I’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?