The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Review

A movie review article by: Logan Beaver, Dylan Garsee, Kelvin Green, Shawn Hill

Logan Beaver

Christopher Nolan's Batman films are often portrayed as being the “good” superhero movies.   For one thing, he tends to bring really good actors along with him, but he also gave a feel to his last two Batman movies that was not only darker and more serious than your typical capes flick, but also more grounded in contemporary culture. When Nolan tries to achieve this in Dark Knight Rises, it looks like an essentially meaningless grab for relevance, like the OWS equivalent of one of those Stan Lee cameos.

So let's start out with Nolan's weird stab at political discourse. There were numerous similarities between Bane's group of thugs and the Occupy movement; right down to how Bane's dialogue seemed designed to, at times, ape the language of the movement. They are both poor or working class people who took on the rich (Bane took hostages on the trading floor, Occupiers protest in the streets in downtown Manhattan), who use new technologies to achieve their goals (Occupiers organize with social media, Bane drives the Bat Tank), motivated by economic inequality (Occupiers seek to negate the power of the rich to use their money to bend the government to its will, Bane's men seek vengeance against Gotham's elite because they are poor, or something), and both have confrontations with authority (Bane's men are assaulted by an army of baton-wielding police while they were turning the city into an anarchist utopia, Occupiers are assaulted by an army of baton-wielding police while they are...protesting peacefully). These parallels are heading in some strange directions, Mr. Nolan. Are you actually comparing peaceful protesters across the country to terrorists?

Those parallels are clear as day to me, I can hardly imagine they weren't intentional, but if you try to take it further it gets messy. It turns out Bane and his men are secretly working for another evil rich person who in turn is taking cues from an old, dead person. Is that to say that the protesters are being manipulated by nihilistic institutions? In the end, Batman, clearly a member of the elite, saves the day with his millions of dollars' worth of weaponry, and, as Bruce Wayne, gives up his remaining assets to help orphans. Is that meant to be analogous to a solution to the protester's problems: wait for the assistance of benevolent rich people?

No, of course not.

One of the film's problems is that it doesn't satisfyingly conclude any of the thematic concerns it begins with. They are, in fact, no more important to the film than the bridges that get exploded, or the buildings that get demolished.

Maybe this theme is intended as mere decoration for what is basically meant to be a big damn action movie. As a big damn action movie, it mostly succeeds, with its explosions, fighting, one liners, airplane escapes, and running from things. The operative word here is 'big.' The scale of everything that happens in the movie is massive, from the very first moment when Bane tears an airplane in half just to kidnap one guy, to the neutron bomb in the middle of the city, to the Bat shaped explosion in that building, to the policeman/thug brawl in the Gotham streets. It's that epic level of action that you used to only be able to do in comics, and in Dark Knight Rises it looks great.

The thing in the film I'm most conflicted about is Catwoman. Catwoman in this movie has, as a character, a lot going for her (Gloria Steinem even lauded her as a “feminist superhero”). She's cunning and self-reliant, she can beat people up as well as Batman, and when she warns Bruce about Bane she brings him into the previously mentioned class struggle going on in Gotham. That's simultaneous theme and plot relevance! I even thought the high heel blades and her high kicking, acrobatic combat style was an appropriate level of superheroic kitsch.

Sadly, all this does nothing to change Catwoman's essential role in the movie as love interest, nor does it fix all those male gaze-y shots of her in her costume.

My biggest problem with Catwoman was Anne Hathaway's portrayal. They gave her a character that, while still a romantic interest to a male main character, had some meat to it, but it's like she put on the Catwoman costume and thought “Oh that's right! I'm in a movie made for horny slackjaws and comic book humping manchildren!” I would argue that it was her equivalent to the “Bat-voice,” that the “You've been a bad boy” delivery that Hathaway uses is part of the escapist act of putting on the costume and not being destitute Selina Kyle anymore, except that she never seems to turn that voice off, even in scenes when Selina Kyle is very firmly grounded in reality.

I have a few other minor nitpicks. Mostly, though, it's an action movie. Yes, we should expect more of all of our movies, even our superhero movies, but if you go in wanting to see a city get blown up and people get punched in the face, this movie does all those things in a spectacular, genuinely super heroic fashion. If you didn't want those things, you probably weren't going to buy a ticket anyway.

Four nitpicks, and one kinda spoilery bit of praise:

- Batman, when he fought multiple people, looked like a martial artist, but when he would fight one person, looked like a brawler. I understand that Christopher Nolan probably wanted combat to seem more realistic and gritty (as opposed to a slick, stylized martial arts movie), but Batman should have been fighting more with his entire body, not just his fists, and when Batman did punch, it shouldn't have been one ridiculous, obviously doomed haymaker after another.

- I feel weird even complaining that Catwoman looked like she was posing for Maxim every time she drove the Bat Cycle, because, really, what did I expect?

- The script, structurally speaking, was some tired film school bullshit. I wasn't keeping careful track of how the “surprising, yet inevitable” twists came together, but it almost seemed like the earlier a twist was set up, the later the twist was executed. The best example being (spoilers) Alfred's monologue in the beginning about Florence, and the very end of the movie.

- Speaking of Alfred's monologues, I was so glad when he left. Michael Caine's voice in this movie, more so than any of the other movies, was incredibly distracting. His voice was almost as weird and distracting as Bane's. Bane just seemed to have a general “villain from a foreign land” accent.

- And now for my praise: Christopher Nolan, ironically, surprised me with the various ways in which he stayed true to the comics continuity. It was like, every time I expected him to deviate or ignore the comics, it would turn around and surprise you with something. So that was good.

Dylan Garsee

It’s over now; everyone can go home.

The Dark Knight Rises has had so much hype built up around it for the past four years that Christopher Nolan would have had to sell his soul to Satan for him to pull it off. Now, the nation can take a collective sigh of relief as he mostly pulls off the daunting task of ending a nearly universally acclaimed series on a high note.

Coming in at nearly three hours long, The Dark Knight Rises takes its time to stop and smell the roses. The film takes nearly an hour and a half for the central conflict to kick in, and at that point it really takes off. The football game scene already feels like an instant classic, followed by scene after scene of almost memorable sequences into an ending that is satisfying and strangely happy, especially coming from Nolan.

But that is not the only uncharacteristically “un-Nolan” aspect of the movie. The sound mixing, especially in the slower first half, is very confusing, mixing the dialogue and score equally. Nolan films have always played with silence in action, but doing the opposite does not always give the same results. 

Also, with a film as long as this one (and boy, is it long) the ending feels strangely rushed, with two almost comical deaths of main characters and a very “deus ex machina” ending.

But this is the film Nolan wanted to make, the story he wanted to tell. Finally he has the weight lifted off of his shoulders, and with the money and power he can draw from Hollywood, we’re in for a treat for the follow-up.

Kelvin Green -

I hated Batman Begins. The best bits of it were ripped off from Highlander and the rest of it was plain dull, aside from the unintentional comedy double act of a disgruntled train driving Irish ninja as the villain and Christian Bale playing Batman as a dazed and rubberised Tom Waits.

The Dark Knight was better. It had some beautiful photography and a couple of thrilling action sequences, although it was rather obvious at times that Christopher Nolan wanted to be making a James Bond film; see also the snowy bit in Inception. The writing was all over the place -- the Joker’s an agent of chaos and yet the entire film is his two-and-a-half hour Heath Robinson scheme; really, Nolan? Really? -- and Bale was still rubbish.

So I wasn’t looking forward to the new film, then they announced Anne “Dead Eyes” Hathaway as Definitely Not Catwoman Because Catwoman Is Silly and my interest withered away. Then they released pictures of Anne “Dead Eyes” Hathaway as Not-Catwoman, and my interest went away to put its head in an oven.

I had resigned myself to disappointment and to waiting for the inevitable reboot and a hope that some director out there would want to make a movie about the swashbuckling sci-fi closet Batman rather than the grim and gritty one, but then my mate Bob came along.

Bob loves Nolan’s films, has been excited for The Dark Knight Rises since the moment the credits rolled at the end of The Dark Knight, and convinced me to go and see it with him at the Imax in London. This involved a thirteen quid train ticket, a fifteen quid cinema ticket, plus lunch in a capital city getting ready to gouge Olympic tourists for every penny they’ve got. In other words, the film had a lot to live up to, no matter how excited Bob was.

It turns out that The Dark Knight Rises is quite good. It’s nowhere near the best Batman film, but it’s the best of Nolan’s Batman films by a long shot. Let’s call it DKR for short, not so much for ease but because it evokes another Batman story; the trailers make the No Man’s Land influence clear, but the truth is that the film draws more from The Dark Knight Returns -- including at least one sequence lifted straight from its pages -- and there are few sources better than that. It’s not a direct adaptation -- Superman isn’t in it (SPOILER) -- but one could describe it as Ultimate Dark Knight Returns and not be too far off.

The writing is tighter this time around; the Nolan brothers and David Goyer resist the urge to fill the plot with elaborate curlicues of nonsense and the film benefits from the more direct approach. It’s also a funny script in places, which given the oppressive dourness of the earlier films is quite the surprise; there are actual jokes and everything!

Of the cast, Tom Hardy stands out as an excellent Bane; his weird lilting growl is charming in an odd way, and he is quite convincing as a charismatic leader able to bend an army to his will. That said, I may be biased as my crush on Hardy is well-documented.

The Kid From 3rd Rock from the Sun is also very good, which is handy as at times it seems as if he’s the only actor who turned up on set, so enamoured is Nolan with him. Marion Cotillard doesn’t get as much screen time as The Kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, but she’s also very good as Bruce Wayne’s friend and business partner, and the only woman in Gotham who’s not a jewel thief. Gary Oldman is as strong as ever but Michael Caine is lumbered with Nolan’s reliance on Michael-Caine-says-something-profound-then-turns-away-almost-in-tears as a way of making a dramatic point. If I had been allowed to take vodka into the cinema, I could have invented a drinking game around how often Caine went all damp-eyed, and I would have been hammered by the forty minute mark.

I could also have expanded the game to include every time Bale does that weird sticky-out tongue thing -- ONCE YOU SEE IT IT CANNOT BE UNSEEN -- or when he was rubbish as Batman, because yes, he’s still rubbish as Batman. “Dead Eyes” is -- as predicted -- as bland and soulless as ever and her character could be cut from the film without affecting a thing. I’m not even exaggerating; Not-Catwoman makes one relevant contribution to events, and that’s only because Batman is sitting on the floor doing nothing for no good reason.

If it seems like I hated the film then I’ve given the wrong impression, because I liked it despite my misgivings going in and the almost fifty pounds I spent getting to my seat. The problem is that most of the things I liked about it would involve spoilers; even saying that I appreciated the Dark Knight Returns influence could be seen as giving too much away, and I can’t even discuss that wonderful, brave ending. Come back in six months, and we can talk; for now, go and see this film, because while it’s not as good as the 1966 or 1989 movies, it is ace.

Oh, and Bob liked it too.

Shawn Hill

Seven years ago I reviewed Batman Begins and gave it 4 bullets, ending on a note of hope for the revived franchise under what I welcomed as Nolan’s inspired guidance. Then Dark Knight happened, dashing those hopes soundly. This film is better than Dark Knight, but it’s still fatally flawed.

What works in Nolan’s favor is the cast. Whether you see them as familiar faces from the franchise as a whole, or as the stars of Inception in an ersatz sequel, is up to you. It’s actually kind of funny to think of the Inception supporting cast (that film, after all, was a sort of an X-men movie if they were all trapped in a maze by Mastermind or Arcade; I bet I could even assign the core players mutant analogs if I tried, Kitty Pryde being the most obvious).

But let’s look at it this way; Nolan has switched his leads, trading DiCaprio and Page for Bale and Hathaway, but the rest are all there. Bane is again Tom Hardy’s mask-prone criminal, with more muscle tone. Marion Cotillard is the enigmatic and alluring foreign beauty, used to doing things her own way, despite her leading man’s contrary desires. Michael Caine is the elderly mentor and advisor (whose advice is much better as Alfred, and thus even less heeded).  And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the stalwart and talented young warrior, using his athletic skill in the service of the larger team goals.

However, in Inception, Leavitt’s challenges were mostly of a physical and time-based nature. He had to be good at his job. Really, really good, but he didn’t need to ponder it much. Here, as young officer Blake, his dilemma is more of a moral one: in a corrupt city, where forces conspire to force most to accept easy moral compromises, which side will he choose? His is one of several excellent performances that really raise the bar of the film.

Another is Anne Hathaway’s. Catwoman was the best thing about the previous series of Bat-movies (the character’s potential is cinematic gold, capable of as many identity twists and interpretations as the Bat himself). If Hathaway doesn’t quite best Pfeiffer’s tragic anti-heroine, she comes close to equaling her (and hopefully she’ll scrub the memory of Berry’s limp travesty from all our minds).

This Selina has an even better story arc, as she’s more than an angry ghost wreaking vengeance. Instead, she has her own moral dilemma: in an unfair world of haves and have-nots, where she was born without privilege but with natural gifts that make having (and taking) more of an option for her than most, will she continue to serve her only her self-interest? Or will she make the right choice, in the service of the greater good, when it counts?

Other characters have moral dilemmas as well, though not as compelling. Alfred has to figure out what to sacrifice to best serve his life’s charge. Wayne has to figure out how much to sacrifice, even up to his life itself. Lucius Fox and James Gordon have already chosen their sides, in fact Gordon as always is the smartest guy in town, one for whom the audience roots effortlessly. Too bad he doesn’t have any super toys, though.

Maybe Fox should work for him rather than for Wayne Industries, which has lapsed into inactivity just like Batman himself. This is one way that the film stumbles, in that I just don’t really buy eight years of mourning from a barely older Bale. Sure, Rachel was the love of his life (as he keeps claiming), but no one else seems too concerned about the moral dilemmas of the previous film. Not the citizens of Gotham, who pay the barest lip service to the idea of Batman as the betrayer of Harvey Dent, turning to him desperately when faced with the bigger bad guy of Bane.

And this is the other stumble, because Bane just can’t hold up his end of the bargain, despite Hardy’s many gifts. First he’s hobbled by the mask, then given an endless array of boring speeches about the wealthy vs. the poor, only we never see any wealthy (a lawn party, some classical music, a statue or two) or really any poor (Catwoman’s shabby chic apartment in “Oldtowne” notwithstanding). Instead we see cops vs. mercenaries, that is, disloyal criminals vs. a band of brothers who at least should aspire to a moral code of service. The kangaroo court the mercs set up allows for another amusing cameo, but it’s from a different film altogether.

If Nolan really wants to make a statement about class warfare at all. But I don’t think he does.

I think he wants to blow things up really stylishly. If there’s good wealth and bad wealth (and there must be because it’s only Wayne Industries that builds the arsenal used in the film by both sides, as well as the problem-solving power source all factions are fighting over), then it comes down again to individual choice and obligation, not class struggle, and that’s not a radical notion at all.

I’m not saying I think Nolan was being opportunistic by grafting in references to the Occupy movement to give his film some gravitas (I agree with Bale himself that it was more likely he was being accidentally prescient, the script having been writer prior to last year’s new social movement and the filming going on more or less simultaneously). Good art often taps into the zeitgeist, and Nolan can do gravitas in his sleep. If anything, I wish he’d lighten up!

Gotham is not as anonymous as it was in Dark Knight, but it’s still a generic Ur-city amalgamation of bridges, harbors, and skyscrapers that represents for Nolan the sleek, faceless hegemony of modern capitalism. It just gives him a blandly convincing corporate setting for explosions.

The Bat-cave and Wayne Manor are far better locations, used hardly enough (and when did they all get rebuilt from the destruction of the first film?). The numbingly droning second hour of the film could have been cut entirely, for all it shows us of Gothamites barricaded in by a madman, and the entire police force trapped underground like unfortunate miners. Batman, after a predictable early defeat by Bane, could have completed his revisit of his macho identity quest from the first film in a quarter of the time, but instead it drones on and on until his back heals by magic.

The enjoyment level of this film ramps up in any scene involving the Bat and the Cat, where he’s the wise warrior and she’s only a little bit over her head, but as clever and ruthless when it counts. Hathaway is slinky and sullen, seductive and surprising, all she needs to be in a varied set of situations she adapts to readily. She just needs slightly better toys, and once Bruce provides them the movie wakes up and hurries to a quite compelling and surprisingly fitting denouement.

That’s why it’s better than the middle film, but it never fulfills the promise I was hoping for in the following paragraphs from my old review:

“If anything is keeping the movie from being a truly timeless film, it is that the old shopworn formulas are so clearly the structure that holds it all together. But with Bale on contract as the lucky title-holder of the newly vibrant franchise, I expect even greater things to come.”

The talent’s still there, but the greater things fell into a black hole and never got back out. Bigger, louder and badder, to be sure, but I found myself more entertained by the James Bond-ian opening sequence of an unlikely and daring mid-air heist between planes. And that was without even Batman showing up for another two reels. If the end of this movie is anything to go by, the possibility of a more adventurous romp where the stakes aren’t quite so high persists (though under new management – hey, it worked for Spider-Man!). I’ll probably go see that, in the hopes my Batman will show up again someday. At least in this film I got my Cat.

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