01/08/2012. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
Batman is pulled out of his self-imposed retirement to face two villains. Bane is a big bull of a man in a really ugly mask. The other is Catwoman, particularly attractive in her skin-tight suit. The film has more action, more special effects, and more mystical philosophy than The Dark Knight, but less intelligence.
And as successful as Christopher Nolan has been with his "Batman" trilogy, the films do not stack up to his Inception and particularly not his The Prestige. Still, this is a reasonable farewell to Nolan's "Batman" films.
Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
A spoiler section follows the main body of the review.
The Nolan brothers, Christopher and Jonathan, are erudite filmmakers who, even while working in films in mass-appeal genres, usually do it with intelligence and wit. Certainly The Dark Knight Rises is a deeper and more intelligent film than is the recent film The Avengers. Unfortunately, while it is ornate, complex, long, and their most costly film to date, it is the low-point of the Nolan's recent films. While The Dark Knight had engaging moral dilemmas, The Dark Knight Rises is a much more shallow film even more than it first appears. It is full of pseudo-mystical insights and Zen-like aphorisms masquerading as wisdom. It resorts too often to clichés. It leaves the viewer with too little to chew on after giving him much too much to swallow.
I would not presume to try here to cover much of the plot of this 164-minute, fast-moving film. On the eighth anniversary of Harvey Dent's death (shown in The Dark Knight), Bruce Wayne (played again by Christian Bale) has given his life over to brooding about the past and his lost love (also from The Dark Knight). Wayne could retire as Batman because crime has all but disappeared from Gotham after the Dent Act was passed to imprison all dangerous criminals. There are, however, two new costumed foes on the horizon. One is the terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy) and the other is Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). The former is a beefy villain in what looks like a Cthulhu mask, the latter is a well-proportioned woman in a skin- tight cat suit. In chasing Bane, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is shot and spends much of the film in a hospital bed. Replacing him in working with Batman is patrolman John Blake (Joseph Gordon- Levitt), soon promoted to be a full-fledged detective.
The Nolan brothers' story is not as carefully and tightly written as the previous scripts by the pair. Blake quickly deduces that Bruce Wayne is the super-secret identity of Batman. That's okay. By the end of the film just about everybody who is anybody in this film will know that Batman and Wayne are one and the same. It seems a pity since Wayne sacrificed so much to protect his secret in The Dark Knight. Possibly Wayne saw Spider Man 2 and just decided that he could be really sloppy with all the secrecy. Once again we have Morgan Freeman playing Fox (as in "clever like a..."), the Batman equivalent of James Bond's Q. The premise is that he gives Batman weapons that Wayne Enterprises has built for the military, yet nobody in government who ever approved their development ever recognizes the Bat-vehicles and draws the connection between Wayne Enterprises and Batman. But that is yet one more potential leak of the super-secret identity.
And there is some question as to whether Fox is doing Batman so much good. Bane and Batman learned fighting from the same master. Yet while Batman has his body armour and Bane seems to have mostly just bare skin they seem about evenly matched. It is clear Bane must just be the better fighter. That body armour is very useful against machine guns but only because the attackers never seem to think to aim for that light oval between Batman's nose and his chin. Lucky thing! The Nolan brothers have the usual witticisms in battle. Unlikely and inappropriate as they are, they have become a required part of superhero writing. Man fighting Catwoman: "Do those high heels make it hard to walk?" Catwoman, kicking him with her heel, "Do they?" I suppose his question is a good one; other than a hooker what woman goes into action wearing high heels? But the combination of the darkness of the new superhero films and cute comments does not really work.
There are more problems with the script. Nobody on the streets of Gotham seems to be dressed for cold weather. It looks like maybe late spring in the city. However, when the plot calls for it, suddenly the river is iced over. But at least there are some Zen- like maxims to think about before the next violence drives them from your mind. Certainly compared to The Avengers earlier this summer, this is a deeper film with a more complex plot. That is not setting the bar very high.
Not surprisingly the cast is big and familiar. I will not bother to list the notable actors on the payroll. Tom Hardy's voice sounded like it had an extremely variable Brian Cox-like accent. That was when I could understand at all what he was saying. The sound of his voice seemed muddy even though it was obviously added with Additional Dialog Recording. His performance as chief villain is a letdown after Heath Ledger's Joker. For no obvious reason Gary Oldman seems to have been pushed aside so that Joseph Gordon- Levitt could effectively play his role. It was almost like someone decided to have less Oldman and more Gordon-Levitt. It is hard to tell which is more muddled and indistinct, Bane's voice or the political statements the film makes.
Hans Zimmer's score did not seem to have much noticeable melody. When one considers the contribution Zimmer made to films like Crimson Tide it is a pity he is doing less melody. Here his music seems mostly just to add texture (and to make it harder to understand Bane).
The Dark Knight Rises completes Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy with something of a mixed bag of virtues and faults. I have heard that Christian Bale also plans to leave the series. Expect another reboot in three or four years. In spite of many problems, Nolan's interpretation will be a hard act for any other director to follow. I rate The Dark Knight Rises a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
SPOILER... SPOILER... SPOILER...
There is a principle in mystery films. If there is one extraneous character who seems to have no purpose in the plot, then that is your killer. It works just fine here.
Remember that in the first Star Wars, Han Solo has decided not to take part in the attack on the Deathstar? He goes off to pursue his own ends. Then at just the right moment he returns and saves the day? Tell me if you are not reminded of that in this film.
Speaking of recycling of plot elements from other films, did we need yet another suspense film with a ticking time bomb that somehow has to be eliminated? Come on, Nolans. It seems either a major sequence was omitted or Batman has the ability to teleport thousands of miles and right into a city whose borders have been sealed.
A nuclear detonation that near Gotham (which is obviously New York City) might not kill anyone right off, but unless there is something I am missing I believe the electromagnetic pulse from the explosion would fry all the electronics in Gotham. That would be a huge disaster nationwide. It would destroy financial records kept in the city. People on hospital life support would die. Computers and cell phones would become worthless. It would be a long time before electrical power would be returned and much longer before the country recovered, if ever. They made the point that the detonation was near enough to see. Also I believe a mushroom cloud is a dry land phenomenon. On water you would get a billowing sphere.
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