The best way to kill a film is hype. It’s like a knife jabbed into the ribs of cinema; hype a film too much and the audience expects Citizen Kane. Or in this case, Citizen Bane.
After the brilliant Dark Knight, audiences demanded a lot from Christopher Nolan, who was reluctant to even make another Batman film.
I’ll say it now. The Dark Knight Rises is not as great as you think it will be.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, refusing to interact with the outside world and growing a large amount of facial hair. Commissioner Gordon is about to lose his job. Batman is Public Enemy Number One after “murdering” Harvey Dent. Gotham sits in an uneasy peace, after the Dent Act allowed the streets to be cleaned of organised crime.
Of course, if you can’t complain about the crime problem, find something else to hate about the city. Welcome Bane, the activist slash bondage baddie, espousing a thinly veiled commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement. I enjoyed Nolan’s treatment of Bane, as a thoughtful and philosophical villain, rather than the grunting Mexican wrestler of Batman and Robin.
Enter Batman! Or not. Batman is conspicuously absent from the final Batman film, which spends most of the time dissecting why Bruce Wayne should stop being Batman and then why he should start being Batman again. Maybe it’s just me, but when I pay to see a Batman movie I usually expect to see Batman in the movie, doing Bat things like kicking Bat butt and driving the Batmobile with his Batarangs and Bat card. Ok, maybe not the Bat card.
The film is overly long at almost three hours, with the first hour needing a major edit with a chainsaw. It becomes a Merchant Ivory talkfest, with Bruce Wayne and Alfred having a chat, then Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle having a chat, oh look, let’s chat to Morgan Freeman now and… blah, blah, blah. It has the excitement of a four hour Wayne Enterprises board meeting. There’s a real lack of set pieces in the film; it feels like moving from one talking moment to another without a defined purpose to the dialogue.
But the second half is pretty good, with more action and less talk. The plot zips around like a Batbike through Gotham, where disparate events eventually come together for an epic finale. The two most impressive scenes are the first whopping opener, a deft mid-air plane hijack, and the jaw-dropping football game, where Bane begins his plan of vengeance upon the citizens of Gotham.
There are many analogies to be made between The Dark Knight Rises and Star Wars, but to do so would spoil the film. Just watch out for the blind Yoda, the force-like appearance of Qui-Gon Jinn, the Millenium Falcon-esque rescue and the Vader-ish voice of Bane. Maybe Christopher Nolan is interested in rebooting the Star Wars prequels? Now that I’d pay to see.
Marion Cotillard is decidedly unsexy in this film; while she is a great actress in French, I’ve not been impressed with either of her turns in Inception or The Dark Knight Rises. There’s no chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne, nor is there any between Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Batman. At least Anne Hathaway is a sexy Catwoman, with her blood red lips and serrated heels.
We can rely on Michael Caine to deliver the goods, with a touching performance as Alfred. Unfortunately, the best actors in the film are often absent; Christian Bale disappears for half the film, Gary Oldman’s in a hospital bed and Michael Caine gets limited screen time as the faithful butler. Joseph Gordon Levitt gives the most consistent performance as one of GPD’s finest.
As for the cinematography, Nolan left his focus puller at home, with half the film out of focus. The dark vision is almost too dark and blue. Where events should be sharp the image is soft, particularly in the scene where the street is filled with police cars.
If only Nolan had been restricted to two hours rather than three, we’d have a tightly paced action film that might have lived up to its predecessor. The Dark Knight Rises is worth seeing, but just don’t go in with the hype.