So finally we come to the end of an era of Batman, the Christopher Nolan era. I caught the The Dark Knight Rises at a late showing last night (11:15pm, with a running time of almost 3 hours we got out at 2:15am! What a long ass movie!). There were a lot of feelings I had to put aside with this film. One of them was comparing it with The Dark Knight, which I knew just wasn’t going to happen. That film for me was so perfect, and after seeing Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, there was no possible way in my mind that this sequel was going to top that. It’s the one thing I’m certain the filmmakers knew they had going against them when they started with this movie, so the solution apparently was to go in the other direction and make this one as big and as epic in scope as humanly possible. But while the villain Bane in this film is nowhere near as compelling as The Joker, they certainly do a good job of making himself a worthy threat, and he is certainly a force of nature in this film. So what did I think overall? Well, its definitely not my favorite Batman film. It’s the weakest in my mind in the Nolan trilogy, and its got problems, especially when concerning logic. But I did really like it, and I never walked away feeling disappointed. It was to me a satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.
I’m going to get into some major earth shattering spoilers here, so turn back now if you don’t want the movie ruined for you. There are a couple of things I’d just like to say before I begin. First off, I’m not married to any particular interpretation of Batman, whether it be the comics, or the Tim Burton, Adam West, or Joel Schumacher versions. Or even the animated series, which I do love. I see them all as just somebody else’s own take on the character, and I enjoy them for whatever interpretation they may be. It’s not the interpretation of whose right and who isn’t that matters to me, what matters is if the story is compelling, and that the character is true to itself by the rules set for the world of the film. Somebody argued with me about The Joker in The Dark Knight claiming that in their mind The Joker was always clean cut and well groomed, never the messy creature he was in the film. But for Nolan’s interpretation, I thought it was a unique take on the character, and it didn’t make The Joker any less sinister or terrifying. The other thing I heard argued about this film was that Alfred would never ever walk out on Bruce Wayne. But then again, I don’t think Alfred was ever quite explored in this way before. What if he did get fed up with Bruce? He sees Bruce as inviting more pain onto himself…and it just couldn’t stand idly back in the shadows and take much more of it. On a side note, I can see why this was an issue because of the events of the film. Alfred needed to be written out of the story anyway, otherwise in the back of the audience’s mind we’d be too concerned for what happened to him, which is distracting when there’s so much other stuff going down. I was happier they didn’t resort to killing him off, but the fact that he left out of his emotional heart suffering, I think it was the wisest solution for his character.
With Catwoman, while I did like her, it seemed like they didn’t really expand on her character as much as they could have. I do like the struggle of her being the sort of good/bad character that she is. But in the grand scheme of the plot she does come off as being sort of secondary. She has her moments though.
As for Bane, he’s probably the most difficult character to wrap around. His performance has some things that hold the actor back, the one thing being that he wears a mask, so the whole performance has to be done through the eyes. Not an easy task. As for his voice…it didn’t really work for me. He sounded like a mix of Darth Vader and a Texas oil man…there really just wasn’t much menace behind it. His actions are pretty devastating which more than make up for his handicaps. He also rips into Batman/Bruce Wayne pretty hard, even to the point of having him exiled to a prison somewhere in India (how this was accomplished I have some issues with). But while he was no Joker for sore, I still thought he was a formidable villain, which was all I could really ask for in the first place.
But there was one major problem I did have with the villains. I did have a problem at the end with the reveal of Talia al Guhl who turns out to be the main villain behind everything, which pretty much dethrones Bane turning him into a lackey. I’ve seen these kind of twists done in films before and it just frustrates me because we’ve put all of our emotional investment into Bane as being the leader, only to be told afterwards he’s just following orders from someone else we don’t really know or have any reason to fear. And we have no reason to fear Talia until we’re told were supposed to at the very end of the film, and it just doesn’t work. There isn’t much in the way of exposition of her true identity which is sort of rushed through, and she is just sort of killed off without us having any real connection to her real identity. We spent the whole film believing she was one way, only to be told she was somebody else, and then to have her die, all I could think was…well, I don’t think I really understood who this person was in the first place. You could probably compare something like this with the Vader/Emperor relationship in Star Wars, but we had reason to fear the Emperor who was far more terrifying than Vader, and he was basically using Vader as a puppet.
Towards the middle of the second and third act, the film starts running into logic continuity issues. While having Bruce trapped in a prison in idea is an interesting concept, the problem is it takes Batman out of the picture for the good majority of the films running time, and it seems to go on a bit too long without having Batman actually show up. The logic of Bane getting Bruce taken to India, and then Bane going back to Gotham again so quickly was also a little puzzling. And once Bruce got out of the prison, how exactly was he able to sneak back into Gotham after it was sieged under terrorist control? The police also don’t seem to have much of a clue as to how to deal with this situation, and having them all clustered in one group didn’t seem terribly smart. Then there’s the nuclear blast going off out in the ocean. I’d hate to say this, but Gotham would be screwed anyway thanks to nuclear fall out, everyone would probably eventually die from cancer. Fishing industries would go under as everything in the nearby ocean would essentially become poisoned. The whole city would go under and have to be evacuated anyway. And finally, the whole “death” of Batman is a little premature. Everyone knows he managed to get out of the ship somehow, its no surprise, but the fact that Bruce fixed the auto pilot thing so quickly when he had so much other shit to deal with was a little too convenient. How could he have possibly had time to get around to it?
There’s a lot to complain about here for sure…but to tell you the truth, I still managed to really enjoy the movie. The experience itself never let me down, and I liked that it managed to keep the dark, grounded, and heavy tone consistent throughout the film. Some other things I did like…Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake was a great character. I don’t know if it was necessary to spell it out for us that he was Robin (I kinda figured that out on my own). I did think it was sort of ironic that Blake would figure out Bruce Wayne was Batman based on a 20 year old memory at an orphanage when Gordon could never seem to put 2 and 2 together throughout the film series, at least not until the very end…but I don’t think Gordon’s moment of revelation about Bruce really had the punch we hoped for. Morgan Freeman was good as always as Lucius Fox, but I think he shined far more in The Dark Knight (especially in that great scene in that film where the guy tries to blackmail Fox when he thinks he knows Bruce is Batman, and Fox’s response is just priceless).
In the end, I was satisfied though. I wouldn’t mind owning this film to complete the trilogy. This will sound strange…because I think The Avengers earlier this year was a better film than this one…but somehow I wound up enjoying The Dark Knight Rises much more than that film. Go figure. It could have something to do with the grounded, darker tone. It could just be that I have an affinity for the Nolan Batman films more than the Marvel films. Is The Dark Knight Rises a great film? No, but its still engaging and compelling in its own way and despite its flaws it had me going for most of the film. It is definitely worth seeing, and if you’re like me, not being a huge comic book person, I think more than likely you’re bound to have a good time with it.