director: Christopher Nolan
starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
I’ve never been more disappointed about being disappointed about a movie. The Dark Knight Rises is a disappointment on nearly all levels of filmmaking. A lazy, self-indulgent, sloppy mess of a plot punctuated by action sequences that are more spectacular in intent than execution. I’m reserving final judgment until I see the flick again on IMAX, but I’m sad to say Rises is likely not the crowning achievement and fulfillment of the promise the first two Nolan Bat-movies set the table for.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the titular character. Batman Begins was remarkable in its ability to drive the plot forward despite the fact Batman doesn’t even show up until halfway through the movie. Bruce Wayne’s sojourn abroad was just as interesting as the moments he finally dons the cowl and lays waste to Gotham’s enemies. Nolan found the right balance between character-driven plot and comic book action beats, and carried this through to what might be his finest hour in The Dark Knight, counterbalancing and exceeding any lack of Batman with Heath Ledger’s incredible portrayal of the Joker. That balance is nowhere to be found in Rises, as the film grounds to a halt anytime the caped crusader is absent.
Bane is a worthy and compelling villain, but muddled dialogue and horrendous pacing rob him of having the same effect of unrelenting malevolence the Joker brought to the proceedings. Bane just does not have the same presence, blame for which I cannot lie at the feet of Tom Hardy. His performance is fantastic but is done a disservice by the filmmaking and plotting, a disservice that is topped off by emasculating the character by way of a completely unnecessary twist in the final act (the reveal that Miranda Tate is actually Ra’s al-Ghul’s daughter Talia) before he meets his altogether unremarkable end.
The films I’m typically most frustrated by are those that could’ve been light years better had different decisions been made in the editing room. While I’m never averse to flicks with long running times, Rises’ nearly 3-hour runtime is marked by bloat. After a thrilling aerial hijack scene, the film’s first act drags on and on and on, introducing characters I really couldn’t give two craps about, largely because they do nothing to advance the plot. There’s a good 30 minutes of waste that could’ve been trimmed to keep things moving.
Pacing overall is one of the film’s biggest problems — Nolan did not handle the passage of time well, which is crucial for a film that takes place over many months. I don’t need a cliched, melodramatic montage to denote the passage of time, but I certainly don’t want the filmmakers denoting the passage of time by having characters speak eye-rolling expository dialogue to the effect of, “Hey guys, three months have passed.” The previous two Bat-flicks have certainly had their share of groan-worthy dialogue (“I have GOT to get me one of those!”), but whereas you can gloss over those moments in the other films because everything else is so great, the bad moments stick out like sore thumbs in Rises.
Also adding to the overall “off-ness” of the plotting and pacing, the use of score here is often distracting and unnecessary. Quiet character moments should be just that: quiet. If the director and actors are doing their jobs, I don’t need music to be telling me how to feel during a scene. I actually do love the score on its own, but like everything else in Rises, it’s another chink in the severely dented armor of the film.
There is one specific moment that stands out above all others that makes me wonder what the hell happened to Nolan. Maybe I have a misguided sense of his style and nuance, but the scene in Italy at the end that reveals Wayne is still alive was a sledgehammer to the face in terms of storytelling. Here’s your fix: show Alfred’s look of recognition and satisfaction and then cut away. You do not need to insult your audience by showing a shot of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle on vacation. I hate shit like that; stop insulting your audience. I’d likely be less annoyed with the subsequent reveal of “Robin” were there not so many other stab-me-in-the-face moments.
The world will not end because The Dark Knight Rises is not a triumph. It’s a perfectly acceptable movie on its own, and worth seeing. But in the context of Nolan’s exemplary treatment of the franchise prior, it is an utter disappointment that has ruined my night. I know: I should get a life. But when movies really work, they can have a powerful effect on you — it’s an effect I’m always looking for when I see movies; it’s why I love being there opening night for the big event movies with a packed house. I love the moments I get swept up in the emotion and rousing experience of triumphant filmmaking, lump rising in my throat as you’re fully immersed into the world of the film right there along with the characters. I find myself now immersed only in the disappointment of having just seen an unsuccessful Christopher Nolan Batman film.