[Review] - The Dark Knight Rises, In IMAX

Courtesy of WarnerBros.
Dark Knight Rises is like Christmas morning. You know it's coming from a long way off, and all you can do is squirm in your place, wondering what's in all those pretty boxes. You guess wildly, shooting for the impossible, and the obvious, all in an effort to stave off the skin crawling uncertainty that plagues you every time you look at the tree. And then it arrives, and you rip into things, and when all is said and done, you got everything you asked for.

But it feels empty. It feels like something is missing. All that anticipation, and the wondering, and when it finally arrived, it was too short lived, and it wasn't as good as you'd hoped. The voice in the back of your head whispers softly, "It wasn't as good as last year."
Hit the jump for the review, which has a spot light on the roof that displays the word "spoilers" in big shining letters on the sky.

This is a flawed film, let's just get that right out in the open. It has major flaws. When trying to structure my thoughts, I had no idea where to start. Actually, first I had to replay the film in my head, because after stepping out of the theatre, huge chunks of the film had escaped me. By the end, I had forgotten about the heist sequence on the Gotham stock exchange, and so maybe that's where I will begin. This is way too much film. The script is bloated beyond measure. I complained that Dark Knight was long and meandering, but compared to Rises, it's a Bryan Adams concert. There is enough plot material here for two films, and really, we were only asking for one. You usually see this is young film makers, who want to tell many stories, but cram them all into one place for fear they'll never get another chance. But Nolan is seasoned, so it comes down to ego and it comes down to arrogance. He bit off more then he could chew, and it got away from him. At nearly two and three quarters hours, I'm certain an editor could widdle this down to around two hours, and still maintain a cohesive plot, while excising some of the lesser material.

The clearest thing I remember people complaining about with Batman Begins was in the second half of the film, when they introduced the microwave emitter. Critics said, rather arrogantly, that it became a 'comic book movie' at that point, though I suppose they hadn't realised they were watching a Batman film the whole time. Rises features an even larger MacGuffin, a nuclear bomb, that sits in the second half of the film as a gimmick that never jives with anything else that's going on. It feels way too out of place.

Nolan once said that he wouldn't include the Penguin in any films because certain elements wouldn't work in his universe, but the Penguin is just a guy in a top hat. An A-Bomb feels like a desperate attempt to ramp things up to eleven before leaving. It feels too big, and you know how I know? During the football stadium scene, when Bane is explaining things, and it keep cutting away to the omniscient government people, I kept expecting Superman to drop from the sky and hurl the bomb into space. That is what that moment felt like, it felt like something that should have been in a Justice League movie, not in the middle of a Nolan film, which have always been more grounded (even Inception, whose grandeur worked because it took place in a dream). Never once in the other two films did it feel like there should be a larger DC universe at play, but in that moment, it was the only thing that made sense.

I think that was my biggest problem with the film in general: I never bought it. I was never once won over by the film, and suspended my disbelief. I never accepted that this is happening. I did, almost immediately, with Dark Knight. I had no problem believing in that film, believing in the Joker, believing in Harvey Dent. Rises just sat there, unfolding before my eyes, but I was a passive observer, not a willing participant. It ostracised me from itself, and a film shouldn't do that. A film should welcome you, fold you in, make you a part of it. I never felt an emotional reaction to the events of Rises. I never expected Gordon would get shot in the hospital, or that Blake would get shot on the bridge, or that Wayne would crawl out of the pit. Compare that to Dark Knight, where I 100% thought that Nolan had killed off Gordon (and no, I don't think it's unfair to compare to the first two films: Nolan invites it by integrating footage from the other two films into Rises, thus making them all one long sequence). And thanks to some very heavy handedness in the first act, I correctly guessed how the film would end, thus draining the third act of all possible drama.

Let's shift gears and talk about what the film got right. The new characters were wonderful additions, and perfectly performed. Anne Hathaway's Selina was practically ripped from the pages of the comic, and it's a shame that she'll probably never get another chance to play the role, because she was a joy to watch. She was crafty and seductive and focused. Joseph Gordon Levitt as the new character Blake was the only character I actually found myself caring for, if only because his was the only character that never disappeared for huge chunks of the film. In many ways it was Blake's film, he was the perspective character. The plot was shown through his experiences. The longer I watched, the more Levitt impressed me, and I'm asking Warner Bros to consider giving him a shot behind the cowl. I think he could pull it off.

And then there was Bane. I liked what Tom Hardy did with the character, which was keep him resolute. He was perfectly calm at all times, as evidenced by the fact that he did very little eye acting. Many actors would have been tempted, which the majority of their face covered, to over express with their eyebrows. But Bane's stoniness fits more with a creature of pure belief. My problems with Bane come from the writing. I think they got it wrong. In Begins, Batman had a personal relationship with the villain, and that drove their interactions. In Dark Knight, Joker was obsessed with Batman, and that underpinned everything that they did. I felt no connection between Bane and Batman, and there was more then enough time to create one. That final fight on the court house steps should have meant something personal for the both of them, but as it stands, it's just a cold fist fight.

Bane, as presented, is basically Batman taken to the extreme. Bane says it himself, "they never cared about me until I put on the mask." Bane is what you get when Batman has no rules. But because Batman has rules, he has disciplines that Bane cannot understand. Bane's lack of understanding should have been the foundation of their relationship. And the only way to have that happen is if they hadn't included that damned stupid pit that brings the film to a grinding halt, and doesn't make one damned lick of sense. The story is basically an adaptation of the No Man's Land story, where Gotham is devastated by an earthquake. The police flee, and the government isolates the city. Only the Bat Family remains to keep order. The film had a chance to say the most definitive thing you can about Batman: he never gives up. Instead of throwing him in that pit, if they had left Batman in Gotham to wage a one man war against Bane, even inspire some ordinary citizens to take up cowls themselves, it could have been the shore against the stone, slowly eroding Bane's calm. So that, in that in the first fight, Bane broke Batman's body. In the final fight, Batman breaks Bane's soul. See the relationship between Mal and the Operative in Serenity: that should have been Bane and Batman.

Because Nolan clearly wanted too much from this one thing, everything suffers, especially the characters we've come to love over two films. Gordon does very little, spending the first half of the film in the hospital, and the second half practically invisible. His character was segmented, into Modine's pointless character, who should have been Gordon, who after the truth about Dent was revealed should have squirrelled away with his family, and Blake would be the one to retrieve him. Alfred successfully abandons the only role in the comics that has ever been as persistent as Batman. Fox does as little as he did in the past, which is fine, I guess. And Bruce Wayne really does get the end of the stick. I said above that Rises is essentially Blake's movie, with the story told from his perspective. He figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He works tirelessly to restore order to Gotham. Wayne is ineffective, and gets sidelined for long stretches of film. In fact, the only times when Blake isn't the clear hero of the piece is when Batman in full costume is working.

I love the cameos though, and Rises was full of them. Stargate SG-1's Christopher Judge got to beat on Joseph Gordon Levitt, Dexter's Desmond Harrington nearly shoots JGL on the bridge, Game of Thrones' star Aiden Gillan got to ham it up with Bane, Fredric Lehne yells at Mathew Modine, William Devane played yet another president, Burn Gorman was wonderfully terse as a henchman, Juno Temple's Selina sidekick never even gets a name on screen, and completing the trilogy, Cillian Murphy as 'Judge' Crane.

These are not, by all means, all of my thoughts. Maybe when it comes out on DVD I'll write a second review. About how I thought the Batpod chase with the bank robbers was clumsily filmed. About how I thought the five month time jump was an incredibly stupid plot device just to get to a ticking bomb, and was poorly handled, as none of the cast looked like five months had actually past. More like a couple days. How Batman is apparently lead lined, just like Jack Bauer. About how I couldn't understand what in the hell half the cast was saying in certain scenes, not just Bane. About how the use of footage from the first two films did nothing to enhance the plotting of this film. About how Liam Neeson might win an award for most pointless cameo in a dream sequence. About how Bruce Wayne's medical problems seem like they're going to be a major plot development, and then aren't. About how we learn too much about Bane too fast, from Alfred's apparent encyclopedia of the criminal underworld. About how exposition runs amok through this film like it's a drunken frat boy on spring break, and that everything is spelled out for the viewer without giving them a chance to figure things out for themselves. About how Miranda Tate's reveal should have happened when the activated the reactor, not in the embers of the third act. About how cool the batwing looked, but how disappointed I was that Batman uses live ammo at every opportunity. About how even with the Batfamily, Bruce Wayne was never this fast and loose with his secret identity, and how unreasonable it is to expect that Gordon would remember putting his jacket on Wayne all those years ago.

I guess now I don't have to. The movie has qualities. On IMAX, it looks spectacular. The CGI is top notch, and the Catwoman costume doesn't look nearly as goofy as it did in the stills. The acting is prime Alberta beef quality from everyone, no matter how little they had to do. But it won't be quoted, like Dark Knight. It's not that sort of film. It's passable, it's a conclusion. But it's not remarkable. Left on it's own, it would be forgotten, but because it comes at the end of a series, it will linger on, the under performing younger brother to two pillars of the community. I've said before that Batman Begins is a movie about Batman, and Dark Knight is a movie with Batman in it. It's a minor, but important distinction. And Rises takes that a step further, as it is not much a movie, and Batman isn't in it that much. Nolan can move on with something new, and never have to return to Gotham, which I'm fine with. Time to let someone new play in the sandbox. But can I say this, to whomever is hired to write the next one, whomever is hired to direct the next one: make a Batman movie that is about Batman.

I will say this, and I am grateful to Nolan for doing so, a single line of dialogue - in the middle of a fight - Batman turns to Catwoman and says "No guns. Not ever" For everything else the movie got wrong, and for everything the film makers got wrong about Batman, they got that perfectly right. And not for nothing, but after the events of Colorado, it's a statement that needs praise.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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