Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
It’s sad to start this review in light of the recent tragedy in Colorado (CC2K wishes to extend their condolences to the victims and their families) considering the long road Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have taken to reach the screen. Just in 2008 the predecessor to this film, The Dark Knight, was marred by tragedy with the loss of star Heath Ledger and while the two events are so different it shows that these films carry a heavy burden on them. In terms of this film, The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan had a lot on his plate closing out this franchise and the film isn’t perfect. It’s not nearly as spellbinding as Dark Knight but for a film that’s struggled to make it this far, TDKR succeeds in presenting a fitting conclusion that extends past the screen into the real world.
In the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga we fast-forward eight years after Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has taken the fall for the death of “white knight” Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). In that time Bruce, broken and mourning after the events of the last film, is drawn back into the world to save his floundering company and also stop the mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) who wishes to destroy Gothman. Add in a crafty catburglar played by Anne Hathaway and Batman will discover that he hasn’t given everything in the pursuit of being Batman…”not yet.”
While sitting in the theater waiting for this final Batman I had some high expectations considering Nolan’s past pedigree, the past films, and how rather lackluster this summer has been. I haven’t been wowed this year and several films that I had high hopes for (coughPrometheuscough) were disappointments. The Dark Knight Rises will probably be my favorite film of the summer and it deserves it. Within a two hour and forty-five minute runtime Nolan creates an epic on a huge scale in both action and story. Gotham may not have organized crime anymore but the growing economic gap has created a simmering tension that no one is acknowledging but is palpable. In highlighting the grand parties of the wealthy Nolan is showing that while no one is talking about it, there is an excessive use of wealth in this world he’s created.
With that, some people are making a lot out of the political views of this film that Nolan and co-writer Jonathan Nolan make rather explicit. One could easily write a paper about what The Dark Knight Rises is saying about our current political climate and while it can be overbearing and squeezed into the plot to give the film a “message,” it didn’t bother me. Batman has always had the duality of being wealthy and fighting for the disenfranchised so it’s just timing that makes the message so palpable. In looking at that script, it’s by far the strongest element of the story next to the action. There’s some amazing speeches and stories told throughout the runtime particularly in the prison sequence when Bruce is told about a child escaping. The film blends the political message with legends and fables of old to create and round out the Batman mythos itself.
Despite beautiful words the plot is needlessly convoluted to the point of incoherence at times. I enjoyed the first act, despite some critics calling it cramped with exposition, but the second and third seemed to be the most congested. There’s a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises that I assumed was going to be the core problem but once the guy at the head of it is murdered that plot is unceremoniously dumped in favor of another involving nuclear energy (but everyone calls it a bomb). The plot and dialogue seemed filled with rapid talking, as if the actors are trying to process the story themselves, and the constant boardroom lingo gives the audience a lot to process. I know that once characters went to the boardroom or were discussing the reactor I had to just let the story drag me along. I figured out what was happening eventually but the second act is confusing even if you’re paying the utmost attention. Add to that Nolan’s need to end this in a way pleasing to the audience and opening up a route for the eventual Nolan-less sequel and the film doesn’t quite pack the punch you expect and for many it’ll be fairly obvious (almost nothing in this movie is subtle as discussed later).
The acting definitely steps things up as the actors seem to know this is the swan song for many although each character has some serious issues. Whether you like gravely voiced Bale or not he continues to own the role of Batman. Here he takes a serious backseat to the ensemble nature of the film. Many times I kept saying “where’s Batman” but no matter because once Bale arrives he kicked ass. The character has gone through so much, both emotionally and physically and while I didn’t necessarily enjoy the climax of his character arc (I’d have much preferred the final showdown between him and Bane closing the film), Bale was solid. Gary Oldman still deserves an Oscar for Commissioner Gordan and in many ways he becomes the hero of this film. Newcomes Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all have their pros and cons. I personally adored Hathaway in this film. Adored her! Her Catwoman is everything I wanted: sexy, clever, funny and she succeeded. The love story between her and Batman doesn’t come off as smoothly as in Batman Returns but regardless I’d go see a spin-off film with Hathaway in the lead. Speaking of, when are we giving Tom Hardy his Bane film? Bane is a monster of a character and 5’10” Hardy made you fear him! The way the film is shot presents the actor as a beast of a man and his presence makes him a worthy foe to Batman. The fight scene between him and the Caped Crusader is brutal and Bane never panders with one-liners or takes his time to monologue, he straight up kills you! As with other character his send-off is probably the most anticlimactic! Literally, I stayed till after the credits thinking he was going to be in them because if we’re supposed to believe a puny man-made weapon can hurt him permanently that’s bad storytelling. Considering how built up to be a god this guy is having him be knocked around and “defeated” is weak. It was easily the most annoying part of the film for me that he was just thrown aside, literally.
Gordon-Levitt is the character used to placate audiences, one of two character whose exactly who you expect him to be (I won’t spoil it here). He’s good but nothing special and while I knew where he was going in the story, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy seeing where the franchise is going to go based on how it ended. It seemed to be the key element meant to wink at the audience in a film where that hasn’t happened. To add to the pandering is Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate. Again, she’s the character you blatantly expect her to be from the word “go” and whether you read spoilers or not you’ll know from the first instant the twist will revolve around her because she’s continuously in places for no reason and/or pulled aside by Bane for no reason. My friend, who hadn’t read anything about this, said “Is she REALLY important or important because she’s Batman’s girlfriend.” Regardless of those two outcomes, it’s brutally obvious she’s going to be a crucial character because there’s always a “look at me” aspect to her character which is to Cotillard’s detriment as there just isn’t an oomph factor to her. You’re just waiting for her to do something in the third act leaving her to be a prop for the first two.
In spite of a clunky second and third act and actors that are purely used to appease fans of the comics, I never felt bored by The Dark Knight Rises, which would be easy considering the runtime. Instead I was swept up in the immense spectacle laid down by Nolan and crew. The acting is wonderful across the board with Hathaway and Hardy as standouts and it closes up the trilogy in a way that is neither a “happily ever after” nor “walking into the sunset.” It won’t please everyone but it’s good enough to secure a spot on my Best Of list at year’s end.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.