The Dark Knight Rises, the third film in Nolan Batman trilogy, poses a novel problem when it comes to evaluation. How do you approach a film that is clearly designed not to stand alone but to close out the overriding story of a short series? Do you judge it based on its relationship to the prior films or pit it against the other entries? And can you even begin to examine the film outside of the context of the first two features?
The choice of context dramatically impacts your viewing of the film. If you watch it as the concluding chapter of a larger story, it’s a strong finish for a great adaptation of difficult subject matter. If you watch it as a film on its own merits, it begins to suffer.
It is eight years since the mad crime wave of the Joker and the brutal fall of Harvey Dent rocked Gotham City to its core. Organized crime is almost eliminated and Bruce Wayne has removed himself from the public eye, with and without the mask. He is forcibly pulled out of retirement when the thrill seeking cat burglar Selina walks right into his mansion and steals his mother’s pearls. Little do Bruce, Selina, or any of the Gotham City residents know what Bane, a banished protege of the late Ra’s al Ghul, has in store for all of them.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan go for a sweeping screenplay that will undoubtedly put you off the film at some point in the running time. For me, Bane’s revolution was far less interesting than the board room deals at Wayne Enterprises and the battle of wits between Bruce and Selina. Until everything smashed together, I found myself eagerly awaiting the end of Bane’s scenes. For others, the Selina/Bruce Wayne relationship will be a total misfire and others still will be so concerned about the unexplained issues in Wayne Enterprises that they won’t get into the backroom manipulation that drives the first half of the film.
The Dark Knight Rises is not an underthought or poorly developed film. It’s too rich for its own good. The Nolans inject the story with too much detail and spread the focus far too thin. A film focusing just on Bane and Catwoman, or just on Catwoman and Wayne Enterprises, or just on Wayne Enterprises and Bane could have been a tight comic thriller in under two hours. Instead, the story drags through the early exposition and only kicks off for real at the halfway point. A more judicious editing hand could have made the balance work better for the early storytelling.
This is not to say that the film is poorly executed. Far from it. The acting is fantastic, especially from Anne Hathaway (Selina), Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard (Miranda), and Christian Bale. They create strong, believable characters that balance out the more over the top antics of Bane (Tom Hardy) and the calculating Wayne Enterprises executives nicely.
The visual presentation of the story is so out there for this kind of story that it is perfect. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is clearly lit, but dull and dreary at the same time. It’s reality in a darker place. Even a bright sunny day is cast over with gloom and doubt. It’s a state as confusing as Gotham City without Batman patrolling the streets each night. It’s an eerie, unsettling choice that really ratchets up the tension when the actual pace of the story slows down to a crawl.
The strength of The Dark Knight Rises is its ability to shut the door on this Batman universe for good. There is no spoiler in that. Christopher Nolan created a very grounded Batman unlike any other we experienced before. This is a world where, in the comics, a scientist can gain the ability to walk by injecting herself with whale DNA and a man can rise to the top of the mafia by using a ventriloquist dummy. Nolan didn’t go for the camp or fantasy. He went for realistic interpretations of absurd characters.
This film goes further with its action than the rest of the trilogy while drawing in characters, themes, and plot threads from the previous two films to make them flow as one cohesive unit. It goes further than a cameo by the Scarecrow like in the second film, hinging the state of Gotham eight years later on the shocking conclusion to The Dark Knight. It pulls in backstory from the first film, action from the second, and the overriding evolution of Batman through the twisted lens of Christopher Nolan to bring the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion.
The Dark Knight Rises might not satisfy a casual film goer only showing up to see a new superhero movie. It might not even do it for a Batman fan who knows the comics inside and out. What it does, and does very well, is tie up perhaps the most cohesive and adventurous series about an iconic character ever adapted for the silver screen. Alone, it is nothing but fluff. Taken as a trilogy, it is powerful indeed.
Thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises? For me, knocking out a good 15 to 20 minutes could have been the difference between an ok film/fitting conclusion and a strong film/fantastic conclusion. What about you? Sound off below. Always love to hear from you.