The Dark Knight Rises – In-Depth Review (Spoiler Edition)
In pushing the epic, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ falls flat in places, it's action and emotion unable to disguise what is a sub-par script and plot when compared to those that have come before it in the trilogy.
With exceedingly high expectations resting on its shoulders, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the conclusion to a trilogy that has altered the mind-set of modern-day cinema. Therefore it is of no surprise that one could describe Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as a journey, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ being its climatic finale.
As the end-credits played to the sound of Hans Zimmer dramatic theme, I admit it took several moments to compose myself into some sort of state in which to even begin to take in what I had just witnessed over the 2 hours and 45 minutes run-time of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.
Much was said and made of the decision to begin ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ eight years on from the ending of ‘The Dark Knight'. With Bruce beginning the film in the manner he does,a total recluse living in Wayne Manor with only Alfred for company, we do truly see how the death of Rachel and the events of ‘The Dark Knight’ have affected his state of mind and perception of life. With Bruce’s Howard Hughes-like lifestyle in the film’s beginning, the scene is well set, much to the talent of Michael Caine’s Alfred, who is truly the emotional connection in this movie, if not the entire trilogy for that matter. I felt Alfred to be used sufficiently in the film’s first half, but his decision to leave Bruce, although understandable, was detrimental to the film as it suffered without his emotional presence until the film’s closing stages.
In agreement with the majority of reviews so far released for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Anne Hathaway threatens to steal the show as The Cat, pun well and truly intended. The script, written by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, however restricts Hathaway in her role, with only enough screen time in which to impress but not dominate. Was this intended so as to avoid what ultimately happened in The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger taking ownership of the movie on his performance alone?
Beautiful, elegant, devious, comic, mischievous, charming, vicious; the list well and truly goes on for words to describe Hathaway’s performance and portrayal of Catwoman. The film’s first third belongs to her and rightfully so. But as stated, the script removes her from the limelight after a dazzling performance in the film’s opening third, instead resorting to give her brief appearances amidst a chaotic and action-packed second-half.
Whereas Batman Begins lacked a fully-fledged villain, The Dark Knight survived on its. The Dark Knight Rises gets sadly caught somewhere in the middle. Bane, played by Tom Hardy, is at times terrifying, and other times embarrassing. He has presence, no question. But this presence I found to fade out as the movie progressed, and rapidly. Christopher Nolan has praised Tom Hardy for his ability to act with his eyes, something he needed to do not only well, but incredibly well for Bane to fully work, mask and all. Hardy has excellent acting skills, but the mask, an initially terrifying feature that gradually becomes ineffective, provides his character’s fundamental flaw: his voice. I am sorry to say, that for me, much of what he does say is unintelligible. And the common occurrence of Bane saying something and me having to replay the line in my head so as to try and better understand what was in fact said, made for an unwanted distraction. Many different suggestions have been made regards the inspiration for Bane’s accent. Hardy himself has told reporter’s what that was. But the fact of the matter is he sounds English and one who is very highly educated. The desire of Nolan to portray Bane as both a brute force, but also as an intellectual individual with a ‘brilliant brain’, is clear in the way Bane speaks. However, the idea of Bane being smart as well as incredibly physical and strong, never quite comes to fruition. His tone of voice and the accent used, does attempt to show an intellect in his character, but this never works. Discussing the movie afterward, there was a consensus that I support, that Bane’s accent needed a darker, deeper approach to support his physicality. Simply put, the contrast between Bane’s appearance and voice is ineffective and makes for a character that feels unpolished and unfulfilling, even if the opening scene in which he hijacks a plane and later, the sewer fight between him and Batman, are moments of brilliance.
Along with these disappointments and slight successes comes Bane’s plan of attack on Gotham, if really this plan is that of Talia al Ghul’s (Marion Cotillard). The use of a Gotham isolated from the world is one of the plot’s best elements; however, the main factor behind this isolation is where the plot became tedious. Talia’s use of a nuclear bomb to threaten the city with was not only wearisome, but also rather infuriating. Nolan’s previous Batman films have each involved a threat on Gotham that is, if not always conceivable, is at the very least original. A bomb able to kill those within a six mile radius is in no shape or form original and this was highly disappointing. Talia’s plan for Gotham felt more aligned to that of a Bond villain rather than a villain inside Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. That, and the absence of practically any of Gotham citizens, makes what may have been a thoroughly interesting plot seem disconnecting and ineffective.
As for Talia, or for the purposes of the identity used for the most of the film, Miranda Tate; her role as a villain was let down by the repetitiveness that occurs with having the daughter of a former villain returning to try what he failed to do. The Joker was a fresh, new and intense threat, whereas Talia felt simply like a reincarnation of Ra’s al Ghul, except with a bomb and not a micro-wave emitter. As for her revelation to Bruce, it was not a surprise nor as dramatic as I feel it should have been, but perhaps that’s my own fault for following the film so closely since it began pre-production through until its release. I also felt her revelation to Bruce lacked effect due to their rushed and somewhat forced relationship.
The film pushes the sense of epic to its maximum with fast, loud and often impressive action sequences, my personal highlight being that of Batman joining Catwoman on the rooftop to take down the group of Bane’s mercenaries.
Despite the presence of The Bat during the film’s final action sequences, the action itself was let down by the plot. The sequence of the bomb being driven through the city, whilst chased by Batman, never got me to a point where I can truly say I was on the edge of my seat. However, on using The Bat to lift the bomb above and away from Gotham, Batman was given his dramatic and heroic. If one complaint about the moment Batman saves Gotham by taking the bomb out to sea, I felt the editing should have placed more emphasis on a pause between the time Batman disappeared from sight out at sea, to the time the bomb exploded. Once again, it felt rushed.
This feels an appropriate time to talk of my thoughts on the film’s length and pacing. The opening hour, although starved of Batman for the majority, was thoroughly entertaining, making good use of Selina Kyle’s introduction and portraying Bruce Wayne’s reclusive response to events eight years previous. However, the film falls undeniably flat the moment Bruce is imprisoned by Bane. Admittedly, Nolan needed to use much of the film’s middle section to show how Gotham turns to ruin without order or Batman; but, the scenes involving the kangaroo court, Gotham’s police force being trapped underground, and Bruce when in Bane’s prison, had me feeling rather bored in all honesty. I simply could not wait for Bruce to escape and return to Gotham. And when he does, the film finds a new lease of life and re-energizes for what is a non-stop final third.
The film tries to force the issue with multiple stories being told simultaneously, not all of which are successful, not to mention the character Folly is entirely one-dimensional and completely unnecessary. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon is under-used by a script that plays heavily on action, his relationship with Batman almost non-existent. At no time are Batman and Gordon ever on-screen together for longer than 10 seconds, with Gordon hospitalized when Batman returns, and Bruce imprisoned while Gordon tries to take back the city. This relationship is lost amongst the focus on action sequences and chaos in Gotham, something Nolan rather knowingly tries to hide by presenting us with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchange where Gordon finally realizes who Batman really is.
Joseph Gordon Levitt as Detective Blake is very good, if not fully attached to the film as part of a trilogy. He balances an emotional, caring side of the character with a tough and committed city cop persona seamlessly. However, the major flaw in his character and the decision to ultimately present him to be Robin, is that he is new to the trilogy and therefore doesn’t feel as connected to the story of the three films as someone with that much importance placed upon him should. As for the decision to show him as Robin and the man to replace Batman in Gotham, I thought it was a perfect ending, even if Alfred’s tearful apology by Bruce’s ‘grave’ felt rather pointless as it is revealed he is alive and in a relationship with Selina. Although I appreciated the ending of Selina and Bruce being together in Florence, I found that the film hadn’t given us enough time of the two together to merit such an ending. When used together, Bale and Hathaway have unbelievable chemistry, with Selina’s elegant, if slightly vicious charm, working brilliantly off of Bruce’s cold caged demeanour. But the lack of time the two spent together and the result of once again huge importance and significance being placed upon a character only being introduced in this, the final film in the trilogy, meant that there being together wasn’t entirely convincing in relation to what had gone before.
Conflicting the emphasis placed on concluding the story, the end shot of Levitt standing in the Bat-cave as the floor rises from beneath him, was the standout moment of the film, a shot worthy of ending any movie.
The film has many other flaws including pacing issues, various plot-holes and a tendency to use character’s dialogue as a way to explain to the audience the numerous plot-points, all of which were hard to keep track of. Of the three films in the trilogy here, Nolan’s use of the non-linear style of story-telling is at its weakest. The score, although very similar to that of ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’, is effective, if slightly too loud at times.
In pushing the epic, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ falls flat in places, unable to disguise what is a sub-par script and plot when compared to those that have come before it in the trilogy. Despite this, the film boasts moments of both pure spectacle and heartfelt emotion, truly solidifying Nolan’s trilogy to be among the best movie trilogies in the history of cinema. However, as an ending to what has been a hugely successful trilogy, both critically and commercially, the film suffers to conclude satisfyingly; with elements of its ending feeling severely rushed, sacrificed in both length and effect in order for more time for the film’s laborious middle section.
A satisfying conclusion in many ways and in others not, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has me caught in conflict as to whether it lived up to expectations or not. One thing is for certain however, and that is that there is great sadness in the knowing that this is the end of Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman.
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