Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Two preambles: I plan on keeping the first part of this entry spoiler-free, but the second half (where I will give a warning) probably will contain a few references to specific moments. Also, this blog will probably be a kind of “one of two” in that I might post some thoughts about the whole Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy later in the week. That will also probably contain spoilers for the whole thing.

I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises. But there were some problems with it, too. Unlike The Dark Knight there was no central performance which could blow you away; on the other hand Christian Bale is at his best in the series and Anne Hathaway is great, but somewhat underused. I always love Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but again I felt that he could have been a bit more developed. The best performance is probably that of Tom Hardy, in terms of ability to show his stuff (especially given the limitations on facial expression) and to have a character who is well-developed. Marion Cotillard also does justice to an important character whose role must be mostly confined to the boardroom.

The story has its ups and downs. As perhaps is likely in a film of this length it sags a little around the 1.30-2.00 mark. But it starts well and I would say ends well. It is less episodic than the previous Nolan Batman films, which I actually think is a weakness as at times the story feels stretched a little. Something which is mildly spoilerish that I want to say now is that this is perhaps the most rewarding to readers of comic books – The Dark Knight is similar to The Long Halloween, but I’m not sure that you gain anything in the film by having read it. On the other hand, The Dark Knight Rises may well be more satisfying to those of us who have read The Dark Knight Returns, and who understand where some of the features of the story come from.

That word, satisfying, is important. This has been called the end of the series, and it has to feel as such. In some ways it is the third part of a trilogy – as satisfying as Return of the Jedi I suppose. But others who saw the film with me were not impressed, and so I don’t want to speak openly and say that it will definitely satisfy you. I enjoyed it. But there are a couple of places where I feel we could have had more.

Now I am going to get spoileriffic. Not only for Dark Knight Rises, but also a couple of comic books too. You have been warned!

Let’s start with the thing which I found most disappointing about the film: Batman has sex! We’ve never seen this in a Nolan Batman film before, and personally I felt it was a bit weird. From his obsession with Rachel Dawes in the previous two films to his anguish over his parents and the whole Batman thing, you could almost believe that this Bruce Wayne was a virgin. But I think the thing which most dissatisfied me, and perhaps wrongly, was the realisation I had watching Casino Royale over the weekend: Batman doesn’t do guns, and he doesn’t (in Nolan’s universe) do sex; he’s not James Bond. Although there’s also probably the fact that if he was going to have sex with anyone I’d rather it had been Selina Kyle.

The five month siege of Gotham also seemed really farfetched. Why on Earth would the League of Shadows bother with this five month-long experiment in unevolved anarchy only to blow the city up anyway? Were they hoping that Bruce Wayne would come back and save the day? I suppose it could have been to make sure that he saw the city suffering, but I don’t really buy it.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved the misleading story about Bane being Ra’s al Ghul’s child and the final reveal of Talia. As an occasional comic book reader, sometimes, this should have been something which I would spot, but I didn’t and I was very impressed that I’d been misled on this point. Also, I really liked the Robin reveal too – we’d all been thinking it, but to include it in that way was a nicely cheesy reference to the character which could have taught the writers of Smallville a lesson or two!

I quite liked the end, although I admit that I had been expecting something similar. Adapting a couple of elements of the ending of The Dark Knight Returns (how do you dispose of a nuclear bomb without Superman? what end for the Dark Knight?) but really giving Bruce Wayne the clean slate he needed – and the implied relationship with Selina Kyle which some of us at least had wanted – was a nice touch. Perhaps it was a little too neat, and perhaps a more cynical view might have thought Bruce Wayne dying would have been a better ending, but I liked it this way. After all, an end to the legend of the Dark Knight is new territory, Batman having died (as far as I know) only twice, once faked and once actually trapped in another dimension or something. There were no guidelines to follow, but a lot of fans to please. It felt like an ending. Not the most satisfying, but good nonetheless.

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