Sunday, July 22, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Pictured: two good actors.

The Dark Knight Rises was not at all what I was expecting, but neither was I at any point surprised while watching it. In short, The Dark Knight Rises was really just another superhero movie, despite all the hype. Many have gushed over the ostensibly intellectual nature of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but The Dark Knight Rises is not a superhero movie for the thinking man. It is, however, a great superhero movie.

Of course, spoilers ahead.

The plot is fairly coherent, despite clearly suffering from the loss of Heath Ledger’s Joker. The plot instead goes back to the first Nolan Batman movie for its villains’ motivations, which works surprisingly well even though it turns The Dark Knight into a rather jarring break in between the first and third Nolan movies. One can hardly blame Christopher Nolan for having to change some details following the death of his main villain, but many of the characters in The Dark Knight Rises fail to attain the appropriate development because there simply isn’t enough time in the movie to properly introduce and build up their character.

"I'm too good for this movie."
The best example of this is the actual main villain, Talia al Ghul, (Marion Cotillard, playing roughly the same role as she played in Nolan’s Inception) who is intended to be one of Bruce Wayne’s allies who then reveals her true nature and betrays him. Unfortunately, the punch of this betrayal is lost because her character isn’t given enough development for her relationship with Bruce Wayne to feel genuine.

Although Talia al Ghul is the mastermind of the evil plot of The Dark Knight Rises, her lackey Bane is far more interesting of a villain, and it is disappointing that in the end, he gets roughly zero actual character or motivation. For the entire first half of the movie, Tom Hardy’s massive, imposing, masked villain dominates the screen, and his iconic showdown with Batman midway through the movie which culminates in the famous breaking of the Bat is possibly the best part of the movie. This makes his ending all the more anticlimactic. We discover that Bane has no personal motivation and has simply been acting on orders from Talia the whole time. Even his final battle with Batman is interrupted, first by Talia and then by Catwoman, when he is summarily blasted out of the movie without even the dignity of a death speech. Part of this is due to the unfortunate sound design choices with Bane, whose mask garbles his speech somewhat. The fix for the mask problem is only to make Bane’s voice jarringly louder than everyone else’s, which makes him more understandable, but hurts the sound quality of the movie.

In unrelated news, that coat is fantastic.

The biggest disappointment of the movie, however, is Batman himself. It has long been clear that Christian Bale is not actually a good actor, but this movie makes that fact painfully clear. The movie persists in revolving around Batman, even as it attempts to thematically focus on the necessity of Batman moving on, and even as it becomes increasingly clear that Christian Bale’s Batman is just not that interesting any more. Bale is convincing only in the first half of the movie as a burned-out relic and in his defeat to Bane at the end of the first half of the movie, but he is unconvincing and boring during the entire “rise” part of The Dark Knight Rises.

Stupid perfect baby.
The biggest casualty of this focus on Batman is the supporting characters, who suffer from caring more about Batman than about most of their own motivations. The only supporting character who pulls this off is Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Caine, but all the other characters unfortunately have the same tendency to act like Batman’s humble servants. One example of this is John Blake, the scene-stealing beat cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who spends the whole movie wishing he was Batman but never gets a chance to actually do anything.

Also stupid perfect baby.
The same goes times a million for Selina Kyle, whose potentially interesting character and excellent actress gets stuck with the most trite character arc in the movie. Her femme fatale betrays Batman to Bane, feels bad about it, comes back to aid Gotham only because Batman asks her to, and then makes out with him. The worst part is that if Selina Kyle didn’t spend all her time focused only on Batman she could be an excellent character. She shows occasional flashes of her own budding heroism independent of just doing what Batman tells her, and Anne Hathaway does a stellar job of turning what could easily have been an awful cardboard character into a relatable human being, albeit one who spends all her time worrying about Batman.

Pictured: the actual climax of The Dark Knight Rises.
The ending of the movie makes it abundantly clear that while you thought you were watching a gritty movie for the thinking man, you were actually just watching your average fluffy superhero movie. The climax is a painfully cheesy bomb-defusing scenario that may have also been in The Avengers, and all the good guys lived and got what they wanted and probably lived happily ever after, a jarring contrast to the grim tone of the rest of the movie. However, at least some of the elements of the ending seem almost too good to be true. We are led to believe, for instance, that Bruce Wayne has finally reached the point where he can accept not being Batman, and has left to live a normal life while letting his friends believe he is dead, but then also he has apparently taken Selina Kyle with him on his normal life? Firstly, it seems strange that he would let everyone except her think he was dead, secondly it makes no sense for Selina, who has just discovered her own inner heroism, to just up and spend the rest of her life frolicking in meadows with Bruce Wayne, and thirdly, our only reason for believing this is that we see them together in a scene observed by Alfred, who has previously described the exact scenario as his “personal fantasy.” It may be a stretch, but I prefer to believe that Bruce Wayne did not take any of his old life with him, not even Selina Kyle.

Plus, this paves the way for my dream: in five years, everyone gets tired of all the gritty reboots of superhero movies, and Joss Whedon gets hired to direct a happy, fluffy Batman reboot that continues from the Nolan canon, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Batman and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman cavorting around Gotham arguing about the best way to beat up bad guys and secretly being in love, and the movie is actually basically a rom-com. Except that because it’s Joss Whedon, the movie ends up being way more heartbreaking than The Dark Knight Rises.

At the end of the day, you should go see The Dark Knight Rises, because it is a truly stellar movie, and especially makes for an excellent foil to The Avengers. However, you should not expect anything more than a superhero movie with a dark tone, or you may be disappointed.

Review: Like

1 comment:

  1. Well....I think for the most part our dislikes about this film are not in line. The only thing I agree on is Talia getting no development. Besides that my issue was the pacing of the movie. It felt like I was in a car with a new driver, who either was slamming the gas or the brake. To say it has long been apparent that Bale can't act? Seriously? He's incredible. Anne Hathaway's character was one of the most interesting characters in the film, and John Blake didn't want to be Batman.  He wanted Batman back, and he wanted to help him. Blake also did a TON in this movie. I just don't agree with a lot of this review.


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