Christopher Nolan influenced a rare and astonishing phenomenon back in 2008: He united Critics and Fanboys in glorious, peaceful accordance. Few would argue with the notion that “The Dark Knight” is the greatest superhero movie ever made. No other comic book movie even comes close. None. To compare “The Dark Knight” with lesser films like “Thor”, or “Captain America”, or “The Amazing Spiderman”, is like comparing Michael Jordan with Kobe Bryant. Why even bother?
But it seems that the overwhelming success of “The Dark Knight” has placed Nolan in an interesting position. His masterpiece left a hungry audience with rising expectations, which is a reasonable effect. Wouldn’t it be weird to walk in a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” and expect the second greatest superhero movie ever made?
Whether this closing chapter is better than its predecessors is not a major concern. All three Batman movies are exhilarating and memorable, and it can be said that they belong in a league of their own. As an artist who is constantly propelled to challenge our minds, Christopher Nolan adapts the superhero genre but does not conform to its traditions. He constructs a dark and ominous world that’s very close to our own, a world separated from the detached, happy-go-lucky playground occupied by the heroes of “The Avengers”.
Gotham is not merely utilized as a canvass for fighting and a backdrop for explosions. Nolan perceives the city’s citizens as more than just curious onlookers or helpless victims. He understands that their knowledge and opinion of Batman greatly affects his actions and limitations, and Nolan puts this principle to good use, especially during the moral chaos instigated by The Joker in “The Dark Knight”. The scale of the series is vast and involving. That the story requires the presence of Real Actors (Morgan Freeman, Michael Cane, Gary Oldman) reveals that there is more to see here than trivial action. In an age where Michael Bay has repeatedly hammered our brains to a pulp, Mr. Nolan has been diligent in rewarding us with movies that give us a jump start.
So Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is an enormous triumph, but, contrary to my previous paragraphs, I am here to review an individual movie, not a trilogy. “The Dark Knight Rises” gave me conflicting emotions as I found myself standing between the line of Satisfaction and Disappointment. I felt satisfaction in the fact that I just saw the finest summer blockbuster of 2012; disappointment slowly emerged as I acknowledged that, out of the three Batman films by Nolan, this was the most flawed and problematic. So much of the movie could have been so much better.
There is a swarm of characters here – old ones, new ones, unnecessary ones, dead ones… You name it. The tragedy is that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and other key characters are robbed of quality screen time in order to develop new supporting characters that only function as nonessential plot devices in a convoluted script. Take, for example, the addition of a suspicious philanthropist named Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). What’s a girl like here doing in a movie like this? Here’s a rule I’d like to propose: Anyone who claims to be a philanthropist in a comic book movie is a Plot Twist waiting to be revealed. Why did Nolan feel the need to invest a lot of time and effort for a twist so apparent and insipid? His films have always been ambitious, but this is his first movie where I got the impression that he may be trying too hard. Maybe the insane hype that “The Dark Knight” left him with a lot of pressure.
And now we move on to Bane (Tom Hardy). His opening sequence, which is one of the film’s most spectacular moments, establishes him as both freakishly strong and extensively intelligent. His immense physique, fearsome and menacing, makes him overqualified for “The Expendables”. His master plan, to annihilate Gotham City via nuclear explosion, forces the troubled and defeated Bruce Wayne to revive his alter-ego, despite the bad publicity. Both Hero and Villain were mentored by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson), but we are warned by the always concerned Alfred that Bane may be too much for Batman to handle. Imagine a villain so powerful that he gives Batman a year’s worth of physical punishment in five minutes. He reveals himself to be a monster of no mercy and sadistic humor when he dumps the half-dead Bruce in a hellish prison just for the lulz. No doubt Bane is an effective villain, but he doesn’t make up for an entertaining character. His intimidating presence wears off in the later scenes, and the movie eventually discards him completely in order to highlight needless twists.
I mentioned earlier the threat of a fusion bomb. We are informed that the bomb is set to detonate in, if I’m not mistaken, five months. This incredibly long countdown causes countless of exchanges between characters where they update each other, and the audience, regarding the bomb’s state. “Three months ‘til detonation!” “We have two weeks to stop that bomb!” “Twelve hours left! We have to do something!” “One hour to go before that thing goes off! We don’t have much time!”
This causes the suspense of the threat to die down. One element of the plot is delayed so the slower parts of the story could catch up. Can a heavily injured Batman make a full recovery and defeat Bane if the bomb has a countdown of 45 minutes? Try to recall the ferry sequence in “The Dark Knight”. Because the passengers of the two ferries only have 15 minutes to decide, the suspense is magnified, the action is immediate, the possibilities are many, and the moral issue is fascinating. As we sit in eager anticipation, we can easily visualize The Joker blowing up both of the ferries because everyone else chose to do the right thing. Can we really imagine the city of Gotham as a giant pile of ash?
Does my review of “The Dark Knight Rises” feel like a negative one? If yes, then I should make it clear that the flaws are forgivable; the movie has a lot more things going for it than against it. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who wants their intelligence to participate in the theater. We don’t get a lot of Summer Blockbusters with a brain in its head. I predict that it will reach the billion dollar milestone in the box office. The DVD version, once released, will also sell millions and millions of copies, for it will feature those magic white words that should be able to decipher the mysteries surrounding Bane’s dialogue.