The Dark Knight Rises But Falls Short of Greatness

Batman vs. Bane: whose voice is harder to understand?

Some spoiler-free thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises

1.  It makes me want to watch The Dark Knight again.
2.  Christopher Nolan makes some long-ass movies.
3.  It ties up Nolan’s Batman trilogy in a big bow.
4.  Epic length does not make an epic movie.
5.  It’s no Avengers.

It was awfully generous of Christian Bale as the hero to defer to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as The Joker in the last movie.  He’s not as charitable with Tom Hardy’s Bane.  It’s unfair to compare Bane with The Joker, but I will anyway.  The Joker’s plan (and lack of one) in The Dark Knight makes far more sense than Bane’s scheme, which makes no damn sense.

This was a superhero summer what with the The Avengers which finished off what five previous Marvel movies began, the “ready or not and like it or not, we’re rebooting The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises.

I’m just like Catwoman, but don’t call me Catwoman.

Now I’m out super-heroed OUT.  I am not looking forward with breathless anticipation for Iron Man 3,  Thor 2,   Captain America 2 and I definitely do not even a little bit about Man of Steel because Superman sucks ass.   Zack Snyder shot his creative wad with Dawn of the Dead.  Everything after that?  300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch have their fans, but include me out.  I’ve had quite enough of CGI and bombast, thank you.  Now I’d like something simple like Beasts of the Southern Wild, thank you very much.

Good things about The Dark Knight Rises:  Christian Bale suffers well.  Anne Hardaway and Marion Cotilliard are major assets as much as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Katie Holmes were major whiffs.  Gary Oldman is the underrated link between all three pictures.   The big set pieces (and the third act is nothing but big set pieces) work great.  Nolan is on top of his game here.   The movie is ambitious and it delivers on most of its ambitions.

Bad things about The Dark Knight Rises:  Tom Hardy had the thankless task of following Ledger’s performance and while he bulked up physically to play Bane, he can’t make him an interesting character or foe.   Hans Zimmer’s score got on my nerves.   Nolan still hasn’t figured out how to choreograph a convincing fight scenes.  Almost all the “surprises” aren’t surprising at all.   There are too many scenes that “tell” instead of “show” and raise questions of “Wait…how did that happen?”   There is just too much going on in a movie that goes on too long at two hours and 45 minutes.

I have some problems with The Dark Knight Rises.  I liked it, but I don’t love it.  It’s better than Batman Begins but it can’t touch The Dark Knight (no shock there).   It’s deep, but it’s not much fun.   Batman inhabits a much different (and uglier) world than The Avengers.   Nolan doesn’t play scenes for laughs the way Joss Whedon does.   This is a movie with far more serious things on its mind than alien invasions and scheming demi-gods getting their ass kicked by green-skinned gamma monsters.

 Gotham City is a bleak, grim and unhappy place and its hero is every bit as bleak, grim and unhappy and I don’t think Nolan gives a crap if his movie is more “entertaining” or not.  He’s a serious man making a serious movie.   This is a hero who wants to feared, not cheered.  He prefers to suffer the hatred and suspicion of those he’s sworn to protect.  Batman wouldn’t know what to do with crowds cheering him for saving the day.  Nolan has elevated what a comic book movie can be.  Under his vision of Batman he has shown how you can take an utterly ridiculous concept and make audiences not only lose themselves in the world of the Dark Knight, but not even question its probability.

Nolan avoided doing a Spider-Man 3 and making a jumbled movie with tons of money and no coherent story.   The Dark Knight Rises is a labor of love and it shows.   But not all those labors work successfully and that shows as well.