So is The Dark Knight Rises any good?

I realize that it is possible to read this entire review and wonder why I think The Dark Knight Rises is so good. I don’t want to let anything slip though, because that would kill the fun. I also don’t want to lead your minds in ‘wondering directions’ because that would ruin the fun even worse. I am no Nolanazi (read that on Twitter, borrowing it to make a point here) and I do not think his every film is greater than the previous one. But I do think this Batman trilogy is as close to superhero movie perfection as possible.

This movie takes place eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight. The Batman is no longer a presence in Gotham City; a new law has been passed that has cut the legs out from under organized crime, and yet, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is not exactly a happy man – a fact not lost on young Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who discusses this and other matters with his much senior officer one evening on the rooftop that houses the destroyed Bat Signal.

The Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne is also something of a no-show at social events and board meetings, choosing instead to live the life of a crippled recluse. Yup, Bruce needs a cane to help him walk around when this picture begins to unfold. And then, Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham. Selina Kyle (Hathaway) is already there. And before the good citizens of Gotham can figure out what’s going on, there are mercenaries patrolling the streets, and chaos and terror are the order of the day.

Now it has been written, multiple times already, that The Dark Knight Rises does not live up to the high expectations set up by its predecessor. If by that certain people mean that nobody tries to flip something bigger than an eighteen-wheeler in this movie, they would be right.

Except that director Christopher Nolan, along with his screenwriting team of David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan don’t seem interested in topping visual spectacle in the same way that most other directors do. Blew up a bus, now blow up a plane. This is not that kind of filmmaking. And I am grateful for that. Immensely!

Their story arc extends across three movies, exhibits seven or eight years of creative thought, and deals—very elegantly—with the complications arising from the real-life death of Heath Ledger who played the most vital character in The Dark Knight. And they manage to make it all make sense.

The big mistake would be to compare The Dark Knight Rises to The Dark Knight for the simple reason that the seeds to fruit borne in Rises are sown in the first film of the trilogy: Batman Begins. If you familiarize yourself with that movie, more of this latest movie will make sense, even before the appropriate callback scene is shown. Rest assured, the filmmakers don’t leave you wondering, it’s just more fun when you figure it out on your own.

Yes there are surprises but if you know the comics they won’t really come as surprises. And there are good to great performances across the length and breadth of this movie. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine provide comfort with their presence, by doing what they do so well. The latter has the added benefit of choking us up with his monologues. He owns Alfred. With dignity and heart.

Ms Hathaway totally deserves a Catwoman spin-off movie. To wipe out the memory of that Halle Berry abomination sure, but also so that there can be no debate about who the true Catwoman is. Unfortunately, someone will probably have to suffocate the Nolans with cash to at least write the darned film.

Christian Bale is a lot leaner in this movie than he was in the previous films and why should that be a surprise, right? Mr. Bale’s filmography is riddled with performances guided by his entrance into a new weight class. He doesn’t have to do much that is new in his third turn as the caped crusader. So he doesn’t. But that’s okay.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt just continues to grow in stature with every character he embodies. As clear-eyed Officer Blake he turns in another solid performance that won’t win him many awards but he’ll never lack for work.

Tom Hardy has a thankless task, of performing with that grill on his face. His voice is often difficult to hear – forget understand – and it is not always clear whether he is actually acting out the same lines we are hearing off the soundtrack. Still I’d hate to meet the big guy in a dark alley. Or a brightly-lit one for that matter.

My one complaint about the movie is that the sound mix is a nightmare. As if it isn’t hard enough to understand everything Bane has to say, they have gone and made it quadruply difficult by mixing in score and theme and sound effects at a level high enough to make you go cross-eyed.

I am a huge believer in a film standing on its own. I don’t think people should need to have read the comics, watched the TV specials, read the fan forums and bought the t-shirts before they can appreciate a movie. But I am aware of how much richer my experience of The Dark Knight Rises was because I watched Batman Begins just last night.

I’ve read a fair amount of negativity about The Dark Knight Rises—hell I even felt a fair bit of negativity myself as I watched some of those early trailers. I thought Anne Hathaway’s line readings were just too arch and vixen-y. I was troubled by the phonetic rhythm of “This isn’t a car,” and most importantly, I had the cosmic letdown that was Inception playing somewhere in the back of my mind. So I was prepared to join the chorus of ‘not a patch on The Dark Knight’ when I settled in to watch this movie.

Which might have well been the point. You see I suspect that Christopher Nolan actually is Dom Cobb. For real. And managed to get the studio to pay for a 160 million dollar palette cleanser so that he could manage our expectations about his latest Batman movie.

The true triumph of the filmmakers with this movie is that they give fans exactly what they wanted, just not in the way they must have hoped for it. So when Christopher Nolan set out to make a grounded-in-reality version of a superhero movie he did so by making the experience sort-of kind-of like life itself. How awesome is that?

 

Elvis

Independent filmmaker and screenwriter.