Blah blah, indulgent tumblr intro here. I saw The Dark Knight Rises, and I most certainly have some thoughts about it. Review-y thoughts even. I think I’ve successfully avoided spoilers (to the point where I refrain from elaborating on some things as much as I’d like to). But I’ll put this past a jump, just in case.
The Dark Knight Rises is in a pretty tough spot, I’ll give it that. It’s hard to close a trilogy. It’s hard to follow up what critically speaking is the most successful comic-to-film adaptation ever created, and it’s hard and a little sad to follow up the movie that proved to be both Heath Ledger’s defining and final performance. But sympathy doesn’t get The Dark Knight Rises off the hook as the least successful of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and Nolan’s least successful film.
The Dark Knight Rises’ biggest problem is a strange, stuttering script. Right away, the Nolan brothers stretch the underlying motivations of their main character to a near-breaking point. Bruce Wayne’s arc in The Dark Knight sets him up as a tragic but committed figure over the course of almost two and a half hours, character work that’s all but thrown away within minutes in The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, The Dark Knight Rises starts with a number of strained contrivances in an attempt to set players in motion in a strangely circuitous manner. There are no straight lines in Rises.
There are plenty of characters though. Too many, in fact, so many that Rises makes a habit of cycling them in then out with little fanfare. These aren’t throwaway roles from previous Nolan Batman films. These are important, developed characters that make basic appearances to serve as poorly masked macguffins. The two exceptions to this rule are Catwoman and Bane, of course, since The Dark Knight Rises have been advertised primarily on their inclusion.
I’ll take a break from the post mortem to say I really enjoyed Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle, so much so that it was probably my favorite part of The Dark Knight Rises. Hathaway neatly avoids previous swings at the character, and her dialogue and motivations are the sole thread that could have been plucked from Batman Begins or The Dark Knight’s superior plotting and characterization. She owns the role amidst a host of actors lauded by their peers and critics alike who nearly to a one feel like they’re phoning it in for the entire movie.
Even Christian Bale’s previously intensity-laden performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman is missing in The Dark Knight Rises. Bale limps disinterested through Rises, which may have as much to do with how much the movie seems to drag as anything else. Begins and Dark Knight had their share of script hiccups, but Bale, Ledger, and Eckhardt sold their roles so fiercely that it was easy to ignore. But Bale comes off as an unlikable, petulant dick, Hathaway doesn’t have enough screen time to hold up Rises, and Tom Hardy’s turn as Bane is bloodless.
I can’t really blame Hardy for this — his mouth is covered by a mask and his voice is so masked as to be unintelligible about a quarter of the time (and I’m being charitable there). The script omits any sense of proper struggle between Bane and Batman, and there’s no real feeling of tension or release. It’s bad enough that Hardy has to follow Heath Ledger’s Joker, but the Nolans didn’t do Rises any favors in giving Bane so much of the Joker’s playbook.
The Dark Knight Rises still has a sense of scale that sells Gotham as a character as much as any person in the movie. There’s still some fun to be had. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard make the best of some very underwritten characters, and there is some genuine payoff toward the end of The Dark Knight Rises that works well enough for me to wish it had come about half an hour earlier.
But it’s still a letdown. Batman Begins had the excitement of a new, mature shot at retelling the Batman myth on film, and The Dark Knight brought a level of gravitas and maturity to not just “comic book movies,” but summer event films. The best that can be said for The Dark Knight Rises is that it wraps up eight hours of plot as cleanly as could be expected.