Review & Perspective: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

The Dark Knight Rises arrived in theaters as my most anticipated movie of 2012, and if I think about it, one of my most anticipated movies EVAR. As in, top 5 on my “keeps me up nights I’m so excited to see it” list, right up there with The Phantom Menace, The Matrix Reloaded, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers & Return of the King, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and the first Transformers. That’s not an official list, but it gives you some historical comps. It’s been four long years since The Dark Knight rocked our socks with its awesomeness (it remains the best comic book movie ever made), and even though Christopher Nolan has continued to shit greatness in the interim (Inception), ever since 2008 I was always more excited about any and all news regarding his third Batflick. What’s the title gonna be? Who is the next villain to get the Nolan Treatment? The instant I walked out of that theater in July, 2008, I was wondering how soon Warner Bros. would announce a release date for the followup. And it didn’t happen. Forever. Even as The Dark Knight broke the almighty 3-day opening weekend box office record (which has since been topped twice by two 3D-enhanced juggernauts, Harry Potter 7-b and The Avengers), went on to gross more than $500 million domestically and just over a billion worldwide. Nowadays, when studios get results like that, they announce the release dates for the next 3 movies in a series. But it wasn’t until April 30, 2010 that they announced the release date (which I correctly predicted in 2008 would be in 2012), and the Dark Knight Rises title wasn’t announced until October 27, 2010. I remember being hugely underwhelmed by the title choice (Huh? You’re just gonna add one word to the title of the last movie? was my reaction at the time), but I trusted that it would all make sense once we saw the film. And even with all the trailers and ads prior to release, you don’t fully come to appreciate the title until literally the final shot of the movie, at which point it does in fact make perfect sense…as I thought it would.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a proper IMAX theater anywhere near where I live, but I got to do the next best thing for the midnight show, which was to attend one of the many Dark Knight marathons being shown at nearly every major theater chain across the country. It was amazing to see Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back-to-back immediately preceding TDKR, and I believe it enhanced the experience of the third film. It was also fantastic just to see the first two films on the big screen again, which is infinitely preferable to reviewing them on DVD or Blu-ray at home.

With your Dark Knight Marathon ticket, you got this cool lanyard and a sticker of the Batman chalk logo, which I found good use for…

Did I actually think TDKR could top The Dark Knight? Actually, yeah, I did. That’s the amount of faith I have in Nolan and his team. Now, I never thought Tom Hardy‘s Bane would top Heath Ledger‘s Joker, but he didn’t necessarily have to for TDKR to succeed. To me, the key here how they’d wrap up the Bruce Wayne/Batman storyline, and what, if any, storylines they’d leave open-ended for audiences to debate going forward. I was always happy that Nolan had repeatedly and definitively stated that he was done with Batman after TDKR, which for the audience meant anything was possible. I had no doubt Nolan had the creative balls to kill Bruce Wayne. He had no obligations to keep characters alive and well because of a pending 4th movie (which has been a problem for the Marvel movies, since w e know all these main characters have to survive to see the Avengers sequel). This isn’t Michael Bay saying he’s done with Transformers after 3 movies (which he did), then realizing, Ohhh, I can make another $100 million+ if I do a fourth one…where do I sign?!

Knowing that anything was possible and knowing the movie would be 2 hours, 45 minutes long made the anticipation that much more palpable going into opening night.

Without further ado, let’s get into this. It should be obvious, but I’ll warn you anyway, NO SPOILER IS OFF LIMITS AHEAD. Any and all details of the plot, including the ending, are fair game in this discussion. I’m publishing this post after the movie’s 4th weekend in release, so let’s face it, you’ve already seen the damn thing. If you’re reading this because you still can’t decide whether or not to see it, then you’re dead to me anyway.

WHAT I LIKED

The opening action scene. Duh. Could it have been staged or shot any better? I think not. I don’t think much else needs to be said about this set piece, except for the fact that it was awesome to see Aiden Gillen as the lead CIA officer. Game of Thrones fans will recognize him as the scheming Lord Baelish, one of my favorite characters on that show. It’s a fantastic introduction to Bane and his crew. The only bad thing for me about the opening was that I didn’t get the chance to see it in its full IMAX glory. Sad face L

Similarly spectacular is the extended stock exchange robbery and ensuing chase, which gives us our first Batman action of the film. A lot of people are bitching that we don’t see enough Batman or they don’t like that he doesn’t show up until 45 minutes into the movie, but that never really bothered me. I loved the sheer scope of seeing what must have been 100 police cars all chasing Batman at the same time (you really feel the “holy shit we’re finally gonna get him” vibe from the pursuers), and of course the big reveal of The Bat is as cool as it gets. Was it as awesome as the Batpod flipping the Joker’s 18-wheeler? Probably not, but great nonetheless.

The production design. The majority of the enormous budget of this film was put into REAL things you see on the screen, not in fake things created in computers after the fact. It’s one of the primary reasons I love Chris Nolan, and with more than $250 million to spend (reportedly), his team was able to create some amazing sets and vehicles. I love the new look of the Batcave, I love all of the Gotham sewer sets where Bane and his men are hanging out, the underground set where the fusion reactor is being held, and obviously Bane’s prison pit is pretty f’n impressive, too.

That photo is why I love Nolan’s approach. Instead of doing The Bat entirely CG, which would have been the method 9/10 directors would have chosen, they actually built a full-scale Bat, attached it to a custom-made buggy rig, and drove it through the Pittsburgh streets while filming that climactic chase. #winning

The Bane vs. Batman 1v1’s. Loved the two big fights between them. Powerful, raw, and the second one is laced with emotion (Bane’s at the shock of Batman’s return and Batman’s hatred of Bane for what he’s done to Gotham). Although it’s interesting that only in the second fight do Batman’s direct blows to the face damage Bane’s mask, when he was hitting him the exact same way in the first fight and causing no damage. In fact, he really doesn’t change his tactics at all in Round 2. Maybe he took some HGH on his way back from the prison pit and was super-duper strong. I have no other explanation.

-Good on Liam Neeson for coming back just do that cameo as Ra’s al Ghul, which was really just Bruce Wayne having some sort of hallucination. Loved the scene.

The script. Despite the many logic and structural flaws that we’ll get into below, there are just as many highs in this script as there are lows. In fact, there are more highs than lows, which becomes evident after repeat viewings. I’ve always been fond of the dialogue in Nolan’s films, going all the way back to Memento and Insomnia. I’m willing to bet most people don’t associate Christopher Nolan with unique dialogue, but I find he has a very interesting way with words that I enjoy quite a bit.

As an example, Bane taunting Batman during their first fight: “You fight like a younger man, nothing held back. Admirable, but mistaken.” And then there’s Bane’s “Speak of the devil and he shall appear” which is already becoming a classic.

Now that I think of it, the dialogue in these movies feels like the way certain characters spoke in the original Star Wars movies. I know that sounds strange at first, but think about it for a minute. Kind of a mix between old world and modern. I dunno, I might be alone in believing that, but I’m not changing my mind, dammit. I like the comparison. I can envision Darth Vader or The Emperor delivering a lot of Bane’s dialogue. And clearly, Michael Caine‘s Alfred may as well be a green, 2-foot tall, 800-year old resident of Dagobah, with his prescient wisdom and ability to see the logical conclusion to every scenario.

“I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Skywalker family.”

There are also story and thematic ideas that I find appealing here as well. For instance, I like that Bruce Wayne became a recluse after putting away the cape and cowl, and that he couldn’t figure out a way to exist in society without also being Batman when it was necessary. It’s no secret in Hollywood circles that Nolan has long wanted to make a Howard Hughes movie, and since Martin Scorsese‘s The Aviator kinda killed the idea of someone else doing a big budget Hughes flick for about a decade, many people believe Nolan used Bruce Wayne to get some of those reclusive, secretive, playboy billionaire story arcs out of his system. I also like the recurring “rise” motif. This is definitely a blockbuster with a brain, and even if some of its thoughts are disjointed, you have to appreciate the ambition of the effort being made.

The performances. With a cast this strong, you can’t go wrong (I rhymed!), and combining that with Nolan’s fine direction you have an A+ group of actors doing A+ work once again. I think this was probably Christian Bale‘s best Bruce Wayne performance of the trilogy. Some really strong stuff here, and I believe it’s worthy of Best Actor consideration. As far as Tom Hardy goes, we’ll discuss Bane in-depth in just a minute, but needless to say I fuckin loved him (and I still have my original Tom Hardy Bandwagon Charter Member card from when I discovered him way back in 2001 as part of the amazing Black Hawk Down cast). Anne Hathaway‘s talent continues to be matched only be her beauty, and I like the fact that they never refer to her in the film as Catwoman. There is only Selina Kyle, the high-end thief with the insanely hot outfit and serrated steel heels, who is also a gymnast with martial arts skills. No biggie. Just my dream girl. I find it hilarious that fanboys were apprehensive about her. I guess they don’t see many non-genre flicks, but I for one never doubted she’d be great. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a fine Gotham police officer (who is strangely appalled at the idea of using his gun), and would no doubt make a fine Batman/Nightwing/Robin in some alternate universe where Christopher Nolan kept making these movies. Michael Caine also does his best work in the series as Alfred is forced to make some tough decisions with regards to his relationship with Bruce. His work at the very end at the Wayne family gravesite nearly had me in tears. Gary Oldman is reliable as always as he confronts the consequences of his and Batman’s actions at the end of Dark Knight. Even though I will argue later in this review that her character could have been cut from the film entirely, Marion Cotillard is wonderful and beautiful as ever, and it was cool to see her sinister side towards the end of the movie. She would make a great Bond villain. And of course Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman in his ability to make a small, thankless role endlessly interesting.

-I don’t feel I need to describe the awesomeness of Hans Zimmer’s score, because that’s self-evident now when you see his name on a poster. At 54, the man is still in his prime and still finding new ways to express himself within the framework of what he does best. I absolutely worship the man. With John Williams turning 80 this year (sad face) and basically only working on Spielberg‘s movies, Zimmer is now officially the top film composer in the world. And really, if I’m being honest, he’s been the best since his Gladiator score in 2000. Overall, I don’t think the TDKR score is the best in the series, but it’s still fuckin amazing. This is the “least greatest” of the 3 Nolan Batflicks, and the score is the “least awesomely amazing” of the 3 scores, which might still be good enough to win Best Original Score this year (hopefully Williams and Howard Shore have something to say about that come December).

I am curious to know why they didn’t bring James Newton Howard back to collaborate on the score again. What a great idea it was on Batman Begins to have two of Hollywood’s best composers work on the same movie, and I was thrilled they worked together again on TDK, but for whatever reason, Zimmer did this one solo. I’m betting it’s because of how busy Howard was this year, and I hope it’s not because of some “creative differences” issue. It’s not to the film’s detriment (Zimmer can certainly handle any project by himself), but it would’ve been nice to finish the way they started. And for discerning film score nerds like myself, I missed hearing James Newton Howard’s beautiful strings amongst the sheer power and force of Zimmer’s work.

Here is one of the more popular tracks off the TDKR score, “Gotham’s Reckoning”, which prominently features the insanely awesome Bane motif:

Sidenote: By the way, in case anyone hadn’t heard yet, Zimmer is officially signed on to score the Christopher Nolan-produced, Zack Snyder-directed Man of Steel for next summer. What a mighty challenge that will be, as Zimmer tries to outdo Williams’ “Superman March”, one of the greatest themes in movie history. And I know he’ll say he isn’t trying to outdo Williams (he already has said it), but if he’s not gonna try, why take the job and have all that pressure put on you?

It has an ending. Or is it several endings, like some online critics have been whining? Let me clear this up for you; no, it doesn’t have multiple endings. The film has one beautifully executed 5-minute sequence that nicely wraps up the stories of each major character. Giving Bruce Wayne some finality is something Nolan was especially proud to be able to do, and I agree that it’s very important. I may not like where he ends up (or, more precisely, how he ends up there), but we’ll get into that in a minute. One of the biggest weaknesses of the comic book format is the simple fact that the story must go on (and on and on), so there is rarely any closure, even to standalone storylines. With Nolan making it crystal clear years ago that he’d only be making 3 movies in his Batman universe, and with the clout he’s earned because of the financial success of the first two films, he had the creative freedom to end this trilogy in pretty much whatever way he saw fit. Some parts of the ending may be more than a tad confusing (let alone difficult to swallow), but there is closure to it, and I respect that. I also like that within that closure are simultaneously several story arcs left open to a 4th installment Nolan will never make. The epic final shot of this movie is a tease, but not really. It leaves the audience imagining the possibilities, and gives us fanboys plenty to talk about on the internet.

Speaking of endings, I love the card Nolan put near the end of the credits, which reads: “THIS MOTION PICTURE WAS SHOT AND FINISHED ON FILM”. He knows he’s one of the biggest names left holding out on at least experimenting with the possibilities of digital cinematography, and I like that he’s proud of that. Although, I do think his particular visual aesthetic would look amazing shot on the RED system. I’m not saying he should switch over full-time, but I’d like to see him try it on a smaller project one day soon.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE / WHAT I’M CONFUSED ABOUT / SMALL GRIPES

-Just wondering: why does Bruce Wayne walk with a limp and need a cane for the first third of the movie? The movie spells out plain as day that it’s been 8 years since Bruce put his body at risk as Batman, and when last we saw him running to escape the cops at the end of TDK, he seemed to be fine. What am I missing here? Was he sparring with Alfred at Wayne Manor and got his ass handed to him? Did he take a bad tumble down one of his massive staircases? There needed to be SOME explanation for this. All it would have taken was one line of dialogue.

-It’s a little weird that we see Commissioner Gordon giving a speech about Harvey Dent twice in the first 10 minutes of the movie. I found that awkward and distracting from a pacing standpoint. Why couldn’t he give that first bit of dialogue during the speech at Wayne Manor immediately following the planejacking sequence? I dunno, not the best editing choice.

-There are too many new characters taking up valuable screen time that should be focused on the stories of Bane and the existing protagonists. The movie could easily have done without Matthew Modine‘s cop (though he’s certainly very good in the role), and I say Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate could have gone byebye as well. Her existence causes many of the film’s plot holes and unanswered questions, and her exclusion would have increased Bane’s potency as a character and as a memorable villain. When it’s revealed that the destruction of Gotham was really her grand plan the whole time, it takes all the wind out of Bane’s sails. All the crap with her taking over Wayne Enterprises could’ve been dismissed (perhaps giving Morgan Freeman some more screen time), and they could’ve found a way for it to have been Bane that escaped the pit through sheer force of will, which eventually led him to the League of Shadows. Without Miranda Tate/Talia, the movie is just tighter. We never really see Bane show any real affection for her, so the whole thing with him being her protector and allegedly loving her like a father (which isn’t revealed until moments before his death) never resonates. I’d much rather have given some more screen time to one of Bane’s lieutenants, who are all basically nameless, faceless random henchmen. Let’s at least give his #2 a NAME and maybe just one scene where the two of them interact man to man. How about they talk about the fact that they’re about to commit suicide via nuclear weapon? Do ya smell what I’m cooking here?

“The Trouble with Bane”

Before I get into what I think didn’t work with the character, let me be perfectly clear on one point; I think Tom Hardy is brilliant in the role. I won’t compare him to Heath Ledger’s Joker because that simply isn’t fair, but I loved every moment Bane was on the screen. I couldn’t wait to hear what he’d say or see what he’d do next. It looks like Hardy had an absolute blast playing the character (how could you not while wearing those costumes and that badass mask?), and I love his facial tics, the way he moved, and of course the way he grasps his collar when he’s just chilling or walking around. I love the way he’s able to emote with his eyes, and he also uses his hands to convey mood and emotion, which I found fascinating. I’ve been randomly quoting his dialogue for 3 weeks now to people at work (I’m particularly fond of “Crashing this plaaaane. WITH NO SAHVIVAHS!!!”) and doing the Bane Walk while clutching my collar. Why? Because I’m a 13-year old stuck in a 32-year old’s body. Deal with it.

I’m curious to find out how they came up with his accent and whose idea it was, because that voice is certainly not what you expect to hear coming from a 300-pound goliath of a man like that. I wanna know his backstory. I wanna see a standalone Bane movie where we see his training with the League of Shadows and his interactions with Ra’s al Ghul.

I love how calm he is. He never really gets angry. Even in his first fight with Batman, where he has zero doubt he’s going to win, he talks some trash, but not in a cocky way. It’s more matter-of-fact, like, “Yup, I’m easily countering all your moves. Now I’m about to break you. Here it comes. Oh, you think I’m gonna fall for your silly firecrackers? Nope, I’m not some random street thug. Sorry. By the way, I’m stealing all your military tech to assist in my takeover of Gotham. Got it? Okay, time to break you. Here we go.” The only time he gets surprised or flustered in any way is when he sees the giant flaming Batsignal on the bridge, at which point I’m completely agreeing with him when he says, “Impossible.”

That moment, by the way, is another gripe- at what point after Bruce’s miraculous return to Gotham from the prison on the other side of the frickin planet did he find the time to create this massive piece of street art? I love the symbolism it shows (letting every Gotham citizen know Batman is back), but again, how would he have set that up without being seen (with a trail all the way down the bridge leading to the exact spot Commissioner Gordon was walking on the ice?! How convenient!)?

One of my only major beefs with The Avengers was its lack of a strong central villain. This movie has no such issue, because Christopher Nolan gives great villain. I hate that we’ll never know what a Nolan Riddler would’ve been like. Or a Nolan Harley Quinn (paired with Ledger’s Joker). Damn. Particularly with these last two movies, he has reminded us just how great cinematic villains can truly be.

And how old is Bane? By my math, he has to be 50 at minimum, and likely 55 if we’re being at all realistic compared to Marion Cotillard’s character and her age in real life (36). It’s certainly not unrealistic for a guy that old to be ripped, but this is another logic issue that could’ve been easily nullified by the absence of the Miranda Tate character. Just sayin.

Bane’s voice. Despite numerous reports that they’d fixed the incoherency problems, I’m gonna guess I missed 20% of Bane’s dialogue during my first viewing because I couldn’t understand what the fuck he was saying. During my second viewing, I caught probably 95% of it, with maybe one or two lines still indecipherable. Aside from the fact you couldn’t understand him all the time, his voice was often waaaay too loud on the sound mix. If their solution to the incoherency problem was to simply turn up the volume on his dialogue track, it was a bad choice. A lot of the time, it sounded like he was narrating the film when he spoke, not like his voice was coming from someone inside a room.

I really don’t understand why this was an issue to begin with. They pulled this kind of thing off 35 years ago with Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies. I’m wagering sound editing technology has come quite a long way since then, but they still couldn’t figure this out. It’s a shame, because this could’ve been the coolest “masked man voice” since Vader. And I guess it probably still is, but I just think it could have been much more effective and imposing.

-I need something explained to me. So Batman knows Bane has seriously evil plans when he rescues Selina Kyle on that roof. Tell me then, when he lifts off in The Bat, and has Bane and all of his primary henchmen right in front of him, why he doesn’t blast them all to hell? I know, I know, Batman doesn’t kill people. So instead, he leaves them all on that roof to continue their plans and simply flies away? If he doesn’t plan on killing anyone, why doesn’t he at least have some massive thing that shoots out a spread of tazers to incapacitate multiple threats for this exact situation? You’ve got a supervillain and all his thugs in one spot, and you do nothing to use that opportunity to at least slow them down? Or are we going with the theory that in the heat of the moment, Batman didn’t actually see Bane (which could be substantiated later on when he “meets” Bane for the first time prior to their first mano-a-mano)? Fine…I’ll buy that. Regardless, he could have done something (a giant net gun!) to at least ATTEMPT to slow these guys down. Many people like to point out the similar situation in The Dark Knight, where after rescuing Rachel during her freefall, Batman just leaves The Joker and his men chillin in his penthouse with about a hundred innocent bystanders. Did the bad guys really just up and leave peacefully? The Joker turned to his men and said, “Oh well, we didn’t find Harvey Dent, better luck next time. Let’s get outta here.”

I don’t like how Bane dies, either. He’s about to kill Batman, and then gets randomly blown away by Selina Kyle (who happens to charge up the steps on the Batpod through a crowd of a few hundred people and into the lobby right in the knick of time! How convenient!) just so she can give us a punchline. This is the kind of death you give to a henchman, not the Big Boss. Bane should have had his mask ripped off and been left to suffocate or something cool like that. Instead…he gets launched off the screen by a motorcycle cannon. He deserved better, dammit.

One more thing about Bane: if someone can explain to me how in the hell he knows Bruce Wayne is Batman I’d love to hear it.

-Speaking of which, I agree with the people who think it’s more than a little silly that Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character deduces Bruce Wayne is Batman after one brief encounter.

Also, referring back to a previous point, I don’t buy that John “Robin” Blake gives up being a cop primarily because of his disgust from being forced to shoot and kill two criminals (in self-defense!). Did he honestly think he’d go through his entire career without having to fire his weapon? I think the writers (Chris Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan) tried way too hard to give Blake similar character traits to Bruce Wayne, which is supposed to make it more credible later that he could carry on Batman’s principles.

How on earth does Bruce get back to Gotham from India (or wherever the hell that pit prison was)? How does he then instantly find Selina Kyle? In fact, there are quite a few instances in this film of people showing up precisely when and where they need to, which always annoys me. I hate overly coincidental moments, and this movie is filled with them. The Dark Knight had a handful of instances of this, but not so many that it was a distraction like it is here.

-I know the movie is PG-13, but there is an awful lot of bloodless violence. Look at when Matthew Modine dies in the street. No pool of blood underneath him, and there doesn’t even appear to be a bullet wound, yet it’s fairly obvious they want us to believe he was shot to death. Maybe not, though. Maybe he died of a sudden, massive heart attack at the thought of being run over by that Tumbler. Sometimes, when people fire guns (on the rare occasion the guys with guns actually use them), there isn’t even a muzzle flash. Very strange. Before I die, I want to see Nolan do a big budget rated-R movie, and I want to see a rated-R Batman movie. It’s sad that we’ll never get a Nolan-directed, R-rated Batman movie. It’s clear Nolan understands cool violence, but he’s either been unwilling or unable to show much of anything with regards to blood and gore in these films. It was the same way with Inception. I know that in the end this is a minor gripe, but I’ve seen many other PG-13 movies that got away with a lot more bloody violence than these Batman movies. I’m simply wondering why Nolan seems to deliberately hold back.

-I also agree with those who have said the hand-to-hand combat outside of the Bane vs. Batman fights is subpar. Nolan still shoots most of his fighting in closeups that are way too tight. Batman jumps into the middle of a group of baddies, we get a bunch of inserts of elbows and kicks being thrown, and 15 seconds later Batman is the last man standing, end of story. Come on! We saw him get trained in some badass martial arts with the League of Shadows, but almost all of the fist fights are WHACK! POW! KABLOOEY! knockouts that don’t show off a whole lot of pure skill. Then in this film we’ve got this 80’s action movie stuff where bad guys lineup to get knocked out one by one instead of SHOOTING THEIR FRIGGIN GUNS at Batman. Nolan executes larger scale action scenes with vehicles perfectly (with nice wide angles where you can see everything that’s going on), but he still hasn’t nailed the hand-to-hand combat.

Was it too big in scope? I’m trying to think of a movie that cost $200 million or more that prioritized character and a tight story over spectacle. It’s becoming increasingly clear that perhaps the two are not compatible, which is something big budget filmmakers need to consider going forward.

I didn’t think in a million kajillion years Nolan would go with the “Batman must beat a ticking time bomb” angle, which might literally be The Oldest Trick in the Book. We don’t need the “Gotham will literally be destroyed” subplot. Defeating Bane and his men is an important enough task. They should’ve jettisoned the whole fusion reactor/nuclear weapon thing. It slows the movie down (all this stuff with following the decoy trucks around the city could’ve also been expunged), and it’s much more interesting narratively if Gotham destroys itself from within rather than an external force literally leveling the city to the ground. This is really a suicide mission for Bane? It seemed like Ra’s al Ghul fully planned on escaping once his plan was successful in Batman Begins, so why does Bane (who insists he’s “fulfilling Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny!”) not come up with an idea that allows him to survive and live to terrorize another day? Is Bane’s crew the entirety of the remaining members of the League of Shadows? If they all kill themselves in Gotham, how does their tradition go on? A tradition that Ra’s made quite clear has survived for generations. If Talia and Bane kill themselves in Gotham, who is the new leader of whatever remains of the LoS? This would be like if Osama bin Laden flew one of the planes into the World Trade Center himself. Not the best way to continue the tradition.

When I say the story is too big, I mean that I don’t think a Batman movie needs to incorporate the U.S. military, or feature an appearance by the President of the United States. That’s when I knew the scope of the story had gotten out of hand. I rolled my eyes as soon as they cut to a shot of the President showing his support for Gotham. It’s just too much. I half expected Bane to open a portal and have some aliens come through it on flying jet skis. How silly would that have been? Oh…

Also, as an aside, how many movies now have tried the “clean, free fusion energy” angle? Has it EVER worked? I’m kinda disappointed the Nolans thought this was a good idea. And we’re just supposed to believe Wayne Enterprises has cracked this nut and built a functioning fusion device, but for years he’s been sitting on it because he assumes someone will turn it into a nuclear weapon? Then why fuckin develop it in the first place?! Surely, the billions of dollars you poured into R&D would’ve shown you this would be a possibility. Surely, someone as smart as Bruce Wayne would’ve thought of this well before even a dime was spent building the device. No wonder the company is broke! See how quickly the logic breaks down on this fusion shit? By the way, so what if they did turn it into a nuke? There are thousands of nuclear weapons in the world…what does it matter if they’re made of fusion energy (whatever that is) or plutonium? I didn’t buy Wayne’s logic when he explained this to Miranda Tate, and I sure as hell don’t buy it now after further contemplation. His company made billions in profits making state-of-the-art weapons systems (a lot of them presumably being sold to foreign entities just like in in the real world), but now this technology, which could provide so much good, is being put on the shelf because of what it might be used for if it fell into the wrong hands? What’s gonna happen? A group of terrorists is gonna spend months digging underneath the city so they can eventually steal it? Oh…

The very end. Oh yes, let’s get into this. The bit where Alfred sees Bruce and Selina at the café. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it. I’m confused by it as well. Is that a dream sequence? Did Nolan Inception us again and that’s not supposed to be as it seems? If it’s not, and you’re telling me that’s real Mr. Nolan, you have to show us how he survived a goddamn nuclear explosion. Simple as that. This isn’t one of those things where you just cut to a shot of him later and he’s a-okay. So he fixed the autopilot (another sub-subplot that should’ve been cut entirely) on The Bat, somehow ejected far enough away to survive the blast and the ensuing shockwave (which, in this case, would be an actual wave), and swam to safety somewhere in that heavy Batsuit?! Because there’s no other explanation, friends. And no, you’re not gonna tell me there was a Batsub built into The Bat that he used to survive the blast and get back to shore. Having Wayne survive this ordeal cheapens everything that comes before it. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Nolan had the courage to maim and eventually kill Bruce Wayne (just like I thought he would), but then couldn’t help himself in giving us this horribly misplaced happy ending. Hell, Nolan set up this situation perfectly with Harvey Dent’s classic line in The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne should’ve died a hero.

Aside from all those common sense problems, you’re telling me Alfred is just gonna sit there and nod his head at Bruce after all this? He wouldn’t run over and hug him? Or ask the same questions I just did, like How in the bloody hell did you survive a noo-clee-ah blahst, Mastah Wayne? You JUST gave us this heart wrenching scene where Alfred is bawling at Bruce Wayne’s supposed grave (what exactly did they bury there in the absence of Bruce’s body, by the way? And wouldn’t Alfred be intimately involved with funeral arrangements? Aye vai.), and Alfred isn’t gonna care about Bruce’s death being a lie? His jaw isn’t even gonna drop to the floor in shock? That would be pretty fucking shocking to me. Instead, it’s, “Oh, cool, you survived. And you brought the girl with you. Nice. Annnyway, I’m’a finish this tea and get outta here. No need for an apology for faking your death and putting me through emotional hell. Asshole.”

And by the way, doesn’t anyone in Gotham put together that Bruce Wayne disappeared off the face of the Earth at the same time Batman allegedly died? Just sayin. Or is his identity not important anymore? There are no above average reporters in Gotham? No gossip websites that would wonder aloud how Bruce Wayne died or where he vanished to? I feel like a blogger living in his mom’s basement could’ve figured this out.

In closing my critiques, I’ll just say that I feel like every screenwriting book and seminar going forward should have a section called Any time have your protagonist survive a nuclear explosion, it’s time for a rewrite.

IN CONCLUSION

I want Christopher Nolan to continue big budget filmmaking, but maybe not quite at this big a budget. You don’t need to spend a quarter billion dollars to show scale, and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I’m drooling with anticipation to find out what he wants to make next, and I’m also desperate to see how much Man of Steel has that Nolan vibe (he’s a producer on that film and he helped develop the story) next summer. Will Michael Shannon‘s General Zod live up to the Joker/Bane standard? Nolan has long wanted to make a Bond movie, and the idea of a Nolan-directed Daniel Craig Bond flick gives me a massive cinerection. But I suspect that will not be his next project. As far as I can tell, he’s given no clues as to what he might do next. The good news is that he’s been consistent with putting out a new film every 2 years, so if we’re to get a new Nolan movie in 2014, we should be finding out what he’s up to before the year is out. One of my favorite things about Nolan is that aside from Batman, all of his movies have been original works, whereas almost ALL big-name directors today are stuck doing book adaptations, remakes, reboots, sequels, or some other form of unoriginal thinking, which, sadly, is about all Hollywood is interested in since the marketers basically run the fucking studios now.

Where does Batman go from here? Well, Warner Bros. has made it crystal clear they want to “reboot” the franchise again as soon as possible, which means new filmmakers and a new Bruce Wayne. I say if that’s going to be the case, use the Bourne model, and not the Amazing Spider-Man model. We do NOT need to see a third iteration of the Batman origin story, with young Bruce Wayne watching his parent die and eventually becoming Batman. No no no no no. Let’s have a movie where Bruce Wayne is already Batman, or have the courage to create a new origin story. Those are only interesting options.

I would go see a movie where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the next Batman, but it ain’t happenin, kids. That ending was just a massive “what-if”. It was not a setup for another sequel. Sorry. I hope Warner Bros. realizes that like anything, you need the right people making your movie. The next Batman movie isn’t gonna be a billion-dollar hit simply because it’s “the next Batman movie”. Ask George Clooney and Joel Schumacher about that. People are not afraid to avoid a shitty movie, even if it is “the next Batman movie”. If I could be God of Hollywood, I’d probably have Darren Aronofsky make a rated-R Batman movie, but unfortunately, I am not the God of Hollywood. Yet. It’ll probably be at least a year before WB actually decides and announces who’ll be taking over the reins with Batman, and I for one say take your goddamn time.

No matter who takes over the cinematic Batman universe going forward, I think it’s fairly safe to say that this incarnation of the character and story will not be topped anytime soon. There can be no doubt that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (which now seems to be its official moniker) ranks among the very best trilogies in all of movie history, and as a whole, the series ranks #27 on my list of all-time favorite movies (right behind Predator and just ahead of the original Terminator).

For all the minor flaws, inconsistencies and logic breakdowns that detract from the film being a true masterpiece, the many things The Dark Knight Rises does right it does magnificently right. As such, I still have no issue calling this one of the best movies of 2012 thus far, and as of this writing it’s tied with The Avengers as my favorite movie of the year (again, there’s a difference between best and favorite). I hate to straddle the fence like that, but I simply can’t choose one over the other right now. I admire the movie for its big ideas and themes more than its physical scope. It’s brilliant entertainment, it’s just not the grand masterpiece I wanted. I hoped this would be one of the best movies I’d ever seen, which is probably crazy to expect out of a Batman movie, but again, that’s the bar Nolan had set with the quality of the first two movies. I wanted TDKR to be the best movie of the year, but I’ve come to grips with the fact that that isn’t going to be the case. In a way that’s cool, because it leaves the door open for Lincoln, The Master and The Hobbit.

I’ll take you out with another track from Hans Zimmer’s score, this one fittingly titled “The End”, both haunting and beautiful:

FINAL JUDGMENT:

IMDb rating: 8/10

Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes/Netflix rating: 4/5 stars

Biggies Consideration (this is a new section I’ll add to each review showing you what categories I’ll be considering a particular film in come my end of the year awards): Picture, Director, Ensemble Performance, Actor (Christian Bale), Supporting Actor (Michael Caine), Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Makeup, Original Score, Stuntwork, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing

How awesome is THIS? Seriously, click on that. The Dark Knight Trilogy envisioned as the acts of The Prestige.

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called The Pledge.The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called The Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call The Prestige

Recommended Reading:

-Slashfilm’s look back at which, if any, of the pre-release rumors actually come to fruition in the finished film. Turns out many of the rumors were true in one way or another. [Crazy Dark Knight Rises Rumors Revisited]

-Cinemablend’s piece How the Dark Knight Rises Ending Almost Ruins the Trilogy is a bit meaner than I’m willing to go, but it brings up valid points of contention.

Vulture points out that The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises all have very similar endings.

-See also my previous post on this blog where I discuss why Christopher Nolan should be the inaugural President of Hollywood.

-I got most of these awesome GIFs and images from a seriously amazing Tumblr called Fuck Yeah The Dark Knight Rises. Seriously, go check that thing out, and like me, you might find yourself flipping through it for an hour before you know what’s happened.

-Film School Rejects agrees with most of my quarrels with the film and points out a few others that I didn’t get to: 11 Things That Didn’t Work in The Dark Knight Rises. No, it’s not all negative. They also did 11 Things That Did Work in The Dark Knight Rises. Fair and balanced, people.

-Finally, Cracked.com did one of most clever pieces imaginable illustrating their issues with the film. Called If Dark Knight Rises Was 10 Times Shorter and More Honest, Rod Hilton lays out the major plot beats of the film in screenplay format, only in a more comedic, mocking way to show just how stupid some of the logic gaps are. I STRONGLY recommend reading this for some laughs.

Here’s a quick sample:

BAT-BALE

You stole Christian Bale’s fingerprints. I’m really, really concerned about him, which should not arouse any suspicion at all.

ANNE HATHAWAY

Christian Bale? The guy who went into seclusion the day you disappeared? And who made an appearance the morning you came out of retirement?

And finally, here’s some more cool art inspired by the film (click on the photo for full-size versions)

NOLAN (<—click on it)

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1 Response to “Review & Perspective: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”



  1. 1 The 2013 Biggie Awards (& My Top 10 of 2012) | BIGGIE'S PLACE Trackback on March 24, 2013 at 3:02 PM

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