Review: The Dark Knight Rises – Wayne, Bane, sweet Bat-Plane

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The Dark Knight Rises PosterIn this last chapter of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, a worn & weary hero comes up short amidst rioting and chaos in the streets; and I predict this will be symbolic of the fury to come Nolan’s way once fanboys & girls get a look at this latest batflick, another in a long list of cinematic sequels that, in its final installment, falls far short of earlier glory.

Nothing is going to stop fans from seeing this movie and I’m certain that it is likely to be a big hit regardless of its many failings. The truth is, I’m probably going to watch it again on the big screen myself, to hopefully have a better time the second go-round, without my high expectations. But I’m afraid that many people are going to be very disappointed by this film, despite its projections of enormous box-office success.

The Dark Knight Rises picks-up 8 years after the end of 2008’s The Dark Knight, where Batman (Christian Bale) takes the fall for Harvey Dent’s two-faced shenanigans, in order to misleadingly martyr the former district attorney into hero status and hopefully allow Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to carry on Dent’s crusade against crime. Bruce Wayne/Batman has gone into hiding and on the surface Gotham appears to have become a somewhat more peaceful place to live.

But while everything seems hunky-dory, the villainous Bane has recruited an underground (literally) army of thugs, hell-bent on Gotham’s destruction. The only thing that will save the much-maligned city is if its Caped Crusader once again puts on the cape and comes to the rescue.

But while Bane’s “army of darkness” has grown strong, Bruce Wayne has gotten weaker through inactivity and moping around about his lost love (see The Dark Knight). His doctor warns him against any strenuous activities and it has become apparent that his years of crime-fighting have taken a toll on the billionaire’s body.

Catwoman in The Dark Knight RisesEnter Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman – Bruce Wayne is intrigued by this curvaceous ‘cat’ burglar and she entices him out of retirement. But it turns out she’s working for Bane in order to obtain a program that will clear her criminal record. (Yes, there’s an app for that.) Selina turns over Wayne’s fingerprints to Bane, who uses them to steal the crime-fighter’s fortune.

It’s all downhill for Batman from there and I’ve been sworn to secrecy lest I face the wrath of the spoiler-god, but suffice it to say that things go from bad to worse, for both Batman and this movie; and neither recovers to be what they once were. It is truly difficult to describe the problems with this film without delving into details that would ruin your enjoyment of the movie even further. So I’m donning my Riddler cap in an effort to say what cannot yet be said.

My issues with The Dark Knight Rises are seven-fold; first is the villain Bane, who actor Tom Hardy plays very convincingly, but the problem is in the mask. Bane uses this in the comics (a mask of a different style) to infuse his brain with “Venom,” a super-soldier formula that gives him enhanced strength (always with the super-solder serums.)

In the movie, Bane’s mask is never fully or logically explained and the only purpose it seems to serve is muffling the villain’s voice to the point of being unintelligible. When you CAN understand him it’s because the voice has been dubbed-over as if it is being amplified off of the screen somewhere. I realize this character wears a mask, but you would think a creator of Nolan’s abilities would have found a way to make this work. He didn’t.

My next issue is with Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. I was a supporter of Ms. Hathaway in this role and I still think she is sexy enough and a good enough actress to pull off this part, unfortunately the fight choreography that takes place during her action sequences is like something out of a bad TV movie (Charlie’s Angels comes to mind.) She was completely unbelievable as a badass bat-babe and the character really brought nothing to this movie but embarrassment.

Bane and Batman from The Dark Knight RisesNext-up is the slipshod editing. While this movie clocks in at 164 minutes long, there are so many jumps in editing and gaps in time that it probably should have been two-hours longer, or maybe even two movies. I’m guessing there will be an extended edition on Blu-ray disc in a few months and maybe that version will be more tolerable. But this big-screen cut just feels like it was slapped together at the last moment and some of the missing pieces are inexplicable. Comic book readers are used to filling in the space between the panels, but you don’t expect to do so much of that in a big-budget movie.

Another problem with TDKR is the excessive preaching and allegories, especially by Batman’s butler Alfred (Michael Caine). After a while I felt like I was watching the Sphinx in Mystery Men, instead of Batman. Don’t get me wrong, Caine’s performance is delightful in this film and one of the movie’s highlights (even though his character uncharacteristically disappears for the better part of the film), but the script’s dialogue gets eye-rollingly sanctimonious after a while.

Issue number five is that if you’ve even casually read the Batman versus Bane saga from the comics, you are going to be painfully disappointed at the bastardization of that story — for no reason (that I can determine) other than to try and tie this new movie to the first one (Batman Begins) and wrap it all up in a nice, neat package. Unfortunately, this bundle is neither nice nor neat and in the end it will leave you shaking your head in disbelief.

The scope of this film is another problem. Batman is only human and that is the one characteristic that makes him so popular. He feels pain, he can be killed, and it is at least somewhat believable that he could potentially exist in the real world. The character works best when he is going up against the likes of The Joker; and epic end-of-the-world scenarios are not really his forte.

Yes, I know Batman saves the world a zillion times in the comics, but this is usually together with Superman and the Justice League and not in the context of the Nolan movies. In The Dark Knight Rises, the magnitude and number of obstacles against Batman are just too many to be believable and too many corners are cut to make the movie’s narrative feasible.

The Bat from The Dark Knight RisesFinally, there are just too many unbelievable happenings in this film for it to work on a logical level for me. I realize that to surrender to a superhero flick in general you have to suspend bat-buckets full of disbelief. But it’s all about the context of the universe that has been created. That was the talent that Nolan had going for him with these films; the ability to create a believable hero in a believable world that desperately needs his heroics – a world where ‘real’ rules applied and were adhered to.

Sadly, Nolan’s realistic rules have been thrown out with this film as way too many “What?” moments happen to keep this movie in the same believable context as its predecessors. Some of the events in this movie are just so absurd that they are laughable — but not in a good way.

Okay, so on a positive note, the Bat-Plane, called “the Bat” in this movie, is extremely cool and well-conceived. There are some fine performances by the cast in this film, as well as some nice dramatic and action scenes, including some flat-out dramatic action sequences. The Hans Zimmer score is incredible. Some of the IMAX cinematography is breathtaking and I do recommend that you see the film in the IMAX format that it was shot in.

We’ve seen much of this movie before in the other Nolan Batman films and despite my serious misgivings about this movie, I can’t recommend that you NOT go see it – I realize you HAVE to see it. But I think that true fans and cinephiles will be very disappointed, while non-fans are likely to shrug this movie off completely. Oh, and this movie will have more controversies than the faults and fallacies that I am able to mention here.

I don’t know if Nolan just saw money in the bank, regardless of any effort put into this movie, or if he just got lazy & bored with this franchise altogether. Maybe he was sincere in his efforts and it just didn’t come together – it happens. But The Dark Knight Rises has “jumped the shark” as surely as the sixties Batman TV movie where the Caped Crusader sprays the beast with shark repellent. Bat-Grade: 6/10

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.