I almost don't want to write about this movie. My love of the classic Bob Kane (later improved by Frank Miller and countless others) character has nothing to do with my interest in film criticism. When I watch a Batman movie, I don't necessarily want to view it with the same stringent requirements that I would a classier, more prestigious film. (No pun intended, Nolan nerds.)
In many ways, I want to go back to that same familiar place from my childhood, my nose stuck in a one of hundreds of comic books. I want the villains to be twisted, scary and fascinating. And most of all, I want to see Batman beat down some really bad dudes, preferably using a cool gadget or two along the way. I'm not looking for high art but, I certainly know it when I see it. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) was just that. Popcorn movies like that are few and far between. Sadly, with regards to Nolan's Bat-finale The Dark Knight Rises, its predecessor was almost too good.
Nolan's previous visions of Batman delivered on many levels. He not only gave us a Gotham City we'd never seen before, he also gave us a Bruce Wayne we'd never seen before.
And thus (yep, possibly as a direct result), I left my screening of The Dark Knight Rises feeling very unimpressed. This could be one of the most disappointing blockbuster screenplays since The Matrix Reloaded. Something is rotten in Gotham.
Overcomplicated compared the previous films, the plot opens eight years after we last saw young Master Wayne. He has become a recluse after abandoning a free energy project that has left Wayne Enterprises completely bankrupt. Coincidentally, it's been eight years since the last sighting of Batman, that dark symbol of hope that Gotham needs but, doesn't want. The economy is bad, crime is up and people are starting to wonder: "Is the bat ever coming back?" It's around this point that the Occupy Gotham theme begins.
Nolan's not-so subtle socio-political message is eye-rolling and heavy-handed. 'You can only be rich and privileged for so long... and then... Dun-dun-dun!" We're talking lazy writing on the level of James Cameron's Avatar. What we've got here is politics for 12 year old boys, in their most simplified, black and white form. The message didn't bother me but, I didn't see why it was necessary at all.
Far too often we find ourselves mired in scenes of laborious exposition, as characters we've never seen before (Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, etc) talk cryptically about Bruce Wayne and company. It's almost 45 minutes before we get a glimpse of the Bat-cowl, and by then we've almost lost all confidence in this gaunt-faced, near-crippled Bruce, as he hobbles around his mansion. Even the aging butler Alfred (the reliably amazing Michael Caine, who steals the show) is more physically mobile, as the movie begins.
It feels like Nolan was running a 3 mile race and decided to just walk for the last third. What happened? So much effort was clearly expended on visual effects and dangerously elaborate stunts (which are incredible) but, so little attention is paid to simple things like character or story logic. I would say the film feels rushed but, it's been a full four years since The Dark Knight. They had plenty of time.
This is undoubtedly the most comic-booky entry in Nolan's Batman saga. So many unrealistic, head-scratchingly convenient things happen but, of course, this is a comic book movie, people. Lest we forget: Nitpicking is forbidden. However, The Brothers Nolan (Chris and Jonathan are co-credited screenwriters with David S. Goyer) have spent the last two films weaning us off those graphic novel tropes found in the original source material. Thus, the puzzle pieces don't fit together. He can't decide if he wants to make a brooding Michael Mann-ish crime saga or, a silly, cartoon-like action caper.
But I cannot trash the movie completely. That would be overkill. As per usual, Nolan is a visual master, integrating CGI with practical in-camera effects -more than Hollywood likes to incorporate these days- to a thrilling effect. See it in IMAX. Nolan, like the great Steven Spielberg could direct a visually dazzling action sequence in his sleep at this point. There a few filmmakers who could pull off scenes like this and Nolan is one of them. No surprises there. (Seriously: GIVE NOLAN THE NEXT JAMES BOND FLICK!) The director's Diva-fetish continues to show in this film. (See clip attached to bottom of review.) Boy, does Nolan love chase scenes involving motorcycles.
And the cast is excellent. Particularly the aforementioned Caine, and the lovely Anne Hathaway, whose attitude perfectly suits this smart-ass cat burgler. I totally approve of this Catwoman. The reveal that her cat-ears were actually functional goggles made me smile very wide. Even Christian Bale's bat-voice is toned down for this outing. When Nolan does hit a correct note with his players, it sounds sublime.
But ultimately, he may have set the bar too high. Remember those great moments from the other flicks? When the Joker card is flipped at the end of Batman Begins. Or Two-Face's heartbreaking demise in The Dark Knight. I get chills just thinking about those scenes but, nothing of that visceral magnitude is displayed in The Dark Knight Rises. Even the lines that carry such emotional weight in the trailer: ("...not everything. Not yet.") They flop to the floor, dead and lifeless in the movie. But many of these criticisms could be said of Inception, Nolan's last release.
See why I didn't want to write about this? It's not The Godfather Part 3. Far, far from it-- but, the fact that Coppola's woeful misstep popped into my head during my TDKR screening probably isn't a good thing. The Dark Knight Rises is very well directed and I really do like Christopher Nolan's films but, Memento and The Prestige (his best screenplays) get older with each passing day.
Check out this short chase sequence from Diva, an excellent film that I'm sure Mr. Nolan would approve of. Enjoy. (Video below.)
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.