Friday, July 20, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Caution: Spoilers)

Preface: No discussion of The Dark Knight Rises is possible without addressing the horrific mass murder that took place in Aurora, CO on opening night. It should go without saying that my thoughts and sympathies are with the victims and their families, and that while the shooter is obviously mentally ill, there can be no possible justification for such an act. We don't yet know why he did what he did, or why he picked this particular film. That said, life must go on, and we cannot allow ourselves as individuals or as a society to be paralyzed into inaction by the actions of a single sick individual. Don't let the horror of what happened in Colorado keep you from seeing this or any other film. Don't let him win.

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CAUTION: Spoiler-heavy review below. Bear in mind that I saw this film directly after watching the first two films in the series, so my impressions were filtered through a more direct comparison with the others than some film goers might have.

Shortest possible version: The Dark Knight Rises was a good film, and a very good Batman film, but it was hardly the best.

This is a very large film, one might even go so far as to say ponderous. Eight years after Harvey Dent's death in The Dark Knight, he has been lionized by the citizens of Gotham and the Batman has been made a scapegoat for Dent's crimes. Bruce Wayne is a recluse, shutting himself off from the world as he wallows in self-pity due to the death of the woman he loved at the hands of the Joker.

Right off the bat, I didn't like that tone. Bruce Wayne has dealt with pain and loss before-- it's the entire motivation behind his assumption of the Batman persona. It seemed very incongruous. Most of the other characters were right on-target.

The plot revolves around Bane, a terrorist mercenary, attempting to complete the work that Ra's Al Ghul failed to do in the first film; destroy Gotham to restore balance. In a very complex plot, Bruce Wayne's fortune is destroyed after the Gotham Stock Exchange is attacked, Roland Daggett's construction company is used to (literally) undermine Gotham city, and an experimental fusion reactor built by Wayne Enterprises gets turned into a nuclear weapon.

In and amongst all this, Selina Kyle/Catwoman (although never called by that name, as far as I remember) alternately hurts and helps Bruce Wayne and Batman, eventually betraying him to Bane, who breaks his back in a one-on-one fight and consigns him to a prison in Uzbekistan where the only escape is to climb out.

Eventually, Bane seizes the city of Gotham not to hold it for ransom but to turn it into an anarchist paradise. Almost all of Gotham's police are trapped underground, and Bane has control of a nuclear weapon that will vaporize the city if anyone tries to flee or if the outside world tries to interfere. Eventually, of course, Bruce Wayne escapes from the prison, and Batman returns to Gotham and stops Bane.

While this film was visually stunning, and the acting was excellent, I found it to be oddly disjointed. While the director seemed to be going for "big", he ends up with "sprawling" instead, and there were a number of plot holes that ultimately distract from the whole:

  • Why did Bane take the time to fly Wayne to Uzbekistan from Gotham, right when his plot was coming to fruition?
  • How did 3,000 police officers stay trapped underground for five months without a single one escaping? (And how, after all that time, when they finally emerge, are they all clean shaven, their uniforms clean and in fine shape?)
  • How did Gotham become completely (and conveniently) isolated on an island? What happened to the "eastern overland routes" that were explicitly mentioned in The Dark Knight when the Joker was setting up his trap on the ferries?
  • How did it take five months for the Army to think to send in soldiers with the relief supplies that were being trucked into Gotham? And then when they do arrive, they are pretty well hapless?
And, while it's not a plot hole, I found the fight scenes between Bane and Batman to be... meh. Just back-and-forth roundhouse punches with no real feeling.

Don't take this to mean that I thought the film was terrible-- I don't. Bane was a good villain (although I found the mask an unnecessary contrivance that ultimately added nothing to the plot or character; in the comic books it's part of the delivery system of the Venom that gives him his strength) who effectively coveys a sense of menace, and the scenes where Alfred is trying to convince Wayne to come back to the world were top-notch. They did an admirable job of attempting to tie together the first and third films both thematically and through the story and characters, and there were some excellent plot twists and surprises (although some of them were just groaners-- Robin? Really?).

Some of the foreshadowing-- such as the final scene in the bistro in Italy-- were a bit heavy-handed and could be seen a mile away, but others were done very well.

On the whole, I would place this film between Batman Forever and Batman Begins on my rankings of all the Batman films. I think it's the weakest of the three most recent Batman films, but that still puts it in the top half of all Batman films.

EDIT: Added some pics of costumed fans from the midnight showing at the AMC Rockaway theater, where I saw Dark Knight Rises. 

7 comments:

Mjolnir said...

It's Ra's (pronounced Ray-Sh) Al-Ghul, not Raz, dammit!

Sorry, but thatks a huge pet peeve of mine, and one of the reasons I have a hard time watching Batman Begins.

Joseph Bloch said...

I spelled it correctly...

Mjolnir said...

Um ... yeah.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ra's_al_Ghul

Joseph Bloch said...

Which is how I have it spelled... Not sure what I'm missing?

ironboundtome said...

I'm yet to see it, but I'm interested in how fans of the Batman see the recent 3 films by comparison to the others in this series and the TV show. Many fans I'm reading agree with you that the recent films are their favourite Batman lore.
The recent two are the best imho so far, but also the most frustrating in terms of obvious plot holes. Knowing that a few holes exist in this version is not surprising, but is also still disappointing. That said, I'm such a Batman fan that i will truly enjoy it when I get a chance, and I'll pay to see any film like this so that these films continue to be made.

ironboundtome said...

*opps - that should be "are Not your favourite lore"

Red_Cardinal said...

"Bruce Wayne's fortune is destroyed after the Gotham Stock Exchange is attacked..."

Eh? Come again? How does that work then? It might cause some difficulty in trading stocks and shares but the value of those stocks/shares is still there. Unless... his fortune is actually physically located in cash there? :)

Alternatively, the writer thinks that people's assets are actually physically kept onsite there :)