Yeah, yeah, so movie reviews should probably be posted close to the film’s release date for maximum impact and, you know, relevance. Well, when has that ever stopped us here at LEG+JCB?
Now, just off the bat (har har), I really enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises. It really does a good job at providing an emotionally-satisfying end to the trilogy (kinda like the finale to “Lost,” whatever that means to you).
But, of course, since I’m a huge nerd, I have a bunch of nitpicking to do:
Unlike Spider-Man, I don’t have any sort of long, complicated appreciation of Batman with roots in my childhood. I was a sorta-fan of the ’90s animated series, though I actually liked Batman Beyond a little more. I think Batman has some awesome villains, some of the best in comics, and Gotham is a great, versatile backdrop for a multitude of stories. That, my friends, marks the extent of my “deep thoughts” on the caped crusader.
Now, I’ve enjoyed the Christopher Nolan Batman films, though there’s something that’s always seemed a little off about them to me. I think it’s because they try so gosh-darned hard to be realistic and serious that the more pulpy nature of the Batman I grew up with was absent.
That, and I never liked Christian Bale’s jawline: too narrow in relation to his cheekbones, which is not the super-square-jawed I imagine on Batman (though I guess the only live-action Bats that fits that bill is…**shudder**…Val Kilmer).
Those quibbles aside, there were a lot of elements of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight that I loved. Obviously, the Joker, a performance that will go down as iconic for decades to come. I also enjoyed how Christopher Nolan took that whole notion of, “Well, you can’t have too many bad guys in a film–it’s too much!” and fragrantly disregarded it. In the first film, we got the Scarecrow, Falcone, Ra’s al Ghul, not to mention Rachel, Jim Gordon, and Batman’s origin story; in the second, the Joker and Harvey Dent/Two-Face, a cameo by the Scarecrow, more (then less) Rachel, more Gordon.
It became evident (between his Batman films and especially Inception) that Nolan knows how to juggle lots of characters and still make it feel, to the audience, like things mattered. But that character-laundry-list approach Nolan is so adept in…fell a part a little bit in The Dark Knight Rises, which is the main reason why the film is slightly less than completely fulfilling for me.
Though Rachel, Harvey Dent, and the Joker are no longer part of the cast, you still have Bruce Wayne/Batman, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon, Richard from Lost, all with their own arcs. Then Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul, Bane, and a handful of cops and Wayne Enterprise board-members and rival industrialist Daggett, are added to the mix, with their backgrounds and storylines requiring addressing as well.
And then, of course, there’s John Blake, played with usual gravitas by geek dreamboat Joseph Gordon-Levitt, rookie cop/detective who we’re forced to care about through his early and terribly awkward reveal that he just knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Besides the fact we’re asked to buy that, what, a 15-year-old orphan could ID Bruce as Batman even though nobody else in the city could make the same deduction, it just seems like a really hamfisted way to get the audience on board with his character right off the bat (hardy har har ho). It also makes it painfully clear to the audience right away that John Blake is An Important Character, So Keep An Eye On Him. The 11th-hour reveal of Blake’s birthname, too, is like an anvil, too, but I tried to keep in mind that Robin, as we know the character, is not supposed to exist in the Nolan Batverse.
Likewise, Selina Kyle, a comparatively–and appreciatively–understated rendition of the character by Anne Hathaway, is a character we’re asked to care about…because she’s Catwoman. Nolan really taps into that Catwoman cultural cache, depending on a lot of leeway from the audience to feel sympathetic toward her character, even though the “romance” with Batman is rushed and hard to buy (especially with where we see it at the end of the film) and her motivations, while outlined via exposition, are fairly broad and we’re left to wonder how she became such a good cat burglar, where’d she get her tech and bodysuit, etc. etc. While I loved the performance and appreciated a ass-kicking female character finally being introduced into this trilogy, I felt like it was just assumed we would like Selina and care about her simply because of her status in popular culture.
Now, moving on to Miranda Tate (later to be revealed as the daughter of Liam Neeson’s character from the first film, actual name: Talia al Ghul.) Talia has a complicated history with Batman in the comics, and is actually the biological mother of Bruce’s only child, Damien (who later became the fourth or fifth Robin, depending on which DC universe timeline you’re considering). When they introduced Ra’s in the first film, comic nerds knew it was only a matter of time before Talia would show up in the movies, and it was pretty evident as casting was announced that Marion Cotillard would portray her. Still, Talia is given her own (albeit convoluted) origin story, which is satisfying enough in and of itself, though like her father, she appears on screen so little that its hard to give her much weight.
Bane, with his weird Sean Connery voice, is a solid villain, and is probably the second best (or at least, most interesting) bad guy in this series after Heath Ledger’s Joker. There’s not much else to say about him, though…he is ultimately more of a front man for Talia’s master plan, which is really just her father’s master plan which is described in Batman Begins.
So, yeah, I did find The Dark Knight Rises to have a few characters too many, trying to provide too many background stories while still trying to address Bruce’s arc in a respectable manner. If anything, Bruce’s arc is fairly satisfying with the other character’s storylines suffer as a result. Thankfully, though, this is Bruce’s story, and the public validation of the Batman and saving from the brink the city his father helped build…those were elements of the story we needed to see, and thankfully, we did.
[And can I just talk about the weird, totally under-explained prison-in-a-hole? How did the prison come under Bane’s control? I am still trying to figure out if it was a complete metaphysical metaphor…except then the prison plays into Talia’s and Bane’s origin too much for it to be just that.]
The Dark Knight Rises has too much going on, but don’t get me wrong, the core is still strong. By providing Bruce Wayne with a dignified ending that hit upon all the themes discussed in this series (fear, symbols, terror, hope), the film holds together and provides a worthwhile, if slightly sloppy, ending to The Dark Knight trilogy.
So, if you haven’t seen it yet, go. Though re-watch Batman Begins first–it’ll help you appreciate the efforts in this most recent installment that much more.