Before I begin today’s review, I felt it was high time I gave a shout out to Youtube personality, ItsjustsomeRandomGuy. For years, he has entertained viewers with his delightfully hilarious yet insightful commentaries on comic books, movies, and comic book movies, all while speaking through a bucket of Marvel/DC action figures. However, in light of the recent tragic events that occurred in Colorado this last Friday, he chose to drop the satire and give his regards to the victims of the Colorado shooting. This is without question a devastating incident that no one simply going to a theatre to enjoy a movie should ever be subjected to. I give my regards to the victims and their families as well, and thank you RandomGuy, for I could not have said it better myself.
Now onto today’s review. This weekend, I was fortunate enough to see Christopher Nolan’s third and final chapter to his phenomenally successful Batman trilogy. Batman Begins started off the franchise in 2005 with a much needed reboot that went above and beyond all of its predecessors. It nailed Bruce Wayne’s origins and established the dark underbelly of Gotham City almost perfectly. In 2008, we got a sequel in the form of The Dark Knight, the movie that can only be described as lightning in a bottle. Easily outstripping and overshadowing all of its competition in what was already the greatest summer of nerd genre movies of my lifetime, and still the most critically acclaimed comic book movie ever made. Now, in 2012, we have the final chapter, The Dark Knight Rises, where Nolan, Bale, Oldman, and company all rise to give us the biggest most gripping climax they can muster. Gotham will face its darkest hour, and the Dark Knight will face his greatest challenge yet.
Or is it?
I suppose that is the one question on everyone’s mind. Does TDKR live up to the hype it has built up for itself? To answer that question… yes and no. By no stretch of the imagination is this movie bad, nor did I ever think it was going to be. I came to the theatre expecting to see a great film, and I got it. However for the select few who were anticipating this movie to live up to or even surpass The Dark Knight, so that this series could have a second chance at the Academies that was so grievously denied them four years ago well, sorry but not likely.
For those few still unaware of the plot, TDKR takes place eight years after the events of TDK, and Gotham has experienced it longest run of uninterrupted peace. Of course, this is a Batman movie, so that’s obviously not going to last, which it doesn’t. A new band of terrorist enters into Gotham’s underbelly, and they have brought with them a scheme that will bring the entire hierarchy of the city toppling down upon itself. Among them being a cat burglar by the name of Salina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and their leader, simply known as Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane claims to be a former member of the League of Shadows (the organization run by Liam Neeson’s character, Ra’s Al Ghul, in Batman Begins) and that he has returned to finish Gotham’s reckoning. With the threat of such a dangerous foe looming over his city, Bruce Wayne steps back into his role as the Batman for the first time in eight years. Can the Cape Crusader survive this final ordeal, or has Gotham’s sentient guardian finally met his match?
If truth be told, I was quite skeptical of who Chris Nolan chose to be the villains in this final installment. Bane and Catwoman not only seemed like an odd paring to begin with, but they were almost polar opposites to the type of villains we would expect to see in Nolan’s take of the Batman mythos. For one, Bane isn’t exactly the most deep or insightful adversary Batman has ever faced (from what I hear, he’s had one shining moment in the comics of the 90’s, and hasn’t really done much else since), so it’s hard for me to see him as the foe that is suppose to surpass even the Joker. That said he is a very different villain from the Joker, so it’s really not fair to compare them. While Bane certainly owns the role of this plus size bruiser making him the first villain this Batman has fought that he can’t simply beat by punching him in the face (knock on wood), but he is also this intelligent strategist. From the very beginning until the last 20 minutes of this movie (more on that later), we see him as his own man, and the mind behind this entire takeover of Gotham. Tom Hardy, despite being a white washing of an originally Latin character (I’d rather not get into the race issue here), gives an excellent performance, making Bane intimidating, brilliant, yet somewhat tortured on the inside.
Second of all, if Nolan has one weakness as a director, he has not exactly had a long repatware of strong memorable female characters, with the few he’s had being either victims or antagonists that lead to the male protagonist’s downfall (see The Prestige or Inception). I am pleased to say that this films version of Catwoman is a very successful breakaway from this one trend in Nolan’s career. Anne Hathaway may be one of the most talented young actresses in Hollywood these days, and to see her pull off such an iconic anti-hero is nothing short of incredible. While I wouldn’t say she does anything stunt wise as impressive as Scarlet Johanssen’s character Black Widow in The Avengers, she’s still easily the most entertaining character in this movie because she’s just so sly, clever, and surprisingly enough, funny [and thank god for that, because this movie would be far too depressing without her].
Fair warning to all viewers out there, this is a long movie. With trailers, it clocks out at approximately 3 hours in the theatre. What this means is that there is a lot of story being told here, with loose ends from the last two movies to tie up, and the supporting cast of Alfred, Fox, Gorden, all with their own arcs to wrap up, as well as a slew of new characters like Blake and Miranda and a handful of other cops and corporate types whom I’ve already forgot the names to. Basically there is a lot to cover before we even get to see Batman doing Batman stuff. The Avengers may have been long too (almost as long as this in fact) but the pacing for this film moves far slower, making it seem twice as long. Most people already familiar with the last two Nolan films should not be surprised by this at all, and by no means does this detract from the film, its just a reminder that for those who just want to see the new Batwing we have to be patient.
But seriously, that thing was awesome.
All in all, while I felt this movie ended Batman/Bruce Wayne’s story quite nicely, and caps off the trilogy in a competent nature that is fitting this mythos, it still manages to make a few missteps that keep it from being at the level of quality of The Dark Knight. For starters, because it is revealed that Bane is simply finishing what the League of Shadow’s started, a lot of the villain’s plan to destroy Gotham just feels like a retread of Batman Begins, but on a slightly larger scale. There’s also this “twist” that I can’t really explain without really giving away the last 20 minutes of the movie so…
So the twist is Talia Al Ghul, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, turns out to be behind the entire Gotham take over, disguising herself as Miranda to gain control of Wayne Enterprises when it all goes down. While the twist was executed quite brilliantly, it in process completely undermined Bane’s entire character. In the last 20 minutes of the movie, he went from being this strategic mastermind who instigated this entire takeover on his own free will, to simply being a blindly loyal henchman following orders. [A brilliant and impressively competent henchman granted, but a henchman nonetheless]. As good of a performance Tom Hardy gave, it was still a bit of a letdown. Almost as much of a letdown as how Batman ultimately defeats his undefeatable foe.
So now we have Talia as the main villainess, but unfortunately she doesn’t do much in that short amount of time. She’s supposedly a very competent martial artist in her own right, but she never gets a fight of her own, not that they couldn’t have reworked the final moments to get her in a confrontation with… say Catwoman, and have the two of them fight which would have been awesome. And like I said, while Catwoman did a lot to derail herself from the typical role of women and Nolan films, Talia unfortunately felt more of the same.
Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, Officer Blake, played an impressive role in this film as well. However, he himself had his own little twist in the final moments of the film that reveals him to be, symbolically, this movies version of Robin. I’m sorry, but that irked me. Joseph Gordon Levitt is awesome, and I can totally see him pulling off Robin a couple years ago, or even Nightwing now, but the way they approached it in the last five minutes of a movie that was almost three hours long felt like a seriously huge missed opportunity. If your going to put Robin in your movie, than take some imitative and actually have him BE Robin! Don’t make him some run-of-the-mill cop who just so happens to have Robin as his middle name to tie him to the original source material.
END OF SPOILERS!!!
While I did have my disputes with a few of the plot threads, the ones that really mattered, namely Batman/Bruce Wayne, the fate of Gotham, Gordon, Alfred, those were all concluded with the brilliance that he have come to expect from this series.
So yes, The Dark Knight Rises is a great film. Go see it, have fun, be safe, and just keep in mind: We live in the real world, and lightning does not strike the same place twice.