Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
Of all of the directors making movies these days, I have to say that Christopher Nolan would easily make the cut on a list of my favorite filmmakers. The stunts and effects he achieves so effortlessly within the camera, his focus on story, and his dedication to using film (as opposed to digital) prove why he is one of the last great directors of what now seems like a bygone era. He's a true original, which is why it pains me to say that his latest endeavor, The Dark Knight Rises, is the first film of his that doesn't seem to meet his own standards.
Everything I love about Nolan seems like it's missing from The Dark Knight Rises, the most obvious of which is his attention to plot detail. There are too many characters and too much happening all at once, the result of which is every single arc being under-developed. Eight years have passed since the last sighting of the caped crusader, and we see a more aged, broken and lonely Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a concept that I very much enjoyed, at least in the beginning. Wayne has become a hermit; a shell of a man without his alter ego. He only speaks with Alfred (Michael Caine, who does his best work by far in the series); mourns the death of his one true love, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal); and, because dressing up like a bat and jumping off of rooftops would (we assume) cause bodily harm after a while, walks with a cane and has no cartilage left in his joints.
I love the idea of exploring a man who sees himself as nothing unless he becomes someone else; a man who sees no other future than protecting the people of Gotham. It seems like this is where the film is going until Wayne realizes Batman is once again needed. Quite conveniently, he straps a high-tech knee brace to his leg allowing him to walk, and the idea that he can no longer do what he once did is quickly abandoned. Sure, he fights Bane (Tom Hardy) and loses round one, but it's nothing a few sit-ups and some wall-climbing can't fix.
In addition, our other favorite characters don't seem to have a lot to do in the film, so much so that they are offscreen for much of the 165-minute running-time. Alfred leaves early on in the film; Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is incapacitated until roughly the midpoint; Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is given a minimum amount to do; and the new characters (for the most part) feel out of place. Yes, Anne Hathaway is good as Selina Kyle (Catwoman), but I disagree with those who say Catwoman fits into Nolan's Batman universe. As a love interest for Wayne and a sort-of-sidekick to Batman, I guess Nolan felt it should be this character, but throughout the film I kept asking myself, "Why is Catwoman in this movie?" Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an admirable job in the role of John Blake, an idealistic rookie-cop who exists as a reflection on Gordon, but again, he doesn't seem essential to the story (fans may unite in hating me given the way this film ends).
Perhaps the two major blunders are Bane and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), but for very separate reasons. First, let's deal with Bane.
Many critics have cited Heath Ledger's performance in 2008's The Dark Knight as a detriment to this film because it was so brilliant, so inescapably dark, that it was next to impossible to top. The only choice (it would seem) that Nolan had in deciding to conclude the series would be to take the story in a different direction. Nolan's decision to introduce Bane - a less charismatic, more-of-a-brute villain - seemed to emphasize the fact that this was indeed a new path for the series. Instead, Bane shows up with the exact same intention as the previous villains: to destroy Gotham. While there are some impressive explosions and a lot of production value, it still just ends up feeling like a lesser version of the first two films. Bane has nowhere near the screen-presence that Joker had, and while he is an entirely different character, the main villain in any story needs to have some kind of presence. He's all muscle and yes, a bit imposing, but I felt none of the dread that I did with Joker, or even Liam Neeson's Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. Furthermore, the fight scenes between Bane and Batman are somehow quite dull. Tom Hardy is a big guy, especially in this film, yet I felt like I was watching a bad version of a wrestling match. The fights between Ra's al Ghul and Batman in Begins were more engaging than in The Dark Knight Rises. Oh and did I mention that it's near impossible to understand most of what Bane says, even with his dialogue noticeably boosted in his scenes?
Secondly, there's Miranda Tate, who barely gets any screen-time and is, like several other characters, unnecessary for everything other than existing as a connection to Batman Begins. She has a love scene with Wayne that is both random and unbelievable in the context of the story. She also has the means to save Wayne's dying company, but that's glossed over and ignored for most of the film.
What ultimately works in the film comes in small doses: Caine shines in his scenes with Bale and you find yourself wishing there were more of them; the visual effects and cinematography are breathtaking but they end up being underscored by the awful sound mix; the early scenes that emphasize an older Bruce Wayne emphasize where the film could have gone; and finally, the conclusion. Despite its many missteps, the third act of The Dark Knight Rises is where everything starts working better than the rest of the film, and the way Nolan chooses to end his series left me feeling reasonably satisfied.