The Dark Knight Rises explores the issue of wealth disparity by showing us that both rich and poor are united by a common lack of diction. Spoilers abound.
(I’m trying to avoid outright movie-ruining spoilers, but I still strongly recommend you don’t read any of this until after you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises).
@spectrecollie First thing I said to my friend outside the theatre was, “That movie had a lot of scenes.”
— Kyle Loera (@KyleLoera) July 28, 2012
My take on it is pretty much the same as my opinion of every other Christopher Nolan movie I’ve seen (Memento, Inception, and the three Batman movies, for those keeping track). It’s not bad, or even mediocre; it’s an extremely well-made movie by a screenwriter/director who knows exactly what he’s doing and exactly what he wants to achieve. They just don’t make me feel anything. (Except for Inception, which made me feel exhausted).
It’s like taking a Voight-Kampff test and failing. “You see a plane split in two and crash. A woman lifts her leg and uses her stiletto heel to choke a guy. A man has his back broken then climbs up a well as Middle Eastern prisoners chant. A young boy sings the National Anthem and then the football field collapses underneath the players while bridges explode.” What are you trying to show me? Why don’t I feel anything?! But instead of flipping the table and killing the interviewer, I just go home with resignation and blog about it.
I said pretty much the same thing about The Dark Knight, and I thought that was actually a much more enjoyable movie. Heath Ledger’s performance was genuinely outstanding, and that plus the amazing chase sequence actually managed to get me engaged in what I was watching, however briefly. In The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway is really trying to do the same thing and bring some charisma to the story, but it just blends in with everything else and becomes generally inert.
Except for the sound mixing and questionable choices in voices — Christian Bale’s already silly Batman voice combined with Bane’s weird mask and accent make any conversation between the two of them almost comical — you can’t find fault with any of the technical work. Even though the film’s almost three hours, the script is pretty tight and everything moves quickly enough.
All the performances are fine but weirdly muted. Marion Cotillard is just inherently appealing and charismatic, but it kind of takes all her natural charm to make up for the fact that her role in most of the story is kind of silly and unnecessary. Most of the other recognizable actors seem like a lot of star power devoted to looking calmly concerned and making the occasional wry remark. It’s a shame that the silliest part of these three Batman movies has been Batman, but this one spends the bulk of its time with Bruce Wayne; for the most part, Batman just shuts up and flies around in his new plane.
I can’t even criticize it from the comic book geek angle, because it’s clear that Christopher Nolan has a complete understanding of and respect for the source material, without being bound to following the comic book version letter-for-letter. Bane is one of the all-time dumbest Batman villains, but the movie drops the most ridiculous aspects of the character (venom) and wisely gets at the true value of the character: somebody who is Batman’s equal in both strength and intelligence. With everything from the original stories and characters (except for Two-Face), Nolan takes exactly what he can use to make the point he’s trying to make, and he ignores the rest.
I respect that. And I have a ton of respect for Nolan’s insistence on practical effects instead of an overabundance of CG. And I have a ton of respect for his building up a stable of actors that he likes working with, from one film to the next.
I also respect a script that doesn’t treat me like I’m stupid. This is still very much a comic book story, but the movie tells it with absolute conviction; there’s no trace of pandering, camp, or irony. (Or humor, but that’s a different complaint). If a plot point gets introduced, it expects you to remember it and to be able to follow what’s going on. I liked that there wasn’t a ton of exposition or over-explanation.
And I didn’t predict the “twist” with the villain reveal at all. For that matter, I didn’t see the revelation of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character coming, either. In retrospect, each was blatantly obvious to anyone who had a familiarity with the story lines in the comic. But I still didn’t feel a jolt of surprise, or a spark of sudden recognition, or even embarrassed for not catching on sooner. I didn’t feel much of anything. It all just kind of… happened.
There was one moment that sparked a genuine reaction in me: at the very end, with Michael Caine as Alfred at the cafe in Florence. There’s a split second of recognition, and then a slight smile before he recovers and composes himself, then moves on. It’s extraordinarily subtle, but perfect. Just the barest hint of a smile for half a second conveys a sense of absolute joy, a thousand times more effectively than ten minutes of hobbits frolicking on a bed in slow motion at the end of Return of the King.
I’d guess that it works so well because it’s realistic; that’s exactly how his character would react if all of this were real. And maybe I just don’t want realism from movies as much as I think, especially when they’re movies about super-heroes. Barely anything in The Avengers was even remotely realistic, and it still was a hell of a lot of fun without feeling silly.
I realize that Batman has a ton of baggage — not in the orphaned as a child sense, but the campy 60s TV series and increasingly ridiculous Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movie series sense — but I don’t think it was necessary to over-compensate this much. It’d be okay to turn the melodrama dial up a notch or two. I’m hoping that if this does turn into a Robin or Nightwing franchise, that they keep the production values and the integrity of the filmmaking, but lighten up a little and make them more fun.