[The Dark Knight Rises
Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy
MPAA: PG-13 – For Intense Sequences of Violence and Action, Some Sensuality, And Language]
[The following review is free of major spoilers, but I still discuss a few plot-points and details that can be considered spoilers to some, so if you still want to know absolutely nothing about the film then I’d still suggest not reading this review until after viewing the film.]
[Also, this review was written before hearing of the news of the tragic Colorado shooting at a midnight screening in Century Theaters. The review is left unedited, but still worth noting that certain things have changed for some people’s viewing habits because of the horrific incident. Please keep in mind that it shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing the film. My thoughts go to the families and friends of the victims, and anyone else who was affected by the incident.]
The Dark Knight Rises is critic-proof. No matter what I say in this review, you’re all gonna see it anyway and for good reason. It’s the most anticipated blockbuster of the year, the end to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and, hey, anything with Christopher Nolan’s name attached to it in general is something to get excited for.
However, it’s also worth noting that it’s almost impossible to watch, let alone review The Dark Knight Rises without comparing it to The Dark Knight. And because of this, anybody who ends up detracting from it has been given a beating by internet commenters across the web for not judging it fairly.
So when I tell you that The Dark Knight Rises is good but flawed and not totally great, there will be some who claim that this is because either a.) my opinion is based solely on disappointment because of hype levels, or b.) my opinion is based solely on disappointment because it wasn’t The Dark Knight. So let me just give you this disclaimer: I think The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest of the three films and the weakest Christopher Nolan film in general. Not because I was expecting it to be the greatest movie ever (Even though I was undeniably excited or it), and not because I was expecting it to be the same movie as The Dark Knight.
But of course, you don’t want to hear about all the flaws, because for every thing that the film does wrong, it also does a ton of things right. Because while this is definitely, in my opinion, the weakest film in the series, it still delivers on its promise of a satisfying conclusion. It’s big, epic, exciting, impeccably directed in terms of visuals and action, Hans Zimmer’s score is absolutely incredible as usual, and all the actors bring their A-game. Hell, everyone brings their A-game here. You can tell that everyone set out to make a film that could top even the juggernaut that is The Dark Knight. However, intentions and effort are not merely enough.
I may as well start with the negatives just so I could end on a positive note. While there are plenty of flaws that I could name, the main one that I could think of that really holds this whole film back is the pacing. For a movie that is 2 hours and 45 minutes long, it feels very rushed. Of all the franchises that absolutely needed the final installment to be split into two parts, it wasn’t god damn Breaking Dawn, it’s The Dark Knight Rises. You can attribute that to the surfeit of ideas and ambition that Nolan has with his material, but you can also attribute this to a second major flaw in the film.
There’s way too many supporting characters in the film. Oh, they’re all great characters, perfectly cast and acted, and colorfully written to boot. But they end up taking away focus from the film. For a Batman movie, The Dark Knight himself doesn’t get much screentime. Throughout the first half of the film, we see plenty of Bruce Wayne and only two sequences with him as Batman. But after a showdown with Bane in a sewer, without giving too much away, Batman and even Bruce Wayne almost disappear entirely from the film, with the focus shifting to the other characters having to deal with apocalyptic despair once Bane starts executing his master plan. Because the movie isn’t really sure what the real focus is, it’s hard to really get into the emotional arcs this time around since there isn’t really an emotional centerpoint, and scenes that should’ve been moving felt a little empty to me.
Then there’s our villain: Bane (Tom Hardy). I appreciate what both Nolan and Hardy are trying to do with their take on Bane, and it’s definitely something I haven’t seen before, but I had hard time feeling menace from him for some reason. I can’t really pinpoint as to why. Tom Hardy is excellent, like the rest of the cast, and there are many moments of pure menace that he provides. However, he isn’t really engaging, for some reason. Perhaps it’s a general lack of charisma, or the fact that they’re trying to combine a posh, classy speaking style with a brutish, muscular physical presence and the two elements don’t really fit together properly. His motives are rather unclear, but hey, ambiguity is a good thing when it comes to villains. Either way, this is the least engaging villain in the series.
Speaking of things that don’t fit together properly, it’s interesting to note the tone of the film. What makes Nolan’s Batman universe such an incredible feat is that it’s the only time gritty realism was applied and it totally fits. Nolan keeps this ultra serious, gritty tone in the sequel of course, except this time it doesn’t quite fit because this is easily the most over-the-top film in the series. I hate to play the compare game because, as is my motto, I should judge a film based on its own merits rather than on the merits of others. However, I’m still allowed to use other films as reference points on how certain things work in other cases. And in the previous two Batman films, the ultra-serious tone and gritty realism fit with the dark thematic material and Nolan’s wise use of not using too much action sequences and more tension and suspense than anything else. But in this installment, while it gets as far as the dark subject matter, there’s no suspense because 100 of its 165 minute run-time is made up entirely of action, some of it edging into ludicrous territory, and it still retains that serious tone.
This contributes to what I think is the main reason why I find this to be Nolan’s weakest film: It’s more interested in spectacle than intelligence. All of Nolan’s films are thoughtful pieces of art that truly give pause to the viewer and allow them to truly think about things such as the nature of order and chaos, good and evil, dream and reality, illusion and truth, memory and facts, etc. Oh sure, there’s still spectacle in a lot of his movies, but that aspect isn’t given the emphasis. Here, however, spectacle is the main focus of the film while subtext is minimal. And while the spectacle is epic, because it lacks Nolan’s usual brains, it leaves something to be desired.
I wouldn’t call it a style over substance film, though. In fact, the film has plenty of substance. It’s just not “subtext”. This is still a much smarter, more ambitious, and more thoughtful superhero film than The Avengers will ever be. The way it plays with many of the fears and issues pervading today’s society such as class warfare, civil unrest, and other such talking points is very effective. And while it’s definitely the furthest thing from subtle this time around–with characters breaking the golden rule of “show don’t tell” left and right and having speeches doing more of the talking than character actions–there’s still no denying how provocatively Nolan explores these issues. As flawed as it is, I’ve always believed that flawed ambition is preferable to perfectly executed pap any day.
As mentioned earlier, all of the performances are fantastic, but special mention must be given to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who not only gets some of the most screentime in the film, but finally proves after showing potential in Inception that he can be a leading action hero with no problem. He’s intense, while still keeping a calm, reserved, professional quality to him. And don’t even get me started on Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, who is easily one of if not the best supporting characters in the whole series.
Speaking of characters, Christopher Nolan is a master at deception and tricking the audience through seemingly complicated yet simple means. And The Dark Knight Rises is abound with character twists, especially in the final moments, that are definitely very interesting and unexpected.
While it is disappointing that Nolan decided to focus more on the spectacle than the actual intelligence, there’s no denying that said spectacle is epic. The sense of scope that is achieved here is something to behold, with an entire city in ruins and hundreds of people in an all-out war. The only thing disappointing about the action are the anti-climactic fisticuffs between Batman and Bane, but even then, there’s so much going on and it’s so masterfully edited that it’s never too big a problem.
All in all, this is the conclusion that it was hyped up to be. The final showdown is just as exciting and epic as you imagined it to be, there’s still some intelligence even if it’s left on the side this time, and it ties up all the loose ends nicely. It could’ve been better, there are many crippling flaws, but it still works for the most part. There are some plot-holes that I could mention, but that’s just nit-picking you don’t want or need to hear. For what it’s worth, this is a satisfying conclusion…somewhat.
Final Verdict: Rushed pacing, structural issues, a poor choice of villain, a confused tone, and not enough emphasis on substance keep The Dark Knight Rises from perfection, but it’s still a can’t-miss roller-coaster epic with grade-A performances across the board and an ambitious story that really provokes on a visceral level. It may not be The Dark Knight, but it will do the job.