July 22, 2012

How The Dark Knight Rises Succeeds and Fails Spectacularly At The Same Time

"The Dark Knight Rises" is an excellent conclusion to Christopher Nolan's cinematic take on Batman, yet it's also a disappointing sequel to "The Dark Knight." Don't freak out here folks, the movie is not bad by any means, it's totally deserving here of your money and at 2 hours and 45 minutes, your time as well. And while I may just be someone recovering from my massively high expectations, I still can't shake the feeling that Nolan botched his follow up to the one of the greatest films of all time.

In order to understand this, let's take a look at "The Dark Knight." Full of incredible performances, epic action, and a tight focused story, it won a boatload of awards and received the distinction of being "more than a comic book movie." The reason it carries this badge of honor is because it is a film about the battles of ideas, just as it's a showdown between Batman and Joker. A clear parable for eight years of the Bush Presidency, the film makes statements on the effect of terrorism on society, the burden of protecting the populace, and the individual's deep potential for good. The climax of that film is not a comic book showdown but rather a Shakespearean battle of ideas with three deeply psychologically wounded men trying to save what they believe in. It's all deep, rewarding, and while not totally entertaining (I've always found it to be a little heavy), it's completely effective.

Going into "The Dark Knight Rises," I was expecting more of the thematic weight mentioned above. Written by the same creative team and trailers featuring dialogue seemingly ripped from the "Occupy Wall-street" movement (Nolan even discussed shooting at the camps) I was expecting more social commentary about our world and Batman's place in it. Sadly, these ideas are nowhere to be found in the story. That isn't to say Nolan doesn't try to make this a political story. Scenes of mutilated bodies hanging off bridges, debris clouds enveloping police officers, and airplane hijackings all are clear images inspired by the "war on terror," yet the driving force behind them, the primary villain Bane, doesn't give them any thematic weight.

Physically intimidating than anything else, Bane doesn't stand for anything as clear as the Joker's anarchistic message. He gives some great speeches, but ultimately as details of his plan, back story, and a certain alliance seem to render it all mute. Seeing him battle Batman is thrilling powerful stuff, but he's just muscle, and little else (which has to be disappointing to comic book fans) At the end of the "The Dark Knight" the Joker is literally left hanging, but it doesn't matter, his power is felt beyond his actions. Here...Bane is just...a beast...and not much more, his actions don't have real impact on the story and the film suffers because of it.

But where the film fails to execute on it's interesting ideas, it succeeds everywhere else. Michael Caine is astounding as Alfred, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is great as a noble Gotham cop, and Anne Hathaway's Catwoman is very enjoyable. The action particularly in IMAX is thundering and the insistence on practical effects over computer generated stuff is refreshing. Thislalife readers will be happy to know there are many Oh Shit Moments and many times I found myself pumping my fist in excitement.

Finally while the film may fail on making a statement about the world we live in, it does a great job of concluding the journey of Bruce Wayne and The Batman. As a whole, this is probably the best super hero movie trilogy ever made, and maybe even the best trilogy ever*. In the future I'll be dropping more posts about how the film stacks up against other comic book films, where I think the franchise is going, and soon, I'll be giving you some news about it, but for now, go see "The Dark Knight Rises," its a great movie, but not as good as the masterpiece known as "The Dark Knight."

*It's definitely better Spiderman and X-Men. I'd even say it's better than the original Star Wars trilogy. The only one it has trouble with is Godfather.

*For a great article about the politics of the film check out Badass Digest


  1. Great, focused review, Tim. It goes without saying (because we already said all these things last night) that I stand by your analysis completely, especially on the point of muffled social commentary and Bane's ultimately neutered role in the film's story and themes.

    But those OSMs, man -- from Bruce emerging from THE PIT to the re-wired lights during the Bane chase to the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER -- and the unexpected emotional resonance found in BRUCE WAYNE's story more than cover whatever plot holes may exist here. It's not perfect, but dammit if it's not satisfying.

  2. I somewhat agree. I actually like the "heaviness" that you complain about. Give it to me dark and twisted! But it always takes me a few days to unpack what I am really thinking and feeling.

  3. "Give it to me dark and twisted." THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID. (Sorry.)

  4. lord of the rings gotta be up there trilogy wise.

  5. Good review. This film has excellent acting, art direction, special effects, music , all employed to tell us - what?
    Bane's speeches at the stadium and jail were very disturbing and I began to wonder why we needed to hear such evil messages proclaimed so dramatically. Bane's character really gave the movie away as a 'comic book movie'. The hints of the oncoming sequal also diminished the effect of the drama.