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The Dark Knight Rises - Spoiler-free review

Nathan Strum


I'm at the theater yet again, and I've only got a few minutes before the film starts, so there's just enough time to post a super-quick pre-movie entry.


And that was it.


See you in three hours!



(Much, much later...)


You know what? I think I'm going to type this up tomorrow instead. It's late.



(The next day...)


Well, that was a long movie. And if I had to choose one word to describe it, it would probably be "tedious". It takes forever to get going, takes forever to get anywhere, and you spend most of the film waiting for something to happen. When it does, it generally pays off, but the problem is waiting around for it. A bigger problem is that, while I tried to avoid spoilers, I found the whole film really predictable. For one thing, too many critical moments are shown in the trailers. You remember, "Oh - that hasn't happened yet, so therefore such-and-such has to happen first." Also, either they telegraphed what was coming really early on in the film, or set it up so that it was obviously the only way it could play out. Part of the problem is that if you look up the comic book history of the characters at all, then you know some of what is going to happen in the film. So, you just spend time, again - waiting for it.


The characters added to this film - Selina Kyle (she's never actually called "Catwoman"), Bane, and a few others work very well. Bane (Thomas Hardy) is an interesting character - huge, menacing, violent, yet oddly calm and intelligent at the same time. Calm villains are always more threatening, because they can ramp up to a higher level as needed. They don't start off as psychotic and out of control. They're scarier because they know exactly what they're doing. An example of doing a villain the wrong way is the Emperor in Return of the Jedi. He was a cackling nincompoop (I call him Emperor

). But in the original version of The Empire Strikes Back, he was calm and cool - almost like an evil Obi-Wan Kenobi. Bane manages to pull off being a truly credible threat, although because he talks through a mask the whole time, a lot of his dialogue gets muffled and lost.


Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is a much better take on her character than what's been done in film the last couple of times, although frankly, that's not all that hard. Hathaway has fun with the character, and adds a playful touch to her, which fits in with what we know of her from the comics and other appearances. She also doesn't look bad wearing a skin-tight catsuit either. Somehow though, she's an expert in martial arts and riding the Bat-Motorcyle-Thing, so it makes you wonder where she got those skills from, when she's presented as basically being a down-and-out cat burglar. They spend so much time on Bane's backstory (it is a huge chunk of the film) a little more of her background wouldn't have hurt. Even just enough to imply that there's more mystery to her past than they hint at in the film.


Where The Dark Knight Rises fails is that it spends forever telling (and re-telling) us about Bane's history. Yes, it ties into the main story of the film and the trilogy as a whole, but frankly, it wasn't necessary. The whole thing felt needlessly convoluted, especially some of the revelations at the end which felt very tacked-on. Sure, I suppose some people will appreciate how it all ties together, but it felt a little bit too much to me like, "Not only is Darth Vader Luke's father, and Leia's father, but he also built C-3PO!" A little too much out of left-field. But okay, whatever. I guess they had to have something in there to (not really) surprise the audience. Besides that, the rest of the film has plot holes big enough to drive a large truck through. And while that's to be expected in superhero films, here it just felt that the whole film got bigger than it should have. The scope of what was happening got to the point of "What is the point of Batman coming back now, when there's effectively nothing he can do by himself anyway?" It became more of a Superman-sized threat, than a Batman-sized one. Like the filmmakers were so focused on making it epic, that it really didn't matter how they were going to get out of it in the end. And in fact, most of the rest of the cast were more heavily involved in the story throughout the film than Batman was. He largely got lost in the shuffle. And that brings up the other problem with the film - Batman. Or more to the point, Christian Bale's version of him.


What made the previous film so good when I saw it in the theater was Heath Ledger as The Joker. But as I watched it on TV several times since then, I realized that was the only thing that made the film so good. It was The Joker's film. Not Batman's. The Dark Knight Rises is Bane's film - not Batman's.


Frankly, I'm tired of the "scrawny-guy-in-a-rubber-suit" movie version of Batman that started with Michael Keaton. When you watch Christian Bale - he's just not physically menacing. He doesn't have the screen presence to pull off Batman, and I still don't think they've ever gotten the look of the character right. He's okay if he's in motion - fighting, swinging, etc., but close-ups of his face just look a bit... silly. And the situation isn't helped by Christian Bale's acting range, which is approximately that of a tuna-fish sandwich. Despite what he goes through in this film, his emotions just never ring true. He has the same three or four expressions, which are all just slight variations of each other, and that's about it. And I'm really tired of the gravelly voice he uses as Batman. I understand it's part of his "disguise", but he just sounds tired all the time. And although there are a couple of fight scenes in this film, I've seen better. "Okay, first I'll hit you, then you hit me back. Ready? Go!" Maybe that's dictated by the rubber suit. But it's less fighting, than it is just hitting. And also in this film, he doesn't do much Batman-y stuff. In other words, stuff that only he could do. Looking back on the previous two films, Batman did more of what you expect Batman to do - haunt the night, fight criminals, and strike fear into their hearts. But even starting with the second film, I felt it was starting to become more about gadgets (especially gadgets that just happen to be the ones he needs most - like the flying Bat-thing in this film), and the villains. Yes, Bruce Wayne has to deal with some issues in this film, but it all felt rather superficial. Rather than being critical and life-changing for the character, it was just something that the filmmakers needed to do to get him back to where he should have been in the first place.


Anyway, this is the end of Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan's run on Batman. I hope the studio completely reboots the series. I hope they strip it all the way back to its core. Make it about a big, menacing guy in a Batsuit (and not a rubber one with fake muscles), stalking criminals, solving crimes, and being the Dark Knight Detective. Not James Bond. Not Iron Man. Set it in the 40's or 50's even. Get away from all this ridiculous technology. Stop making him rely on other people and billions of dollars in gear to combat crime. Make him figure it out himself. Show him doing the work. Make Batman believable and human. Get an actor with presence. Think of how John Wayne or Sean Connery carried themselves onscreen. They were tough guys that you did not want to cross. Make him menacing and physically imposing. It's easy enough to explain away for Bruce Wayne - just say he played football in college. Boom. Done. Make Batman mysterious and terrifying to criminals. Batman: The Animated Series would be a good starting point to think about.


All of this isn't to say that The Dark Knight Rises is a bad film. It's not. It's well-made. Good special effects. Solid cast (mostly). But it could have lost probably an hour out of its running time (and with it several needlessly convoluted plot points), and been a better film for it. And the predictability didn't help either. I felt like I was spending large chunks of the movie just waiting for what was inevitably going to happen. The biggest problem though was that I didn't find myself caring much about anyone in it. It didn't have the likability or fun-to-watch factor The Avengers had. Batman, even if the subject matter itself is dark, should still be fun. It's a comic book. They should get back to that.


The Dark Knight Rises gets a 6.5/10.


And as a final note, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something about the tragedy in Colorado last week. I can't even pretend to imagine what the victims and their loved ones are going through - but they all have my deepest sympathies and heartfelt prayers. Watching The Dark Knight Rises, it's impossible (especially in a couple of scenes) not to be reminded of what happened. It was also a little eerie, but oddly reassuring, to see the ushers periodically checking the exit doors during the film to make sure they weren't propped open.


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Okay - finally finished writing the review. I'm adding a comment because I realized that the main page wouldn't reflect that I'd changed this entry. So now you know. ;)

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My wife saw the local midnight showing, but I skipped it. I just couldn't get worked up about another villain who "just wants to watch the world burn". I'm sure she will get the Blu-Ray when it comes out (hmm.. probable Christmas present meethinks) and I'll watch it then . . with the closed captions on.

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Someone in the forums compared The Dark Knight Rises to Rocky III, and the more I think about it, the more I agree. Bane is Clubber Lang (Mr. T). Batman is the defeated, out-of-shape Rocky who has to mount a comeback at the end. The only thing missing was the Rocky theme song while Bruce Wayne was doing sit-ups.


Sounds like a perfect internet mash-up to me: dub the audio from Rocky III onto TDKR and post it to YouTube. Guaranteed viral hit.

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