The Dark Knight Rises is undoubtedly the most anticipated film of the summer and possibly of the entire year. To say that’s a double edged sword is an understatement as this type of hype often leads to disappointment if the film can’t live up to audience’s lofty expectations. Does The Dark Knight Rises eclipse its predecessors or does it suffer the same fate as many other franchise’s final chapters?
Eight years have passed since the death of Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ Harvey Dent, the Batman has not been seen since and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Beneath the city a mysterious figure named Bane has set a plan in motion that forces Bruce Wayne to once again don the cape and cowl.
Sadly The Dark Knight Rises comes nowhere close to being as good as Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. It’s overly long almost to a fault with the second act dragging the film to almost a complete stop. Overcrowding has damned many comic film sequels and the Batman franchise finally fell prey to it as well. Spending time away from Bruce Wayne/Batman is completely normal but so much time is spent focusing on ancillary characters that you almost forget that you’re watching a Batman film. Several characters should have been cut out completely just for pacing reasons such as Matthew Modine; he’s perfectly fine in his role but the role itself doesn’t aide the story it just bogs it down further.
Bane is a great villain in the comics but here his plan is far too derivative of the plots of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The death of Heath Ledger took a wonderful performance and turned it into the stuff of legend and whether it’s fair or not every comic book villain is going to be compared to Ledger’s Joker. In a world where Heath Ledger never played The Joker maybe Tom Hardy’s Bane would have moved me more but unfortunately he’s just not as enjoyable to watch. I don’t want to take anything away from Tom Hardy; he’s a stupendous actor but several factors work against him: a. The mask- it gives him an intimidating Darth Vader quality that also makes him difficult to understand and when you’re struggling to make out his dialogue the effectiveness of his performance suffers. b. If you’ve seen Hardy in Bronson you know he can be an intimidating but charismatic character but that side of him isn’t allowed to shine. I can only assume that the writers wanted a more subdued villain when compared to The Joker but then their decision to have his plan hit so many of the same notes as the earlier films confuses me.
The biggest factor working against The Dark Knight Rises is its story and by extensions its pacing. Batman is often called “The World’s Greatest Detective” but there is very little ‘detective’ work in The Dark Knight Rises. Bruce tells Alfred to do some research and he relies on some acquaintances along the way but Batman never seems to be in the driver’s seat of his own film. Nolan’s Batman films have never shied away from giving considerable screen time to supporting characters but here it starts to hamper the film’s flow. Far too much time is spent of showing unnecessary back story; something that The Dark Knight never felt the need to explore to great success. The first and third acts are both decent but there are things that could have been handled differently. The real problems start in second act as the film comes to a screeching and tedious halt. The third act is able to mostly right the ship but its tough sailing for a while.
Strangely The Dark Knight Rises’ action sequences fail to impress when compared to the franchise’s earlier installments. There are several well done set pieces but when compared to the Tumbler chase through Gotham in Batman Begins or the bank heist or the armored car battle with The Joker in The Dark Knight it all seems rather tame. The hand to hand combat between Bane and Batman is easily the film’s highlight but I still felt letdown by some of the large scale action.
Even though The Dark Knight Rises is overcrowded the casting is still impressive. My biggest complaint about both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was the casting of Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Rachel Dawes. They share little in common aside from both being the weakest aspect of their films. Anne Hathaway and to a lesser extent Marion Cotillard are much better suited actresses to exist in Nolan’s Batman universe. I was initially skeptical of casting Hathaway as Selina Kyle but she pulls it off nicely in a role that could have easily become a campy nightmare. Series regulars Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine all continue to give terrific performances that are only hindered by the script’s shortcomings. Like the aforementioned series regulars Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a good performance but his introduction is mishandled which right off the bat makes the inclusion of his character more of a nuisance than a pleasure.
With all that said, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a bad film it just doesn’t stack up well against the franchise’s earlier efforts. There are several touching, emotional moments that really tied the series up nicely. Performances across the board are superb even though Hardy’s Bane won’t go on to become as notorious as Ledger’s Joker. While it’s not the masterpiece I was hoping for its still a solid (albeit imperfect) film that does enough things right to outweigh its mistakes. I’m sad to see the trilogy end on a low note but even Nolan’s low note is still indefinitely better than anything Joel Schumacher ever did with The Dark Knight.