1.5 stars out of 4. Hints at narrative focus and cohesion are casually disregarded. A messy narrative with false conclusion that has nothing to do with Batman.
The Dark Knight Rises liberally borrows from its comic book sources, freely adapting structure and elements from the grand story arcs of Knightfall, No Man’s Land and the groundbreaking piece of literature and film-they-should-have-made-years-ago-with-the-animated-series-cast The Dark Knight Returns. For a movie with such deep mines to well from, the bucket surprisingly always comes up empty. It’s all tossed together in one giant melting pot and severely underdeveloped just like the Michael Mann movies that inspired it. (Heat or Public Enemies anyone?)
The Batman has been gone for eight years after taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death and crimes against society. (Why this is done to protect the people is still head scratchingly stupid. Especially when one sees how this is discarded.) Gotham is essentially crimeless, and Bruce Wayne remains hidden Howard Hughes-like among the shadows of Wayne Manor.
The pace is very slow building at first, in fact almost non-moving at all. We are treated to a multitude of new characters with as always in these films very little to go on. These people talk, walk, fight and scheme all the while leaving us in the dark as to what exactly is going on. These events build up to the horribly overdone climax where one plot point increasingly piles on top of another until there is a whirlwind of nonsensical thoughts that are tied up into one all too neat little package that just refuses to go down my throat however shoved it may be.
Among the introduced are Catwoman and industrialist Miranda Tate. They provide the ubiquitous love interests for Bruce, as there can never be a Batman film without one. There is a young cop, John Blake, who for some unknown reason does most of the legwork for everyone. (Hmm, I wonder…) Lucius Fox and Alfred return once more to be again underutilized and steal every scene they are in.
A private army begins to infiltrate Gotham via the corporate scheming of John Daggett (Roland on vacation or something?) under the leadership of the mysterious Bane. Bane of course is an unstoppable force and quickly asserts his own control and sets forth a seizure of the city claiming to carry forth the legacy of Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows.
All of this and more provoke the Batman to return, no matter what the cost.
There are attempts at drama that are absolutely welcome, but these are always sabotaged by the lack of story development and background as was with The Dark Knight. What makes this even more painful is having such a larger scope to work within. This creates such a shallow central core that there is no hope of ever…rising from it.
Bane is a different and grand villain, just as he always was in the comics. Sadly his backstory was changed but even then there is plenty of potential for a great…oh wait this is TDKR I’m talking about-there’s no room for meaning here. Move along. Here is an actor giving wonderful dialogue that can be simply absorbed on its charm and again we are left with a villain given nothing to actually do other than cause chaos. What’s his plan you may ask? Answer: Is there even one?
There are far too many plot twists and conclusions in the second half of the film, so much so that each one undoes the one that came before finally leaving the audience in enough confusion for the big coincidental, cliched, gift-wrapped and all tied up with a big pink bow ending to not ring so horribly false. The final villain denouement is also unnecessary and absolutely wasted.
One key thing that stands out is the idea that the Batman can end. Sure Bruce will age; become slower, clumsy, and unable to keep up with his adversaries yet this does not ever mean the end of the Bat. Batman is the man; the crusade fueled by vengeance became the life of Wayne far too long ago for anything to change this. It is an indisputable fact that Batman is the sole purpose of Bruce Wayne breathing, and yet we are presented with the notion that Bruce can merely stop his crusade, and effectively “win” over human weaknesses?
No. This is not so, and can never be because the heroic quality that has always surrounded our winged avenger is due to his unobtainable goal. Batman can never achieve his victory. His battle is his curse, it is a self-appointed Sisyphean task that will last forever and is the one constant in all of the character’s incarnations for the past 73 years.
There is no win or lose, because one man can never possibly hope to make any sort of difference in the world. That is his curse, the curse he himself assigned to carry in his childhood torment. When examined the meaning of Batman is insignificant which is what makes his sacrifice all the more interesting. He is the shadowy figure of the night, a damaged shell of a man barely holding in a obsessive repressed tragic figure who dedicates his existence to detecting and stopping injustice.
This is not Batman. I said this about The Dark Knight and feel this way again, just as I initially had concerns with Begins. I don’t say this because Batman is supposed to have a sense of fun. I like my Batman dark. I like serious stories and would likely if ever given the chance make a Batman film with an unbelievably hard R rating. But as with all modern reboots of franchises, the decision is made to strip away essential parts of the character in order to present a supposedly more modern “realized” version that is “psychologically complex” because of being emptier. In Rises there are many references to Bruce’s soul, which I found confounding because in these films he has no soul. There is no Batman in the Nolan universe, as evidenced by his extremely limited screentime in the longest of the films.
Begins at least presented the idea that it dealt with the fundamentals of Batman, and that eventually the fully fledged Dark Knight would emerge into this new Gotham after much fine tuning and toughening up. THIS NEVER HAPPENED!
The fleeting moments of life in TDKR were obviously with supporting characters, as they are made to shoulder the bulk of the film’s universe seeming believable in any sense. The characterization of Catwoman is simple, and it is this simplicity that makes the character interesting. We can understand Selina Kyle’s fears and desires, thus forming an emotional bond as we are supposed to do with the major characters. This also manifests itself with the cop, Blake, and when we feel more interest and emotion in scenes with a mere beat cop than the Batman himself, there is seriously something gone wrong. Sadly, it was not decided to resurrect Liam Neeson’s immortal Ra’s Al Ghul, who was a great adversary to Bruce and Batman both. Instead we are treated to an agonizingly brief “what might have been” in a prison not unlike the opening of Begins. I must also add that Cillian Murphy’s cameo as Jonathan Crane was easily my favorite part of the film and the only moment that could have been ripped straight from a comic book panel.
TDKR looks and feels as if it had a greatly increased budget. The scope is far vaster, yet the execution does not quite match the setup. The film demands the IMAX screen, as this time over an hour was shot in the format. The only way to experience the film is in one of the select theaters that received a full 15 perf/70mm IMAX film print which I attended a packed screening of. The film seamlessly alternates between the immersive IMAX sequences and letterboxed 2.35 Panavision remnants, but the switch is quite distracting. The IMAX scenes are blurred on the edges due to the curvature of the screen, viewing angle, and odd 1.44:1 ratio. This is a format never intended for feature film exhibition and it clearly shows despite the grand visuals of the full image. One needs a more conventional viewing experience in order to take in everything, as in IMAX one is left with the perception of peering through a foggy peephole and a very sore neck attempting to keep everything in sight line. The blurriness runs around the image almost creating the effect of a camera iris, and the viewing angle is so forced that eventually one must simply ignore the top and other edges of the screen. The print itself was stunning, with very very fine tight grain and finally some color in these far too drably shot settings. The 35mm Panavision scenes exhibited some occasional shimmering and even some artifacting here and there as if the blowup process was not fully completed. The brief flashbacks to the two previous films were all far less in quality. The sound mix was overly loud in the highs with extremely amplified low end and overdone LFE. When things quieted down there was disappointingly little to no immersion and allowed me to focus on the stars of the film: Mr. Projector hum and Miss Dirty screen. They were quite wonderful, I assure you.
I applaud all of Christopher Nolan’s efforts in preserving the usage of film and his tireless efforts to produce a quality in filmmaking. I love to read his interviews, finding it extremely refreshing to hear a major industry player saying many of the things I’ve been laughed at for years. Yet, why is it that I intensely dislike nearly all of his films? They are well made and certainly have lots of thought behind them, but always come up short in the human department. They feel like the inner workings of a grand machine, perfectly balanced probes into the human psyche that are scientifically removed from emotion. The fundamentals approach utilized in Batman Begins is built up throughout this “trilogy” to create a hollow shell of a man. This is a man who founds his life on an idea of vengeance but ultimately is little more than a quasi-industrialist with mercenary skills, toys and body armor.
Is a watered down Batman still Batman? The Dark Knight convinced me that it wasn’t, and its sequel only drove the stake further into the heart. It took me about three quarters of TDK to realize that I no longer cared about anything happening onscreen. With TDKR, I stopped in the first act.
Note: “Hey, look! No hockey pads this time!” The terrible over-processed joke of a voice is much better, but Batman is still very much in need of a lifetime supply of Halls and a very good ENT.
For those who find this story compelling, originally Bane broke Batman across his knee, leaving Bruce completely paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Silly new guy, you got off easy. Everybody, read Knightfall or Dark Knight Returns.