Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises and Stumbles

The final installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy arrives with a cavalcade of audience hype and studio marketing. Despite being a big fan of the previous two films in the trilogy, I managed to approach this film with only moderate expectations – the trailer didn’t grab me the way the trailer for The Dark Knight did. I was also wary because third films in successful franchises don’t have a great track record (Spiderman 3 being a notable example). The good news is that The Dark Knight Rises is a solidly entertaining film. The bad news is that – for me at least – it is the weakest film in the trilogy.

Taking place eight years after The Dark Knight, this film sees Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living as a recluse in his mansion. He has hung up the Bat-suit after taking the blame for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart); Batman is considered an outlaw. He is still mourning the death of his love, Rachel Dawes (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight).

The Dark Knight Rises sees Wayne emerge from retirement to face the new villain Bane, a fierce mercenary who wreaks anarchy in Gotham. Bane is played by the great Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception), although his performance is hampered by a metal contraption that covers his mouth. In V for Vendetta, Hugo Weaving managed to bring an incredible personality to his faceless performance. Here, Hardy provides an intimidating physical presence, but ultimately feels like an uber-thug with an oddly disembodied voice.

The more dynamic additions to the ensemble are Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman, although that name is never used) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a policeman who assists Commissioner Gordon (the always reliable Gary Oldman). Selina has a nicely defined arc, predictable as it may be, and Hathaway has a lot of fun with the role. Gordon-Levitt has less to do, but imbues every scene with a grounded charm, and nearly steals the film. As usual, Wayne/Batman is one of the least interesting characters in his own film, although as with the previous films, it doesn’t matter too much.

The effects are very good and, as Nolan has previously demonstrated, the CGI doesn’t overwhelm the screen. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is striking as usual, although it occurs to me that Gotham has never looked this much like a standard American city; I remember it looking much more uniquely gothic in previous installments.

While there are many elements that work effectively, the film as a whole feels rather unwieldy, somehow managing to feel both rushed and unnecessarily drawn-out. For me, a large problem was that the story simply isn’t particularly interesting. Bane’s plan unfolds with a feeling of predictability, and the tone is relentlessly dour. Bane himself is literally plodding, and seems to slow down the film (compared to the nimble, erratic Joker for example). Meanwhile, Wayne is sidelined for a seemingly endless stretch, trapped in symbolism hell, and I found all of these scenes tedious. I perked up every time Hathaway or Gordon-Levitt were on-screen, since they brought a sense of energy to their scenes.

One thing that rarely bothers me in cinema is gaps in logic, but in this film, I found them distracting, presumably because I wasn’t engrossed in the plot. There are multiple contrivances, and things that don’t make sense (including how a character travels between countries with no resources at one point). Bane’s army seems to ruthlessly vigilant one moment and sleeping on the job the next, allowing the rebels to creep about the streets. Early in the film, John Blake admits that he knows Wayne is Batman, apparently because Wayne once visited the orphanage where Blake grew up, and had a particularly haunted expression. There is no further explanation for that; clearly the script just needed him to know.

Adding to the sense of messiness is the litany of characters who feel superfluous, including Ben Mendelsohn as the rich creep Daggett, and Juno Temple as Selina’s occasional accomplice. Even more bizarre is the introduction of a character later in the film who is set up as a key player, only to be dispatched almost immediately, without having affected the story at all. As the plot progressed, I found my attention wandering, and I started losing track of where each character was and what they were doing.

The film touches upon some interesting ideas about class tensions during a time of economic hardship, but these threads don’t feel developed. As Slate reviewer Dana Stevens put it: ‘The Dark Knight Rises bursts at the seams with the kind of urgent, vague political references that fall just short of being ideas.’

The Dark Knight Rises is an epic film, but one that stumbles under the weight of too many characters and poor pacing. In fact, it repeats many of the mistakes of Spiderman 3, although it is undeniably a better film. There are many things to enjoy in this film, including many of the performances and the spectacle of the action scenes. I just wish that the story had been more interesting, and more streamlined.

Dana Stevens’ full review:

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4 responses to “Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises and Stumbles”

  1. conordcfc says :

    Brilliant review, I really enjoyed the film and it’d be great if you could read my review! Thanks

  2. Anna says :

    So it last night and completely agree! I wish they’d cut out some bits of it so the major story had a bit more room to breath. Also LOVE your review title.

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  1. Week in Review: Batman… and more Batman « 240 Films - July 23, 2012

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