Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I waited over 24 hours before sitting down to this review.  I wanted to temper my initial reactions with the wisdom of time, as well as examining the thoughts of others and collecting awesome gifs for my blog version of things.

This review will be in two parts:  the first half will be my overall opinion with care to avoid major spoilers.  If you haven’t yet seen the film and want a non-obsessive-fangirl opinion of the film, this is for you.  The second half will be where I delve into the nitty gritty, both good and bad, and will be flagged as such.  All set?  Let’s begin.

The Dark Knight Rises
Overall Rating:  7.5/10

Although I enjoyed the first two Batman films in the previous series spawned by Tim Burton, I am one of the first who will say that Nolan’s reboot of the franchise has been brilliant.  Batman is not a fluffy, light superhero.  He is a truly dark man, living in a city of darkness and struggling to be a symbol of hope when he himself has little of it.  He’s an anti-hero, and Christian Bale has played him well.

I found the first installment, Batman Begins, to be a little dull and slow to move, but fully appreciated that it was the mythology establishment of the trilogy.  Kind of how half of The Fellowship of the Ring bored me, with me waving my hands at the screen saying, “Get on with it!  Go journey already!”  The Dark Knight, however, was brilliance.  Movie perfection.  This is thanks to the astounding talents of the tragically departed Heath Ledger, whose pitch-perfect performance of the Joker is breath-taking and unnerving – just as it should be.  The entire plot of that film, and the downfall of Harvey Dent, is so relevant and befitting the Batman/Bruce Wayne Nolan created with the first film.  I was left highly satisfied and wondering precisely how Batman would return.

With The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), we pick up eight years later.  Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, his business empire is going down the shitter, and Gotham City is oh-so-proud of its law, inspired by the heroic Harvey Dent, that keeps criminals locked away without parole.  Yes, the good times are a-rollin’ in Gotham City.  For the rich, anyway.

You see where Nolan’s going already, don’t you?  It’s ripped from the bloody headlines of the past few years.

Bruce is pulled from his crippled state of melancholy by Selina Kyle ripping off his mother’s pearls from a safe – and his fingerprints in the process.  Curious as to how the hell his magic safe got cracked, never mind why anyone gives a crap about his prints, he boots up the magic toys of the Bat Cave and eventually slaps on his suit again.

Simultaneously, we have a scene where an aged Commissioner Gordon ends up being taken prisoner in the tunnels beneath the city during a routine criminal chase and notes that, O hai! there’s a whole gang of people building shit of a nefarious type down there, led by, as one brilliant person on Twitter called him, “a Scottish Foghorn Leghorn with a dollhouse radiator stuck in his mouth”.  Gordon gets away severely injured, rescued by budding sleuthy cop John Blake.

We all know these worlds are going to collide in bloody fashion as Bane takes over Gotham City with a bang, so I’ll leave the major plotting here for now and move on to my general comments…. Although first:  props to Alfred for smacking down Bruce and being tired of his shit.

Visually, this is a Nolan film, and that’s a positive.  It’s as dark and brooding as any viewer would want a film like this to be.  The gadgets are cool, the costumes fun (aside from Catwoman – the ear-goggles combo was kinda childish), and everyone looks the part, right down to Bale hobbling with a cane after years of body-punishing crime-fighting.

Spinning off of that, the mortality of the characters is also something that’s handled realistically overall, which I appreciate.  Bale’s Wayne has visible scars and internal damage that’s true to what the average man would endure while playing superhero.  He looks older, somewhat less muscular (fitting since he’s been out of the game for eight years), and has to work to get back into shape.  Gordon, too, has aged and is slower, weaker and exhausted, yet still mentally with it.  He relies on Blake for his body while training his young mind.

The theme of mortality -0f the difference between a man and a symbol – is prominent in this film, as well as the notion of yin and yang.  Specifically, as one character puts it, you need to fear death to truly fight to survive.  It’s where that last push of strength comes from, that adrenaline surge that allows us to defeat obstacles.  If we don’t care about the consequences of failure, we cannot rise as champions.

All this said, TDKR has several huge issues with it that result in a film that falls flat and is frankly predictable, something Nolan isn’t guilty of in past work.  For starters, let’s talk about casting issues.  Anne Hathaway as Catwoman… ugh.  Seriously?  We all know she got this job because she is, for reasons I cannot fathom, a Hollywood “it girl” right now.  While she’s certainly not as terrible as Halle Berry’s version, she’s incredibly irritating and unconvincing for most of the film.  For starters, she doesn’t look sexy or seductive, with or without the suit.  I’ve never seen her that way, and every time she prances on screen, she reminds me of a teenage girl playing at Lolita to the annoyance of a man who’s after a grown woman.  Her strange accent she’s adopted for this role isn’t sultry or sinister; it just sounds… fake.  She needs to fire her acting coach and find another.  Most importantly, I don’t buy her as a love interest for Wayne, nor do I buy her as the poor, troubled woman who just doesn’t believe she can be a good guy (more on this in the spoilers section).  Frankly, all she’s got going for her is flexibility and spiky heels.

Bane…  I can let go of the fact that I expected him to appear larger than life.  What I can’t let go of is the fact that I couldn’t understand half of his dialogue, and given that Nolan is huge on dialogue as a part of his message, this is a tremendous issue.  My fiance had serious issues making out over half of what he said, so it wasn’t just me.  It reminded me of one of my bitches about Inglourious Basterds:  when a dialogue master castrates his own dialogue, a film is made lesser by it.

In general terms, before hitting the spoilers, the plot comes off tired (and, to a degree, ripped off from The Dark Knight and also preachy in its left-wing slant, which is bad since I’m a lefty-libertarian), takes too long to get going, skims through what should be the bulk of the film, and twists at the end in such a way that you will roll your eyes at how Nolan destroys everything he’s set out to do for the first two hours (or, in the case of Batman, the entire trilogy).  It’s not clever; it’s so painfully obvious in foreshadowing that even I, someone who hasn’t read the comics, saw so much of it coming.  I never felt that way in the first two films.

Whew!  Here’s where I suggest you leave if you have yet to see the film.  See it, by the way, if you’re a fan of this trilogy.  Just don’t expect it to come close to The Dark Knight.  As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the second film is the best film, because the director isn’t just grasping to go out with every bang he can ram into a flick.

Seen it?  Let’s really chat.

This blog entry really nails a lot of what irked me, so I’ll give a nod to a like mind before beginning with my first bitch:  I hated the ending.  Hated it.  I actually loved the initial ending, and even the second ending.  God, I feel like I just watched Return of the King for the first time all over again, because this is deja vu.  But the ultimate ending…. ruins everything for me.  It wimps out on a powerful ending.  Worse, you roll your eyes and realize that yes, Alfred did actually spell out the goddamn ending for you a good hour ago.  It’s not clever, Nolan; it’s corny.  You’re capable of better.  If the point of this entire film was to comment on the mortality of men versus the eternal life of a symbol, then Wayne should have died.

After all, what you’re telling me is that a) even though he told Selina that he couldn’t use autopilot, she somehow managed to meet up with him and flee, where they waited around for Alfred’s ass to conveniently come to his damn cafe and see him; b)  that, if Alfred hallucinated that finale, he actually thought Selina was a good girlfriend for him; c) that he somehow managed to leave a bag of goodies for Blake for pick-up in this process (I was willing to suspend that one and believe that he sat it aside before the final showdown brawl); and d) that Lucius never noticed for six months that Wayne fixed the autopilot.

Sorry, but no.  Your original ending was fine.  You pulled a serious Deus ex machina out of your ass.

Speaking again of Hathaway’s character:  I don’t buy any of her plot with Wayne.  I don’t buy her as a poor, hapless girl unable to catch a break or change.  I don’t buy Bruce forgiving her for setting him up to get his back broken by Bane and ass whooped.  I don’t buy Bruce even getting over the pearls, let alone selling him out and destroying his fortune.  I don’t buy her not knowing just how much damage she was doing with her thefts.  Last, I don’t buy him trusting her in the grand finale to suddenly be a good girl, let alone her sudden love for him.  Total. Bullshit.

Next plot issue:  the general class war theme is tired, not timely.  First off, we already had that in a more subtle and intriguing fashion during The Dark Knight, when the Joker pits the two ferries against each other.  I literally felt, watching this film, like Nolan had planned for Ledger to be in the third script and when that went to hell, he watched CNN for a day and went to town.  Strangely, he somehow spins from his initial message, delivered by Selina, of “How dare the rich think they can be so powerful and leave nothing for us down here?” to “The poor murder and riot without impunity and this is why the big, powerful cops and government have a right to slaughter the uprising and be in power forever.”  It’s like a backhanded compliment to Occupy.

How Nolan makes the lower classes come off…. Uh…. Yeah. Fail.

Next issue:  I concur with the above…  The whole “Bruce fails and fails to escape” shtick got old fast.  In fact, it’s used just to accelerate time like a diluted montage, just so Nolan can skip over most of the five months of class war.  I don’t get it:  you spend forever getting us to this point and we get maybe ten solid minutes of the anarchy and reversal of fortunes, featuring a horrifically underused Cillian Murphy.  Forty-five minutes in, the main conflict was still in the distance.  I know because I looked at my cell phone, bored and wondering how long I’d been watching the film for.

Blake recognizing Wayne was vastly oversimplified.  Instead of also pointing out his hiatus and connection to past events, all he can say is that, “You’re a rage-y orphan like me with a mask, so you’re Batman”?  No no.  Levitt is fantastic in this film, and I’d love a spin-off with HIM, and I did enjoy the end acknowledgement of what I knew from moment one, but his deduction skills in that scene were unbelievable.

Last point of contention:  the castration of Bane’s character.  Really?  He’s just a crying man in love with Miranda/Talia?  Ugh.  I liked him better as the unstoppable beast Batman just couldn’t overpower who’d out-thought him as well.  Kinda didn’t care for the Miranda twist at all.  I would have much rather seen her die and that spark Batman’s final surge of adrenaline.

Summing up:  casting, aside from Hathaway, was stellar; the core message of death/mortality/symbols and class war was a good idea executed imperfectly; but ultimately, the film becomes an indulgent piece of wank that doesn’t know when to quit.  Luckily for Nolan, a lacklustre film of his is still a great film by overall standards.  It’s just not a worthy conclusion to this trilogy.

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