So, it finally came out. You know how long I’ve been waiting for this flick? Since the credits started rolling on THE DARK KNIGHT. That’s how long. Like, four years long. Which in waiting terms, is like, forever. It’s been a long time since I was this excited for a movie to be released. Probably since THE RETURN OF THE KING, and I’m not even sure if that movie had me as excited. Now, to preface, I’ve been a life long fan of Batman. It started with Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN, which rolled right into the animated series, and then the comics. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m not as “hardcore” as you, because I didn’t start with the comics, and you did. Oh well, stuff it nerd! Moving on… From the get go, I really liked Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. At the time BATMAN BEGINS came out, I was getting caught up on the 80’s era Frank Miller comics, and I appreciated the more grounded take on the character. It was clear that this new take on Batman had been influenced by the “harder edged” comics, and it definitely caught me at the right time, in my “Batman Fan” evolutionary process. The proceeding Batman movies(BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT) just fit the bill for me. They were more crime drama than superhero movie, and the talent of Nolan was elevating the material. What I really loved was that they didn’t rest on their laurels. They were good movies. Not just good “superhero movies.” I appreciate this even more know, because the Marvel flicks have been just good “superhero movies,” and not just good movies all around. I, like I assume many others, revisited both flicks in anticipation of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and they hold up surprisingly well. Especially, THE DARK KNIGHT. Granted, they’re not perfect, or anything, but god dammit if they aren’t entertaining, and beyond that, they actually have something to say about the nature of superheroes. They address the ramifications of the existence of Batman on society, and question the veracity of a masked vigilante. That kind of blew my mind back in 2008. I was so used to superheroes existing in this weird vacuum, that the idea of “real world” ramifications, was kind of awesome. Like I said before, Christopher Nolan was clearly elevating the material by grounding it, and showing consequence. Hell, that’s what THE DARK KNIGHT is all about. How the larger world, society, and even nature, has responded to the existence of Batman. They are ambitious flicks, and their ambition hasn’t really been tried with other comic inspired movies. So, how does the new, and last(?) movie stack up to it’s predecessor?
It was okay. I can’t say that I loved it, but I definitely enjoyed it. That’s really the best way to put. You will enjoy it. Okay, you’ll enjoy it if you aren’t a “nit picky” type of movie goer. There are some logical leaps you have to make for yourself, in terms of things that are actually happening on the screen. There is a lot of contrivance, and coincidence going down in Gotham this time around. That kind of stuff doesn’t really bother me, especially in genre flicks. I can suspend my disbelief pretty far, but this movie did get dangerously close to my limits. It’s kind of a clunky movie in it’s pacing at first, and never seems to know how to smoothly transition from one event to another. It’s really noticeable in the first 40 minutes or so, as the movie just throws new characters and information at you. This probably has a lot to do with the level of bloat going on. It has to keep hurdling forward as fast as possible just to get the whole story out.
It’s a difficult film to quantify. The “film nerd” in me knows that this movie isn’t very cohesive, but I’d hesitate to say that I didn’t like it. The biggest thing this flick has going against it is the comparison to THE DARK KNIGHT, because that movie seems a lot more well thought out. It has a surface plot, and a fair amount of sub text about post 9-11 America. There’s “less” going on it it, but it feels like there is more substance, and really, that’s the crux of it. Substance. Sure, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has a lot of “stuff” going on, but it’s all just surface level plot elements, and the sub text is muddled at best. All of the sub textual elements are under developed. So, it makes it difficult to actually tell what the hell the message of this flick is. There are some direct references to the “Occupy” movement, but it’s served up more as window dressing than smart allegory, and if you take those elements as presented, with out going any deeper, you might be left kind of perturbed.
Beyond all that, there is a nice thematic through line, and the movie comes full circle with BATMAN BEGINS, and not just on a surface plot level either. It all comes around around to the central conceit of why Bruce Wayne wanted to become Batman in the first place. He wanted to inspire good in others. Batman is a symbol, or an ideal, that Bruce wants people to aspire to, and his struggle in this movie is with himself, and about how he needs to live up to that symbol as well. The movie handles that stuff pretty well. This is Bruce’s journey more than “Batman’s”.
The other things that work in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES are more “superficial”. Most noticeably, the performances of the major players. I really liked Tom Hardy’s take on Bane. A lot of people didn’t, and thought it was comical and over the top. I didn’t think it was entirely comical. Although there are a few moments of “grand standing”, that in retrospect seem kind of funny, but in a lot of ways I think the “over the top” performance he gives is what makes the character work. This movie is the most comic book like of the three, and a villain with a larger than life plan, that gives grand and “operatic” type speeches, felt appropriate. Especially, the first time Bane and Batman face off. Damn, that kind of gave me the chills. Bane is a force of physical nature. I mean, so was The Joker, but he was a little bit different. He represented “chaos” in nature. What’s a good way to put this? If the Joker was a hurricane, haphazardly destroying things around him, then Bane would be a forest fire in Arizona. Oppressive and unstoppable. Making a direct path path through the forest. I don’t know if that works, but hopefully you get the point. The other stand out performance is Anne Hathaway, as Catwoman( Even if they never actually call her that in the movie. It’s fine. I get it.). She really imbues the character with an organic feeling duplicitous nature, and a coy sense of fun. Some people found her annoying. I think that had to do with their personal feelings about Anne Hathaway in general, though. I thought she was pretty great, and may be my favorite performance of the film. Also, the action set pieces are probably the best of the series. They are clearly shot, and we know exactly what is going on. They’re pretty thrilling as well. We really get a sense of scope that was kind of lacking in THE DARK KNIGHT. Certainly an improvement.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The ending, or should I say the “ultra super happy, everybody get’s what they want, ending”, I didn’t have too many issues with it. In fact, I thought it was a nice subversion of our expectations. It’s a really dour flick, and to be honest, the most surprising thing about the movie was the last five minutes(Although, if I had made this movie, I would have cut to black as soon as Alfred smirked. Just saying.). The ending works thematically, and completes Bruce Wayne’s arc in a satisfying manner. It doesn’t have to be all “doom and gloom”.
Is this movie worth going to see? In short, yeah it is. It’s not the best movie in the world, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. I’ve read that some people think this is Christopher Nolan’s worst movie. That’s probably true, in some ways, but a mediocre Christopher Nolan movie is a lot better than most movies that clog the cineplex. It really does feel like he made this movie out of obligation rather than passion. I’ve heard some rumors about how the Joker was going to be the lynchpin of his trilogy, but unfortunately Heath Ledger passed away, and after that Nolan kind of lost interest in Batman. He couldn’t tell the story he had set out to tell. So, what we got is the most “pandering” of the three. The thing is, Nolan is a really good film maker and story teller. Even at “half mast”(You know what I’m talking about!), he can’t help but make something that is ultimately entertaining, and probably the best thing that will be on the big screen this summer.