familiar and interestingly novel. Bane does not have 60 years of material to pull from. Basically he’s got one good Batman story, and as a movie maker you either tell it or you don’t.
Let’s talk about Bane. Tom Hardy’s Bane is the physically and mentally imposing frightful figure that he was during Knightfall. Hardy makes Bane a credible threat for any character that approaches him… until you hear him speak for more than a sentence’s worth of dialogue. The mask is the least of the worries here. Hardy’s vocal choice for the character is one part Sean Connery and two parts Yukon Cornelius all blended through an electronic Solo cup. It’s silly. I chuckled to myself during the movie when I realized that’s who Bane’s voice reminded me of.
I was also not expecting to think, “Well, that was dumb,” while watching a movie co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Dumb things happen or are said simply to progress the story. More than once something happened on screen, and I had to ask myself why whole committees of people considered that something to be good story-telling. In addition to dumb choices progressing the story, there are a couple of moments when Nolan and company try to be fanboy-clever rather than smart-clever. This is Nolan’s last word in the Bat-franchise, why is he now pandering to the fanboys? Worst of all, there are moments when we as an audience see something happen and then a character on screen tells us what just happened. Michael Bay does that sort of thing not Christopher Nolan.
Story arcs A – J, Bane’s voice, and the dumb little things all worked in concert to take me out of the movie watching experience. I could only rarely stop thinking about or feeling things that seem at odds with what the director wanted me to think or feel. After all of that, there are some strong points to the movie also.
Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne sets the new bar. This was probably true from the first movie, but we see more of him in this movie so it stands out more. He’s charming, disarmingly funny, and contemplative, but he’s also capable of garnering pathos. It’s enjoyable watching Bale play this character because he looks like he’s having fun.
Anne Hathaway was also outstanding as Selina Kyle. I never believed the alleged chemistry between Bruce Wayne and either of the Rachel Daweses. Based on what happened on screen it was inconceivable that Bruce would give up being Batman for Katie Holmes or Maggie Gyllenhaal. On the other hand, Anne Hathaway creates an interesting and imminently watchable chemistry with each character she interacts with, including both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle should have been the romantic conflict/interest from movie one. The realization that we suffered through Holmes and Gyllenhaal instead of Anne Hathaway slinking and kicking ass across the screen in the previous movies makes those excellent movies weaker in retrospect.
At the end of the day, if all you want to see is a summer explodey movie with people getting hit, this one’s not bad, it’s probably better than many. If you’re looking for the capstone to the first two smart and engaging movies, or even a good Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises isn’t it.