Response: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises posterI’m not a big comic-book reader, except for the occasional graphic novel. But I do like superhero movies, and all the hype around The Dark Knight Rises meant I couldn’t wait to see the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

(No spoilers, unless you’re unusually sensitive.)

There’s some really good stuff here. The villain, Bane, could hardly be more different from the Joker, which enables him to mostly escape the long shadow cast by Heath Ledger — his imposing physicality dominates whenever he’s onscreen. His plot starts with a spectacular action sequence (yes, Nolan manages to surprise — not an easy feat nowadays) before a bit of a lull, then a series of events that escalates the stakes for Gotham well beyond what I expected.

Bruce Wayne/Batman first appears as a recluse, a broken man driven into hiding by the explosive ending of The Dark Knight. He’s slowly drawn out by the efforts of others and the plight of Gotham, an effort that only results in his being broken down even further. In some ways, this is the darkest installment of the trilogy yet.

However, the Batman/Bane struggle is almost overshadowed at times by the other characters. Commissioner Gordon and a young cop named John Blake, in particular, do an excellent job as cops struggling to hold their city together and do what is right in the wake of huge events. In some ways, Blake is the most dynamic character in the movie. I would actually love to see a movie just about their portion of this story.

(Side note: In the Harry Potter series, I also wanted to read an entire book about Neville and company at Hogwarts after Harry, Ron, and Hermione left. If anybody’s read some good fanfiction about that period, point me to it!)

I have problems with some of the other characters, though. Much as I enjoyed Catwoman’s grey morality and the (literal and figurative) dance she does with Batman, her type is not fresh or new. The actions of Catwoman, Alfred, and Miranda Tate, as well as some character-related revelations, all seem to rely on prior knowledge of the comics for their emotional weight and even their motivations.

Actually, motivations were a problem for me throughout. The more I thought about why the characters (including Batman and Bane) were acting the way they were, the more muddled I got. Batman’s emotional arc is disconnected from the action plot (I’ll be blogging more about this later). I never did figure out the reasoning behind Bane’s plan. And that’s not the only thing that’s muddled. The MacGuffin has little to do with the rest of the plot, and the themes aren’t clear.

But one doesn’t go to a Batman movie just for character arcs (even if you’re me)! I will admit that the action sequences are strong — they’re unusually physical for this day and age, with fists and old-fashioned car chases predominating. The camerawork is nicely paced, bucking the recent trend of action sequences too fast for the naked eye to follow (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you). There are some unexpected twists and revelations, also a rarity. The mood of the visuals is dark, supported by an effective score. And as I mentioned, the city of Gotham really gets put through the wringer this time around.

In the end, this is a perfectly serviceable conclusion to the trilogy. It can’t match The Dark Knight, but then, that’s an almost impossible feat. It does bring some nice closure to the series. If you’re a fan of the superhero genre, you’ll probably like it at least as much as I did.

Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? What did you think?

If you liked this post, you might also like Response: The Avengers or Movie Nostalgia: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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5 responses to “Response: The Dark Knight Rises

  1. SPOILER ALERT

    The part that impressed me the most as a lukewarm fan of comic books is the twist they put on Bane’s back story.

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the canon, but the canonical background has him as the child born to serve his father’s prison sentence, the only person ever to escape the hellhole prison. His mask, normally depicted as a rather more elaborate affair, was surgically implanted as part of a Wolverine-like top-secret military programme to give him super strength. It’s definitely not giving him painkillers.

    So the twist at the end left me reeling, because all through his supposed exposition I was nodding my head and not really listening. I’m used to Nolan’s Batman messing around with canon, but I wasn’t expecting that.

    Maybe that’s the piece of background that you were missing. “Miranda Tate”/Talia al Ghul bears little resemblance to her canonical namesake.

  2. prudencemacleod

    Saw it, loved it, ignored the holes and just enjoyed the movie. I don’t go to the movies as a critic or a writer, I go as a fan expecting to be entertained and I sure got my money’s worth here.

  3. Mikkel – Sorry, your comment got trapped in the spam filter due to the links! No, I didn’t know anything about the canon, but that’s really interesting. So the target audience really was knowledgeable fans. (SPOILER: I did like the twist despite not knowing the backstory, but when “Miranda” reveals her real identity, the info is backwards for those not in the know — she says her real name as if we’re already supposed to know who she is. The exposition comes after.) In less spoilery thoughts, I also felt that the Batman/Catwoman and Batman/Alfred relationship arcs suffered from not having enough on the page/screen — Nolan seemed to be relying on fans already bringing a knowledge of their emotional history, somewhat like fanfiction.

    Prudence – Gotta admit that I didn’t notice a lot of holes while I was watching — that came after. I’ve heard that referred to as “fridge logic”. If filmmakers can get you back to your kitchen after your movie outing before you say “Hey, wait a second…”, they’re happy. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FridgeLogic Thanks for the comment!

  4. jodileastewart

    Saw the holes, but enjoyed it immensely anyway. Except for watching for insane craziacs to descend upon the crowd and start blasting! Seriously, I sat in the back row and kept an eye out. Of course, it was my second viewing (hubby is a big fan). First viewing, just sat there trying to figure out all the twists, turns and low voices. Gave it a 4 out of 5 stars.

  5. Jodi, funny how logic holes don’t necessarily interfere with enjoyment. If I buy the emotional arc, I’ll forgive a lot from a movie. It’s when my emotions (including the “wow” factor) aren’t sufficiently engaged that the analytical mind kicks in. Which is why most of my review is devoted to exploring why my emotions weren’t sufficiently engaged. ;-)

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