By Jessica Delfanti | July 20, 2012
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Tom Hardy, Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Liam Neeson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Juno Temple
Coming third in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and a trio of ultra-hyped films (including The Avengers and Prometheus), The Dark Knight Rises arrives on the big screen with a bang, a crackle, and a hiss. Vastly entertaining and filled with marvelous visuals, the film meets our expectations with its scope, but packs the rest of the film with distracting plot, continuity, and casting flaws. TDKR finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a recluse, eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight. He is brought back to his Batman persona and the dark world of Gotham with the appearance of sexcat thief Selina Kyle/Catwoman (the awkward Anne Hathaway) and rumors of a new baddie on the scene, Bane (Tom Hardy). Wayne faces his apparently most difficult adversary yet with the tired fragility of a retired warhorse, and his inability to carry the weight of hero-hood shifts heroic roles onto Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and optimistic Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
TDKR is a massively entertaining film that has all of the craft in place. The effects, the explosions, the physical rendering of the dark Chicago-esque Gotham, all of the ducks are in order. Even at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film does not leave the audience bored or itching for action. The appearances of Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), albeit surprisingly spare, are heart warming and provide some of the most emotional moments of the film. And Bale at his most tired, sad, quiet and lost, provides Batman with something new and aching in a subtle performance that should not be overlooked. The issue, then, is that while the film is enjoyable, it is so wrought with flaws that that enjoyment is only ever superficial. Following up the immensely popular The Dark Knight, one would expect the final chapter of the trilogy to be bigger, darker, and more massive in scope. Certainly, the effort is there. This time, it is not two ferries that are at risk, but the entire city. This time, it is not just the subtle concept of the future of Gotham and the potential of a shining example, but about the future of Gotham and the potential of complete destruction. This time, it is not the maniacal and intensely psychological villain of the Joker (Heath Ledger), but the thumping brawn of the physically threatening beefcake, Bane. Yes, the film goes bigger, but it also goes dumber.
Nolan’s previous two Batman films functioned as stand alone projects that were comprised in themselves; Nolan himself has commented that each film should be viewed laterally. One of the primary issues with TDKR is the way the narrative relies so heavily upon the events of Batman Begins, attributing much of Bane’s motivation to off screen conversations or scenes from another film. The result is a consistent and absolute confusion as to what on earth Bane hopes to achieve. Where his goals are fuzzy, his motivations are all but unknown to the viewers. In comparison with the well developed Joker, whose ambition and intent were so cleanly defined, Bane feels disappointingly simple. His main power appears contained within his physical strength, which might make for a few thumpy (and very boring) fight scenes, but doesn’t explain why he would be able to establish such unquestionable power over his thugs, much less provide an intellectually stimulating villain for the viewers.
In addition, TDKR manages to pose a threat of epic proportions with no teeth. The film makes the mistake of trying for something too big, creating a fork in the road that provides two options: Gotham and every character in the trilogy dies; or Batman saves everyone. There is never a single moment in the film where the first option seems plausible. What the film lacks, then, is a sense of danger or threat; rather than sitting on the edge of the seat, waiting to see what will happen and who will die, we are passive, waiting for Batman to swoop in and save the day.
In spite of the script’s failings, the cast does a marvelous job with what they have, with one important exception: Hathaway’s Catwoman. Hathaway is a fantastic actress that has proved herself in scripts portraying a variety of characters. However, her strengths lie in the vulnerable, the coquettish smile, and demonstrating pain; as the would-be sassy, confident, sexy Catwoman, she looks like an insecure girl trying to impress someone. Her character is one of the best written in the film, and her costume is flawless, but Hathaway’s acting is constantly visible and at times embarrassingly awkward. Those that asserted that the actress would be able to step up despite audience expectations because of Ledger’s similarly unconventional casting as the Joker will be greatly disappointed.
Audience members will exit the film with many ideas on how it might have been improved. What if they had used one of the other Batman villains? What if they had cut out this section, and added to this other? What if Ledger was still alive, and could have played off of Bane? But in the end, this is the last (for now) piece of the Batman legacy that Nolan has to give us. Still, we can’t be blamed for wishing that it was less of a film riddled with flaws, and more of a film with the Riddler.