Review: The Dark Knight Rises

by Tom Ingram

I don’t think anyone was expecting not to be disappointed by this movie. There’s just too much that went right with The Dark Knight, and the best case scenario was a comparatively flat and lifeless finale. Leaving aside its pedigree, The Dark Knight Rises had to contend with the release of The Avengers, which is still fresh in the minds of the moviegoing public. The Avengers is the paradigm comic book movie of the year, and its relentless optimism has made Nolan’s dark vision of Batman seem hopelessly dated. This movie was never going to have an easy time of it.

Even adjusting for that, though, I think it was a complete failure. The pathetic attempts at philosophical depth have become more grandiose. The tone is so gritty that Batman looks out of place in his own movie. This is a pretty serious problem, and it’s only gotten worse since Batman Begins. Zimmer’s score is so noisy that at times it coalesces into an ugly block of sound. Bane’s distorted voice is difficult to understand, and the actors are plagued by odd pauses in their delivery. Michael Caine’s affected accent has become more cartoonish. The movie’s plot is a broken mess and the ending is not an ending at all, but a miserable cop-out.

The Dark Knight Rises attempts to fit elements of the Knightfall event from the comics into the continuity of Nolan’s Batman movies. There’s a masked mercenary super-genius named Bane plaguing Gotham. Batman tries to stop him and fails, getting his back broken in the process. Here the two versions of the story diverge. In the comics, a character named Azrael took over the role of Batman for a while. In this movie, Bane stages a revolution ostensibly in the name of the people (political subtext, dontcha know), blows the bridges into Gotham, and uses a nuclear bomb to hold the city hostage.

This is a vastly simplified version of the timeline. The movie takes place years after The Dark Knight and has a 5-month skip in the middle of it. Now, the classical unities were a very silly restriction on narratives, but there was a good point behind them: stuff that happens a year from now scarcely seems relevant to today. There are situations where you can make a large time skip work, but this isn’t one of them. When Bane takes over Gotham and begins his pseudo-populist reign of terror, the stakes have changed at a fundamental level. It’s a new story, with a host of new possibilities, and that’s not the sort of thing you can throw into the middle of an existing drama, especially one that’s meant to cap off a trilogy.

The weird shift of emphasis causes other strange story defects. As Moviebob noted, there are two separate learning-to-be-Batman-again arcs, one right after the other. For all that, though, Batman hardly even appears in this movie. The unwieldy machinery of the plot eats up so much screen time that there’s no room left for the hero. They manage to squeeze him in at the end, but he takes a minor role in a plan initiated by a group of less important characters, including one who hasn’t been in any of the previous movies.

Any grand statement the movie was trying to make is lost in the senseless behaviour of its principals. But I’m not convinced that The Dark Knight Rises has anything to say at all. The Dark Knight did have something to say, but it also had a lot of pseudo-philosophical waffle. The Nolans have ramped that aspect up in the script for Rises, perhaps hoping to increase the catch by widening the net (pseudo-philosophical waffle is easy to produce). It hasn’t worked. What we’re left with is an impressive spectacle, but it’s not an enjoyable spectacle because it can’t be rationalized.

The impending release of this movie prompted some reevaluations of the previous two, and I’m not the only one who lowered my estimation of Christopher Nolan as an adapter of comic books as a result. The Dark Knight was so good that it made us forget that Batman Begins was a very flawed movie. In retrospect, I think the only thing about The Dark Knight that really holds up is Heath Ledger’s crazy hobo Joker.

As I mentioned above, in Knightfall Bane breaks Batman’s back. Batman is replaced by Azrael, a no-holds-barred hero typical of the 90s. He did not have a “no killing” rule. DC thought this would play very well with the fans, as it ran in the same direction comics had been taking for several years. As it turns out, it didn’t play well at all, and soon people were clamouring to have their Batman back. The gritty “realistic” affectation of comic books and their movies is unsustainable. If Rises does one good thing, it definitively brings this series to a close, allowing us to move on to bigger and better things.

I have hopes for The Hobbit—what little I’ve seen of the LoTR films was very good, and The Hobbit is if anything a better story. As long as they don’t try to make an epic out of it, it should be memorable. Still, I have to think hard about whether or not I’m going to see it in theatres, because spiders.

Oz: The Great and Powerful sure came out of nowhere. I wasn’t clamouring for another movie about Oz (I don’t even like the 1939 Judy Garland Wizard of Oz), but here’s hoping they make something worthwhile out of it. Again, this is another place where the risk is in trying to make it into a fantasy epic. By the way, I would swear it was supposed to be “Oz the great and terrible“, not “powerful”. This online edition seems to agree with me.

Man of Steel looks like it’s going for the grim-and-gritty crowd. This is not going to work. The release of The Avengers means we no longer have to downplay the red-yellow-blue colour scheme. For God’s sake, it’s Superman. Have some fun with it!

The Campaign seems surprisingly bearable and even occasionally funny. I sure wasn’t expecting that. The Bourne Legacy is the latest in a series of second-rate action movies that I couldn’t care less about. Speaking of which, Taken 2. Ugh.

By the way, I forgot to mention Skyfall last time. I’m excited about a new Bond movie, because I’ve always liked the series and Daniel Craig showed promise in Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace was a misstep, but hopefully they can right themselves by not taking things so seriously. I’m seeing a theme emerging here.