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In Theaters Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Welcome to the first installment of Cinephiliac's In Theaters. In this column, there will be praise and criticism of films, you guessed it, in theaters. These columns will contain spoilers and attempt to go in depth on things that worked and did not work in the highlighted films. What better way to kick off the first In Theaters column than with Christopher Nolan's final film of his Batman saga: The Dark Knight Rises.
Let's start out with the question that everyone will ask. Is The Dark Knight Rises good? The short answer: Yes. The film has great action scenes, great characters, and a compelling story. Not to mention, it has one of the greatest original scores in recent years. The long answer gets a little more complicated. There were many things that were annoyances and really hindered the film's overall ability to impress. To evaluate the film as a whole, we may as well start with the overall plot.
To refrain from going into too much detail (this is a breakdown of the good and bad of the movie after all, not a synopsis) this section will be mostly a paraphrasing of the film. A few key scenes will be explained in detail (i.e. character introductions) and some will be referred back to later.
Eight years have passed since the events in The Dark Knight. The Joker was arrested, Harvey Dent died from his fall to the ground below (partially due to Batman), and Batman himself ordered Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to uphold the false truth that Dent was Gotham City's hero while Batman was a cold blooded murderer. Since then, the Batman has not been seen in Gotham and, due to his agony over Rachel's death, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) cuts himself off from the rest of the city and remains hidden in the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor.
Bane (Tom Hardy) is a terrorist on the rise in Gotham City. His main goal is to throw the city into complete chaos and have it tear itself apart while claiming to be giving the city back to its people instead of the corrupt. Essentially, Bane's goals are a mixture of Ra's al Ghul's and The Joker's from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight respectively. Meanwhile, Catwoman is attempting to obtain a clean police record by getting Bruce Wayne's fingerprints for the corrupt Mr. Daggett. Daggett is trying to take over Wayne Enterprises and has also employed the services of Bane. Catwoman is a character caught between good and evil as she does seem to love her role as a master thief yet she must use her skills to help people she's not necessarily fond of.
Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is struggling with how to continue life after Batman. After becoming a shut-in, Bruce's health deteriorates as he walks with a cane while also sporting a scruffy goatee and an unhealthy complexion. His trusty butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), initially supports Bruce and tries to convince him that Gotham no longer needs Batman, but it does need Bruce Wayne. As Bane's power increases in the criminal underworld, Bruce's resources dwindle. Of course, Bruce does eventually revive the Batman and battles his nemesis but not without initial failure. Eventually, the Batman "rises" and battles to save his city from the state of anarchy it has lowered to.
In this section, only three characters will be discussed. It could be argued that there are other main characters but these three are the most dynamic and definitely represent the stars of the film.
It was great to see a vulnerable Batman. At the beginning of the film, Bruce is a shadow of his former self and it is already understood that this go around for Batman will be no walk in the park. The Batman is challenged physically like never before. In The Dark Knight, Batman's fights with The Joker were great but Batman was clearly the more dominant of the two. The Joker's dirty fighting tactics were the reasons why their contests were so close.
In this film, Bruce slowly works his way back up to being the fearsome Batman but is slow getting out of the gate. He tries to rush his progress in order to apprehend Bane quickly but, ultimately, makes himself more vulnerable to Bane's undeniable power. The Dark Knight Rises hearkens back to Nolan's first bat-film, Batman Begins, in that Batman becomes the marquee character once again. In The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger's portayal of The Clown Prince of Crime completely stole the show from Bale's Batman and mesmerized audiences around the world as well as netting Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Batman took a back seat in terms of entertainment for audiences. In this film, Batman is a sympathetic and almost pitied character until he emerges from the prison of Bane's torment (literally). Batman is the hero of this film and he has some of the greatest scenes in the film whereas, in the film's predecessor, The Joker dominated every scene he was in and left audiences clamoring for more.
The film opens with CIA operatives attempting to intimidate some unidentified prisoners on an airplane. After threatening two prisoners for information on the masked man, Bane, he exposes himself as the third prisoner and reveals that it was his intention to get caught. Bane's men drop down from another plane flying above the CIA's and cause the CIA plane to invert itself and be dragged by Bane's. After breaking loose of his binds, Bane fights his way through the CIA operatives and re-kidnaps Dr. Pavel while also instructing one of his men to stay behind and die in the wreck.
The terrorist tactics used by Bane show a complete lack of respect for human life and, without too much action, show just how intimidating he is as a character with his intelligence and ruthlessness. There had been worries about rough audio of Bane's voice for the film but it seems as though it has been cleaned up a bit in post production. More often than not, it was easy to understand what he was saying. There are a few instances in which he would say a word or two that were not quite distinguishable but that could be an audio issue with specific theaters as well.
Bane is by far the most powerful foe Nolan's Batman has ever encountered. There is no denying that. Ra's al Ghul was brilliant and a skilled fighter. Scarecrow used weaponized hallucinogens to invoke fear upon his enemies but was not threatening physically. The Joker was a lunatic addicted to chaos and disorder, killing anyone at the drop of a dime. Two-Face was hellbent on vengeance over his loss. Bane is made up of a little bit from all of those enemies. He's as skilled as Ra's and an advocate of anarchy just as The Joker with splashes of the others. Not to mention, Bane knows Batman's true identity and breaks his spirit as well as his back.
Following Bane's impressive escape with Dr. Pavel, the Mayor and Jim Gordon are praising Harvey Dent on the annual Harvey Dent Day. Gordon, knowing what really happened with Dent, is hesitant to continue living the lie but continues to do so. Their speeches take place in front of Wayne Manor with Bruce Wayne throwing the party but not attending it. Instead, he remains in the shadows on a balcony of the Manor, looking down on the unsuspecting party-goers.
It is here that Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is introduced as a timid maid helping to serve the guests. Alfred selects her to drop off a tray for Bruce in his private quarters. After doing so, Miss Kyle helps herself to a pearl necklace worn by Bruce's mother on the night of his parents' murder. Bruce Wayne catches her however.
Although this was Anne Hathaway's first scene in the film, she absolutely stole it. She did a fantastic job playing a shy, nervous maid in the presence of her supposed employers and, in a heartbeat, tapped into her cruel and seductive side while stepping on anyone that got in her way, even Bruce Wayne. As she sashays towards Bruce after he confronts her, she says, "You wouldn't beat up a woman anymore than I'd beat up a cripple," right before kicking his cane, watching him fall to the ground before backflipping out of his window, escaping with the pearls... and the police captain.
Anne Hathaway was simply awesome as Catwoman although she is never actually referred to by the name "Catwoman" yet is called a "cat burglar" by the press. The greatest thing that can happen when a popular actor/actress portrays a legendary character is to become something else entirely. Heath Ledger did this with The Joker, Tom Hardy did it with Bane, and the same can be said for Anne Hathaway with Catwoman. While watching the film, she didn't seem like herself instead encompassing everything that made Catwoman so popular in the original comics. Her scenes with Bruce/Batman were some of the best as they bounced off each other so well and shared a dynamic relationship of attraction along with competition. Also, anyone who had reservations about Catwoman's costume, rest assured that it functioned very well. It wasn't as hokey as Michelle Pfeiffer's in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (that's not to say Pfeiffer wasn't awesome in that film, it was just a different Bat-universe) and it felt like something her character would actually wear. The lack of ears goes pretty much unnoticed as her goggles flip up onto the top of her head and double for them quite well. Again, these choices made by Nolan and company make complete sense for the overall scope of the film.
There is one scene in particular that stuck out as one of the best scenes with Selina Kyle. After attempting to blackmail Daggett into getting her record wiped clean, she tricks him into using the kidnapped police captain's phone in which authorities arrived at the seedy bar they were at within seconds. After attacking some of Daggett's men to save her own life, the SWAT team busts into the bar and Selina began crying and screaming on the ground while pointing SWAT in the direction of her enemies. Afterwards, she slinks out of the bar undetected other than one officer that lifts her down some stairs.
Very disappointing. Michael Caine was fantastic while he was in the film but his screen time was cut way down. The biggest mistake made with Alfred is after he confesses to Bruce that he burned Rachel's letter from TDK and alienates himself from Bruce; so much in that he leaves Wayne Manor. This was very unbelievable as Alfred, whether in the comics, other films, etc., always sticks around and supports Bruce. Leaving Bruce alone because Alfred feared for Bruce's life did not make sense and was unfortunate to see. The stakes were high and Alfred turned his back. Very uncharacteristic.
After how fantastic Gary Oldman was in both Begins and TDK, it was unfortunate to see him take a step back in this film. He was on the outs with the force (although this was never really showcased all that much) and had little to do with most of the story. He was assaulted by some of Bane's down in the sewers and hospitalized in which he then said that "the Batman has to come back." Gordon definitely is part of the reason Bruce once again donned the cape and cowl but for much of the rest of the film, Gordon was pretty much non-existent. At the end, he was responsible for delaying Bane's bomb from exploding and shared a neat scene with Batman where he tells Gordon that anyone can be a hero by, "doing something as simple as putting a coat around a small boy," (shades of Batman Begins).
It was quite obvious that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in line for a big role in this film after the trailer showed more of him than almost any other character. As great as JGL is in the other films he has been in, his character was very unlikable in this movie. His acting was decent but his character was very one dimensional and, from the very beginning, he was built up to have multiple similarities with Bruce Wayne (dead parents, orphaned, hiding anger, etc.). It was quite obvious that the filmmakers were shaping him to be Batman's sidekick. More on that in a bit.
Another character that was done wrong. This is unfortunate because of how great Marion Cotillard is as an actress. She's beautiful and can play sweet or downright evil. She was likable but it was very obvious where they were going with her character. Both Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred talk about how "lovely" she is and, in doing so, seemed to just beat the audience over the head with the fact that she would be a love interest. There is one scene in particular that occurs after Alfred leaves where her and Bruce end up kissing. Then, there is a cut to the two of them on the floor, covered in blankets, stoking a fire. The scene was so cliched and unnecessary. Their connection was established by their rain soaked kiss (another cliche) just seconds prior to the implied sex scene. Although the scene wasn't all that long, it just took away from the story a little and didn't need to be shown. Also, Miranda's turn by the end of the film was so obvious and, especially if you know anything about the Batman mythos, it was abundantly clear that she would be Talia al Ghul, Ra's al Ghul's daughter.
Morgan Freeman is awesome therefore Lucius Fox was awesome.
What's good about the film?
As previously stated, The Dark Knight Rises is a good film. To go over every single thing that was good about it doesn't make sense so the focus will be on a few select things.
The fight scenes in The Dark Knight Rises are among the best in the trilogy. This film definitely was the most explosive (for lack of a better word) of the bunch and Nolan didn't hold back on action. When Batman reappears for the first time in Gotham City, Bane and his lackeys are escaping from a stock exchange with the traders' financial information. In an effort to stop the terrorists, Batman fires EMP charges in a tunnel to disable the lights. In doing so, the police captain is aware of his presence and pulls focus off of the terrorists in an attempt to bring justice to Batman in turn for Harvey Dent's death. In this scene, the batpod is reintroduced and it is as fun as ever. Taking hairpin turns, launching off tow trucks, and simply outrunning his pursuers, Batman weaves the batpod through the city; not before being surrounded by Gotham's finest in a scene that announces to the city, the world, and, of course, moviegoers in the audience, that Batman is back. Batman then introduces his new toy, the acrobatic airborne vehicle simply known as The Bat.
This leads to a fantastic rooftop battle between Bane's men and Catwoman only for Batman to appear out of nowhere, assisting the overpowered Catwoman. The two battle the gun-toting villains with Batman swiping a gun out of Catwoman's hand denying her of taking a life. They escape in The Bat just as Bane methodically walks across the rooftop staring down his enemies.
Again, Bane was great. The first battle between him and Batman was possibly the best fight scene in any Batman film period. After Catwoman leads Batman down into the sewers to find Bane, a cage door slides shut and Batman is locked in on a catwalk (coincidence?) where Bane arrives. After exposing his identity, Batman charges Bane and the fight is on. Each man gets some vicious looking blows in on the other but Bane seems to shake them all off. After realizing he can't beat Bane with only his fists, Batman employs some of his League of Shadows tactics. Bane already recognizes them all and even quotes Ra's al Ghul in saying, "Theatricality and deception are powerful agents." After unsuccessful attempts to confuse his enemy, Batman is beaten down to the ground and even has his cowl broken by the thunderous blows of Bane's fists. Before ending the brawl, Bane lifts the fallen Batman over his head and cracks his back over his knee (reminiscent of the Knightfall story arc in the graphic novels). What made this fight even better was the lack of music. Not a single note of Hans Zimmer's score was played over this scene and allowed for the audience to feel every blow shared between the two. A very brutal, and emotional, scene for the Batman.
The final brawl between Batman and Bane on the steps of Gotham City's courthouse was great as well. Bane is just as fierce as ever, if not more due to his inability to put Batman down for good. The two battle back and forth in a sea of cops and Bane's men to decide the fate of Gotham with the advantage going back and forth between the two. Finally, Batman disconnects the tubes on Bane's mask causing him to weaken. Even after doing so, though, Bane fights back in desperation with a fury of hits on the dark knight and smashes his fists through a pillar. Fittingly, their battle ends inside the courthouse as Batman brings down Bane and screams furiously at him to get the location of the bomb. The only thing that could be changed about this fight would be to make it just a tad bit longer. Although, it is satisfying nonetheless.
The Main Characters
This will be brief. The main characters listed above are the reasons to watch this film. They are all relatively complex, interesting, and entertaining. Any moments that Batman, Bane, and/or Catwoman are on screen is worth the price of admission alone.
The score for The Dark Knight Rises is just fantastic. When scenes start to heat up, the music is right there to get the blood pumping. Hans Zimmer's score isn't quite as iconic as Danny Elfman's in Tim Burton's 1989 adaptation, Batman, but it has a charm of its own and is, arguably, better. The emotional impact of Zimmer's score during crucial scenes has the ability to make you nervous, frightened, relieved, and full blown excited. Anyone who is a fan of film scores will not want to miss this one.
Let's be honest: This is a Christopher Nolan film. His films are always worth at least a watch and usually multiples. For all of the film's flaws (coming up), it is still a good movie. Nolan has always had a knack for great shots and delivery from his actors. Cinematographer Wally Pfister goes hand in hand with Nolan as well and the two work together to produce the sleekest, most polished production values possible. The use of Imax cameras on this film are also noteworthy as the action scenes look great. There are a few awkward transitions from non-Imax scenes to ones that are in Imax but, for the most part, the film looks and sounds great. Nolan took one of the greatest superheroes ever and turned him loose in a reality based world and no one will be able to replicate the turnaround that Nolan had after the abysmal Batman & Robin. For that, Christopher Nolan should always be thanked for his contribution and this trilogy affords to stand alone on its own power.
Along with the director, the direction of the story can also be praised. Yes, these two are being lumped together. This story is very reminiscent to Frank Miller's graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns just as The Dark Knight was similar to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween. The fact that Batman has not existed in Gotham yet he haunts the memories of its citizens and law enforcement go to prove how important he was during his short tenure for better or for worse. As in Miller's story, Batman returns to fight crime after a lengthy stay out of the spotlight (oooh... pun) and is a shadow of his former self. These are the kinds of moments that make Batman such a great character. He is just a man in a suit. Exploit his weaknesses, and, as a man, he can be broken but what he stands for lives on.
What's not so good about the film?
For the most part, the movie's flaws can be summed up in two words: the ending. This is the ending that I personally have been dreading as I can imagine many other bat-nerds have dreaded as well. The biggest thing about it though, is that it's not necessarily bad. It simply left more to be desired for the end of a fantastic trilogy of Batman films.
To start, the turn of Miranda Tate. This could be seen a mile away if you know anything about the comics. Even when Marion Cotillard was cast as the unknown Miranda Tate, many fans had anticipated her as the daughter of Ra's al Ghul, Talia. This was denied but, as has been learned, ended up being true. The filmmakers put too much weight on her character by forcing Bruce Wayne into trusting her. She was clearly the odd (wo)man out at Wayne Enterprises and seemed to be on part with Bruce. As fans, we were beaten over the head with their eventual romantic relationship. Whether from Fox and Alfred commenting on how "lovely" Tate was to their love scene, this goofy plot was relentless. After Alfred leaves Wayne Manor, Miranda meets Bruce outside and the two go through the back of the manor and share a passionate kiss once inside. This should've been the end of the scene. The audience got it at this point that they were sharing a strong Bruce/Rachel-esque relationship. The film went one step further in showing them covered in blankets by the fire. This is, without doubt, one of the most cliched lovemaking scenes ever. For Nolan, this was a huge misstep as he doesn't typically overdo his plotlines.
When Tate made her turn right as Bane was being beaten silly by a maniacal Batman, she stabs him in the side (not a killing stroke mind you) and explains her every intention to complete her father's work. At this moment, as well as with the rest of the ending, the film felt very James Bond-like. The dots were all connected for the audience in an extremely blatant and poorly thought out way. As the audience was led to believe that Bane was the child of Ra's, Tate explains that she is and that she was the child that made it out of The Pit where Bruce Wayne had been held prisoner. Tate goes on to say how she had not spoken to her father who had despised Bane (the man who helped her escape) until Batman let Ra's die. Then all of a sudden she cared and wanted to complete his work. Talia's (Tate) motivation to destroy Gotham City is extremely shaky and makes little to no sense. This could've easily been fixed in the script. Whoever gave this the go ahead was clearly rushing the ending (possibly due to the 2 hour and 45 minute runtime).
The worst thing about this scene is that it decreases Bane's role as a villain. Up until this scene, Bane was the mastermind behind Gotham's destruction. In the scene where he murders Daggett, he says, "I'm Gotham's reckoning." No. No he's not. Talia al Ghul is. There is no real issue with including Talia into the story but to have her reduce Bane to a mere henchman after 2.5 hours of the filmmakers backing him as the main villain, this was quite a cop out. On top of this, he is about to kill Batman when Catwoman bursts through the doors, shoots, and kills him. Just like that. Bane's dead. Again, reducing his role as a menacing foe.
This one is more of a minor complaint. The middle of the film really loses a lot of speed. Batman finally comes back and is shown in some highly emotional/awesome action scenes and then he's broken down and thrown into The Pit for a large chunk of the movie. While the scenes of Bruce in The Pit were pretty great and this section of the movie did need to happen at some point, it was just way too soon. The audience barely gets a feel for the older, out of sync Batman when he is taken away again. The movie could've benefited from an additional 15 minutes of the returning Batman to round the film up to 3 hours in length (well, unnecessary scenes with Tate/Talia could've been cut to avoid running that long as well).
Finally, the thing that destroyed the ending is the biggest misstep that Christopher Nolan has ever taken in his entire career: Robin. This, like Talia al Ghul's inclusion, was so obvious and blatant that it'd be surprising if no one saw this coming. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was rumored to be Robin when he was initially cast too. Although, many fans had faith in Nolan who said at one point that Robin would not fit into the universe he built. Well, that apparently is not how he felt for the final chapter in his saga. Right from the beginning, when John Blake goes to see Bruce Wayne and tells him outright that he knows Bruce is Batman, it was obvious that Blake was shaping up to be a sidekick. How did he know Bruce was Batman? Well, you see, Blake's parents both died when he was young as well so he learned to hide his anger just as Bruce did. That is really grasping for acceptance as a logical plot point.
Blake basically plays a bigger role than Commissioner Gordon and the thing is, his character isn't even likable. JGL didn't do a horrible acting job but it's just that the character was so poorly written and has no personality whatsoever. The only reason to not hate Blake is because JGL is a solid actor and made due with what he could. Due to a lack of usage, Jim Gordon was not nearly as awesome as he was in Nolan's previous two movies either. Instead, half of Gordon's scenes seemed to be given to Blake who no one even knew before he was rushed into this film as a hero.
To cap the shoddy ending off, there had to be one more absolutely cringe worthy plot point to send the audience home on. After Batman flies the bomb out over the bay to avoid the decimation of Gotham City, everyone believes that Batman is dead from the blast. Fox is the first to find out that Batman survived due to the autopilot on The Bat being fixed by Bruce Wayne six months prior. Gordon, who learns from the man himself that Bruce Wayne is Batman (a great, great reveal by the way) discovers a new bat-signal on the floodlight on the roof of the Major Crimes Unit. John Blake picks up a duffel bag from a woman who asks him for his name. After replying, "John Blake," the woman says she has nothing by that name. In the most ham-handed plot twist of all time, Blake says that it's not his real name to which the woman replies, "You should use your real name... Robin." Seriously? Not only was John Blake obviously playing a potential sidekick and didn't even use his real name but his real name is Robin. In the comics, there were three main Robins. There was Dick Grayson (who went on to become Nightwing), Jason Todd (who was murdered at the hands of The Joker), and Tim Drake. Notice anything? Not a one of those characters had a real name of Robin. That one line from that poor actress that had to say it out loud has to be the winner for the biggest headshaking moment in a film for 2012.
After this, it is discovered that not only is Batman not dead, but he is in a relationship with Selina Kyle. This is perplexing as well because they both fight crime and Catwoman was initially a thief. They just decided to cut it all off? Cold turkey? That's not entirely believable. Right before the credits roll, Blake (or Robin... no, Blake.) discovers the Batcave from some coordinates in the duffel bag. He walks through the partially flooded cave as a platform rises from the water and the camera zooms into darkness. For a film whose poster claimed, "The legend ends," it certainly doesn't seem that way. The fuzzy ending that this film got was unlike most of Christopher Nolan's other work which left open the ending to interpretation. The Dark Knight Rises felt like it was wrapped up in fancy wrapping paper and topped off with a giant red bow and all is right with the world. The ending really left something to be desired especially with it being the final Nolan helmed Bat-flick.
Although this review is a bit long winded, that's just how the film ended up being. There is so much to talk about and, upon further viewings, only more can be unearthed. There were many things that it had going for it but there were those crucial moments where it just felt flat or felt unconventional of Christopher Nolan's previous Batman films. Overall, the film is great but there are those few things that make it fall short of being excellent. Is it the best Batman film? Certainly not. Is it the worst? It's hard to say. The things that it does well, it does really well. All in all, The Dark Knight saga is a trio of vastly entertaining and well made movies. They are all highly recommended for superhero and Batman fans everywhere.