Movie Review: "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)

I think it would be pretty stupid to argue that Christopher Nolan isn't a respectable filmmaker. He's done some of the most unique, ambitious and memorable movies this side of 2000, and in every single one of them there's been several particularities that can, by this point, be considered a style.

A scene that was incredibly exciting for its small scale.
See, there’s a formula to Christopher Nolan’s movies. They present a great idea, great ambitions, and more often than not, a great payoff. These ambitions are generally commendable, because you can just tell, just by watching his work, that he has an eye and an idea of filmmaking very few others share. He creates a specific vision for each movie, and then sets out to accomplish this vision, whatever it takes.

The thing, for me, and the reason why I’m still reluctant in calling Nolan a genius is that this Panzer-like determination to fulfill his vision generally comes at the stake of some very important elements in storytelling, such as logic, pacing, consistency and coherence. “Memento”, “Inception”, “The Dark Knight” are all movies that made no sense—though if you’re generous you can say they’re movies they ask for a shitload of suspension of disbelief, which I’m generally more than willing to grant—but still had much more to offer than that.

Nolan is good at making us forget that the concepts giving life to his great ideas generally aren’t very good, because what he creates with those ideas is generally something mindblowing. I didn’t give two squats about the absolute absurdity of “Inception” when everything going on was so fucking exciting. This, however, didn’t work for me and “The Dark Knight”. Despite the moments of excitement, and there were many, I found that movie plodding, boring and silly to boot—a film that had absolutely no right to take itself as seriously as it did.

Now it might be because my head isn’t as far up my ass as it was back in ’09, or it might be because of something else, but I really enjoyed “The Dark Knight Rises”. This was strange, considering the movie suffers from pretty much the same mistakes that made me dislike its prequel: a bloated, overlong running time, gigantic gaps in the story, and many misguided choices on Nolan’s part. I think part of this was one element Nolan decided to add that was sorely missing before: a sense of humor.

I know it’s a stupid thing to praise a movie for, but it’s the element that turned what could’ve been a very pretentious movie into an extremely enjoyable blockbuster. Yes, it’s still grim and dark—though not nearly as much as I expected, especially considering how pussified its violence is; it’s almost completely bloodless—but this only proves how the unwarranted and undeserved seriousness of “The Dark Knight” was, for me, its biggest problem. Unlike number two, this one had constant moments of humor that almost always hit the mark (“So that’s what that feels like.” slayed me) and made it exponentially more enjoyable and therefore better.

Still, the screenplay has too many problems. Important things (including Batman’s sacrifice at the end of “The Dark Knight”) are invalidated almost immediately through contrived plot twists. Very important things happen because of pure coincidence. The plot, in its desperate attempts at complexity, seems often unfocused. Worst of all, the most important plot points are extremely forced. One incredibly important change in Batman’s character made absolutely no fucking sense, and there was an extremely insulting moment in which a huge twist was revealed in the laziest possible way.

There are also several moments of unintentional cheese that made me chuckle. Dr. Pavel in particular was laughable; I’m glad he wasn’t on-screen too much because he could’ve ruined more than one scene.

But that’s the thing about Nolan’s work. I’m completely sure that Nolan is aware of the many things that make no sense in his script, but he doesn’t give a shit, because they’re allowing him to do exactly what he set off to do: a huge epic sendoff to one of the most powerfully popular and loved characters we’ve seen in many decades. Basically, he’s telling us “Yes, you can linger on these unexceptional story fuck-ups, but then you’ll be missing out on this.”

And at least for me, this time, that’s acceptable. Once I tore myself away from the very obvious and often bothersome gaps in the screenplay, I was enjoying myself very much. I was laughing at the jokes, hitting my knees with excitement (the moment of Batman’s first ‘return’ was so fucking badass I almost crapped my undies—that fucking score, man) and even becoming emotionally engaged. It’s remarkable how much into the story I became, considering how stupid it often was. Every scene with Alfred was fantastic. Nolan sure knew how to handle that character, and Michael Caine owned it. He was responsible for two of the best moments in the movie—and the trilogy, to be honest.

Bane was probably the thing I approached with the lowest expectations. From the previews, I didn’t like his relatively small build—Hardy was big, don’t get me wrong, but Bane is supposed to be Hulk-sized, not just big—I didn’t like his voice, I didn’t like how one of the very fundamental elements of what made Bane such an interesting character in the comic books couldn’t possibly work in Nolan’s “realistic” (I wish there was some kind of super quotation mark to encapsulate that word) universe. Bane didn’t seem like the correct fit for this world.

But I was wrong. Hardy’s Bane isn’t “Knightfall”’s Bane, but the movie can’t be faulted for that. Nolan created a character from a scratch, one that barely resembles its source, but is nonetheless one awesome villain that in my opinion improved upon The Joker. He had a great back story, an intelligent objective (something the Joker sorely lacked), a mean streak and some great dialogue. I also loved how his storyline is a great critique on the people's politics and the absurd and blind hunger for change.

There’s no way around it though: his voice was just fucking terrible. I learned to tolerate it, but half the time—the moments in which you could clearly hear him talking—it was just laughable, and took value from an otherwise badass villain. I did think his fate was a bit anti-climatic and boring, especially considering how overblown everything else is.

All the returning characters did what they had to do, and they did it gracefully. I’ve already spoken of Caine, but Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman in particular were very enjoyable to see again. Catwoman was impossibly likable, despite my every instinct telling me she’d be annoying, and despite some sloppy and vague writing in her motivation, functioned very well within the story.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake was, to no one’s surprise, fantastic, even if his character had absolutely no role during most of the movie’s first half. Casting and acting has never been a problem with Nolan’s movies, and it’s not a problem here. Everyone—except, again, Dr. Pavel—did great jobs with their respective characters, most of whom had perfectly defined arcs that gave them the closure they deserved. This of course includes Bats himself, who shines more as a character than he ever did before. Bale performed with class. You could tell he enjoyed what he had done with Batman, and was eager to give the character a proper send-off. Christian Bale has always been likable, but he was a particularly bright part of this film. He showed hitherto unseen vulnerability and not once stopped being the badass we all know and love, even if he spends a surprising amount of screen time off the costume.

And of course what I said before doesn't necessarily mean that the screenplay is a total disaster; it certainly isn't. There are moments of dialogue, mainly involving Bane, that would've been melodramatic and cheesy had the lines not been written with such gusto. One of Bane's speeches in particular, though slightly over-dramatic, was a very inspiring scene that I'm not ashamed in admitting, gave me chills. Also, there are a couple of very genuine surprises in the story that earned some very legit gasps.

So yeah, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a movie that suffers from many, many flaws—most of which are specific to the screenplay—but massive as though they are, they can be overlooked if one’s willing (and I wouldn’t blame one who isn’t). Any other movie would’ve been ruined for me, but in here, I chose not to linger on its issues, because then I would’ve missed what the movie amounts to in the end: a very unique and entertaining epic, and quite possibly my favorite in the trilogy.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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