For all the bombastic glory of its pyrotechnic set pieces, for all the tense cellos and foreboding tubas of Hans Zimmer’s Wagnerian score, the beauty of The Dark Knight Rises rests upon the duality of a single concept – have faith in people. In a measure of strange parasitic symbiosis, both our heroic caped crusader and the masked terrorist Bane base their actions on the philosophy that the average citizens of Gotham will eventually take care of things themselves…with a little push, that is. For Batman, that push is bailing them out whenever things go awry. For Bane, it’s a ticking bomb and a kangaroo court.
This third installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise is very much what we all expected – a solid finale by which we’re comfortable closing the book on this trilogy, but resoundingly in the shadow of its predecessor The Dark Knight. Of course, there’s no shame in that. Even for a brilliant filmmaker like Nolan, what are the chances of toppling the greatest superhero movie of all time?
To begin with the good elements, the acting performances were simply out of this world. At this point, we’d expect nothing less of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. But the new members of the cast also hit home runs. Anne Hathaway, whose name wasn’t exactly congruous to ‘action star’ up until this point, turned the sleek acrobatics of Catwoman (whose moniker is never actually said outright) into something of great emotional depth. Tom Hardy, playing Bane, proves what sort of facial emoting a capable actor can perform without the services of most of his face. And for the record, the florid modulator voice works just fine. Joseph Gordon Levitt as John Blake, an up-and-comer in the Gotham police, seems to have packed on pounds of muscle as he deftly steps into a more stoic role than we’ve seen him play. Marion Cotillard isn’t blessed with a particularly meaty part until the end, but she shifts into the antagonistic role seamlessly.
The technical aspects of The Dark Knight Rises are also impressive. Any movie with such a gigantic budget would be remiss to botch its CGI elements, but it’s not only the special effects that are striking in this film. Zimmer’s score may be a bit ambitious, but in combination with the editors each passage seems to compliment its scene perfectly. Cinematographer Wally Pfister can proudly sit back and admire his visual work. Sadly, this will be his last film with Nolan as he’s leaving the camera for the director’s chair, but the bare cityscapes of Gotham may have been his magnum opus, and everything about the snow was a nice touch. Lee Smith’s editing was also a stand out among stand outs. Any detractor of this movie who claims that they didn’t at least get caught up in a set piece or fight scene is a stone faced liar.
Where The Dark Knight Rises falls short, unfortunately, is in the storytelling department. This isn’t to say that the brothers Nolan (Christopher’s brother Jonathan is credited as a writer again) did a bad job. In terms of thematic principles and character development, this is still superior to the popcorn flicks that Marvel has been producing. But this is simply a story at which we can’t and won’t stand in reverence.
The run-time (2 hours 45 minutes) is altogether too long and it’s not particularly difficult to pick out which scenes could have been cut to make the viewing experience more manageable. The exposition is clunky to the point that it takes a solid half hour to lose oneself in the movie, and the narrative pacing thereafter is inconsistent. The decision to reveal that Miranda Tate (Cotillard) is actually the primary antagonist is just a mind numbingly poor one. There’s no other way to put it. It smacks of a “gotcha!” moment more than an organic twist to the plot and it completely undercuts everything that Tom Hardy had built in his character. Bane may never have risen to the level of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but he didn’t deserve such a pathetic fate – merely the bait in a bait-and-switch scam.
And the epilogue. Oh god, the epilogue. If this movie had ended with Michael Caine staring knowingly into the camera, it would have left our mouths agape. Remember after watching Inception when you couldn’t get the sight of that top spinning out of your head? Something like that, but better. Instead, Nolan treated his audience like children. Along with Caine staring, we see Bruce Wayne with Selina Kyle in tow. Lucius Fox notices something about an autopilot. Blake turns out to be freaking Robin (I really really REALLY thought they weren’t going to do that) and he discovers the Batcave before we finally fade to black. None of this was necessary. Not even close. Worse yet, was all of this just a set-up to Batman’s portion of an upcoming Justice League movie? The Man of Steel trailer certainly makes you wonder.
All that said, this is a movie that I’d watch again as a stand-alone. The only reason to be overly picky is because Nolan set the bar so high for himself in 2008.
Of all the shining stars, Hathaway created the most unforgettable character. Selina Kyle’s battle with selfishness is really a matter of trust, and her ultimate decision to relinquish control at the tunnel is a conspicuously beautiful moment. And if nothing else, isn’t that what this entire trilogy was about? Committing oneself to a higher realization of the power of the human spirit? Let’s make sure it’s a lesson we don’t forget.