‘Rises’ falls short of high expectations
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Tackling a third film in a successful franchise is a risky move. These films tend to go up against unfortunate hurdles, be they creative failure (Return of the Jedi), unnecessary existence (The Godfather: Part III), unwarranted backlash (Spider-Man 3) or other film-specific problems. Despite this trend, director Christopher Nolan’s latest film in his massively successful Dark Knight trilogy has been treated with nothing short of colossal excitement.
Internet message boards were pulverized with unrelenting fan speculation. Fans lapped up the smallest news bytes like rabid dogs. The marketing was sharp, with trailers and advertisements revealing little of the film’s plot—even though it was nearly impossible to turn a corner without seeing a giant bat poster splashed on the side of a building. But like many overhyped sequels, it is perhaps the anticipation of greatness that has resulted in The Dark Knight Rises culminating as something of a disappointment. It’s a good film in its own right, but compared to its predecessors, the whole thing plays a bit shallow. In place of innovation is convention, and a director who usually puts character first seems to have turned his concentration to sheer spectacle.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, which portrayed Batman (Christian Bale) taking the fall for the crimes of district attorney-turned sadistic killer Harvey “Two-Face” Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Broken both physically and spiritually, Batman/Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, locking himself in Wayne Manor. The passing of assumed-martyr Dent, meanwhile, has established the Harvey Dent Act, all but eliminating organized crime in Gotham. But the peace proves to be temporary thanks to the emergence of the terrorist Bane, who forces Batman out of his self-imposed retirement.
These events are interesting enough, but their presentation is backwards. Sparingly little of the film’s mammoth two-hour-and-45-minute run time is devoted to Batman’s “rise,” unless you count the scenes featuring Bruce trapped underground, faced with the impossible task of literally rising out of a miles-deep pit. The pit is meant to mirror the circumstances that first transformed Bruce into Batman (his fear of bats was born from falling into a pit full of them). But where Batman Begins presented similar scenes with focused tension, here the emotions are somewhat strangled due to the film’s insistence on constantly cutting back to the chaos in Gotham. Such action sequences plod on for so long that we almost forget about Bruce’s predicament. It’s a striking change considering that the first two films were chock-full of suspense and action but never at the cost of their story’s psychological core. Here, Nolan has reversed the elements, and Bruce Wayne’s personal struggles feel buried underneath the apocalyptic melodrama.
But in all fairness, my gripes with the film come from a fan who expected nothing short of a masterpiece. From a less-biased point of view, there is still much to love, particularly in the acting.
Bale gives his best performance to date as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Bruce is now approaching middle age, so there are intriguing elements of weariness and regret that Bale is allowed to combine with his usual stoic behavior. The conflicting elements serve to move the character to his dynamic best.
Michael Caine is phenomenal once again as Alfred, and though he unfortunately has far less screen time than in the previous films, he brings the character to emotionally stirring heights. The two actors give us some of the most moving interactions we’ve seen between Bruce and Alfred. The film may be overloaded with visceral indulgence, but character moments like these really stand out.
Morgan Freeman, as Lucius Fox, and Gary Oldman, as Commissioner Gordon, are in fine form as usual, though they don’t get to do anything nearly as interesting as they did last time around. They’re underutilized as leaders of Gotham’s charge against Bane, existing as little more than part of the crowd.
Tom Hardy delivers a powerful performance as Bane. His great physical presence combines with his offbeat, jolly mannerisms to create a truly unsettling character—Bane is the type to snap a man’s neck as calmly as sipping tea. Hardy’s voice is a bit muffled underneath his breathing mask, and Bane’s vocal intonations and fetish for world-scale destruction lead me to believe his characterization was based on Marvin the Martian. But what counts about Bane is his physicality, and he is the perfect physical foil for Batman; the fight scenes between the two are by far the best shot and choreographed of the series.
Anne Hathaway is surprisingly brilliant as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. The finesse with which Hathaway switches between channels of helpless damsel in distress, seductive femme fatale and sharp-tongued assailant is a delight to behold.
She is also a great counterpart for Batman, acting as both adversary and sidekick. There’s an undeniable comic book thrill watching Batman and Catwoman on-screen together, taking out criminals as artfully as a dynamic duo dancing a ballet.
Selina’s romantic interludes with Bruce dart in and out of the movie as often as her feline alter ego, Hathaway’s chemistry with Bale flitting cat-like across the screen.
A second love interest for Bruce comes in the form of Miranda Tate, (Marion Cotillard). She brings some vitality into what could have been a rather dull character. It doesn’t exactly stimulate her acting skills, but she fits into the role perfectly.
The most interesting new character is detective John Blake, played with earnest heroism by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. One of Nolan’s goals seems to be to illuminate how Gotham’s ordinary people can rise up and defend themselves without the help of Batman. Gordon-Levitt gives us the finest example of courage that doesn’t (necessarily) need to wear a cape and cowl.
The Dark Knight Rises has every working element of a fine superhero film. Heroic characters, brilliant action and a stirring Hans Zimmer score. As a swan song to the series, it is appropriately epic, and the film ultimately seeks to resolve the theme introduced in Batman Begins: the difference between Batman, the symbol, and Bruce Wayne, the man. On that level, the film nicely ties up both ends.
If this film were the conclusion of a trilogy directed by Tim Burton or Joel Schumacher, I would call it the director’s finest effort. But in the face of creative giants like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Rises is a comparatively run-of-the-mill effort. It doesn’t rise as high as the first two, but The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting conclusion to the greatest comic-book film series ever made.