The Dark Knight Rises represents the end of the Christopher Nolan era of the Batman film franchise, and is an era that will live on as a memorable interpretation of Bruce Wayne’s journey from traumatized orphan to crusading savior of Gotham City – The Batman. I found the last chapter of Nolan’s cinematic Batman saga to be a mixed bag of parts that I really enjoyed – loved even – and aspects that fell short of being great, so I’ve decided to highlight 5 strengths and 5 weaknesses from the film.
1. BRUCE WAYNE – The man behind the cowl of Batman was able to shine in this last entry in the Dark Knight trilogy by being freed of the “foppish playboy” persona he had to endure as a way to throw off suspicion of his nighttime activities in the first two installments. Bruce is allowed to be himself – a down-to-earth and sincere gentleman – throughout the entirety of the movie, and explore the possibilities of a future life with two very different women. Not surprisingly, Christian Bale gives his best performance of the trilogy and he achieves an effortless earnestness in the Bruce Wayne scenes.
2. SELINA KYLE and MIRANDA TATE – Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (she’s never referred to as “Catwoman” in the movie) and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate each create a palpable sexual tension with Bruce Wayne, and in Selina’s case, with Batman as well. Both Selina and Miranda cause playful friction in their exchanges with Bruce Wayne, forcing Bruce to move on from the tragedy of losing his betrothed Rachel Dawes at the end of The Dark Knight. It would have been great to have had more screen time dedicated to both of these beautiful ladies, but they made it work with what they had.
3. BRISK PACING – The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at 164 minutes. But, in my opinion, the nearly 3 hour running time doesn’t feel quite that long thanks to the relentless marching on of the larger-than-life story.
4. FULL CIRCLE: BEGINNING, MIDDLE, END – If you haven’t watched Batman Begins recently, I would give it another viewing before heading to the theater to catch Rises because the latter follows up on plot threads from the first installment that serve as treats for longtime Batman fans. I’ll just say that Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows return in unexpected ways. The references to The Dark Knight are more remote, but it’s essential to know that Harvey Dent became Two-Face and went on a killing spree before perishing at the end. And the Joker is never mentioned in The Dark Knight Rises, at the behest of Christopher Nolan, which is a letdown, but the overall movie doesn’t suffer for it.
5. THE END – Although I love the ending to The Dark Knight and I find it to be the best ending to a superhero film ever, Nolan and his team came up with a satisfying close to their interpretation of the Batman mythology. As an audience member I was pleased and at ease with the fates of all the principal characters as the film’s final moments gave way to the end credits. Job well done, Mr. Nolan.
And here is the bad news:
1. BANE – Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the terrorist mastermind known only as Bane, but my problem with the character arrives in the third act of the film when it is revealed he isn’t the actual mastermind of the devastating predicament Gotham finds itself in. The revelation cheapens Bane’s intellect and weight as a villain because in actuality he’s just a soldier taking orders. Imagine if all the carefully plotted chaos and destruction inflicted upon Gotham by the Joker in The Dark Knight was the intent of some other villain and the Joker was nothing more than an attack dog. Lame payoff.
2. EXPOSITIONAL DIALOGUE – Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, co-wrote the screenplay together, but they forgot to “show, not tell” the story at times. Too many instances where characters explain past events through dialogue instead of fully constructed flashback scenes.
3. BRISK PACING – Even though the 164 minute movie rolls along quickly, the story often feels stuck on autopilot and didn’t allow much breathing room for scenes with dramatic or emotional heft.
4. BATMAN – The Dark Knight doesn’t appear until late in the first act and reappears after 8 years of retirement in an uninspired sequence on the Batpod. I was hoping for a grand reemergence of the Batman like in Frank Miller’s landmark graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. And Bale’s Batman performance has grown more agonizing to watch with each installment of Nolan’s trilogy: the laryngitis voice, the over the top groans and grunts while fighting, and the lumbering and graceless fighting technique. It’s a testament to the powerful duality of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character that I’m able to rank one half of Bale’s portrayal as a strength and the other half as a weakness.
5, PLOT CONVENIENCES – I know it’s just a movie, and a superhero one at that, but there are just too many “Oh, that’s convenient” moments throughout the course of the movie. I’m not going to list them all for spoiler reasons, but the liberties taken to have Batman show up at the right place, at the right time with no visual or verbal explanation for how he arrived made me think Nolan gave the Dark Knight the ability of teleportation.
Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is an entertaining and satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Did it surpass The Dark Knight to be the best of the three films? In my opinion, no, it didn’t, but it did avoid the “Part 3” curse that plagued the third entries in certain cinematic trilogies as seen in The Godfather Part III, Spider-Man 3, The Matrix Revolutions, and X-Men: The Last Stand. Add that to the list of strengths.
And I’m not going to spend time analyzing the muddled and incomplete messages about class warfare and revolting against the aristocratic and bureaucratic elites during the second act of the film. It’s important to note that Rises was conceived and written before the Occupy Movement had even started on Wall Street, it was in the filming stage of production when the timing coincided with the Occupy protesting. So there isn’t any intentional 99% versus the 1% allegories going in Nolan’s last Batman film.
My advice, enjoy the story for what it is on the surface and beneath: how a mortal man arose from being a vigilante hero and became a legend.