Christopher Nolan’s second sequel to the sequence begun in 2005 with Batman Begins is finally here and we’re giving you our impressions ahead of the release on Friday the 20th.
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For those looking for good news, I can’t legitimately report that The Dark Knight Rises is a bad film. With the repository of talent both in front of and behind the camera it was never going to be anything less than watchable but with that pedigree, and the legacy of the stunning The Dark Knight behind it, what the film actually is might prove to be even more of a disappointment.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the previous entry, showing us a Gotham free of crime and a broken, retired bat who channels Howard Hughes while cooped up in his mansion. But when a new threat arrives, it’s time for the dark night to ride again.
Nolan introduces us to a cast of returning characters and new additions, chiefly the slinky Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy) as the stakes rise ever higher and higher towards the possible destruction of the entire city as Batman’s resolve falters.
It’s heady stuff but there’s simply nothing special about TDKR. The peril is perfunctory, leaning on a trope as tired and familiar as a super weapon and a ticking clock. But because this is a Christopher Nolan film, the clock is left ticking over a five month period – ripping away the sense of urgency you expect when millions of lives are in danger.
2008s The Dark Knight brilliantly built up symbolic journey for our hero, a play on the very notion of heroes and villains which fed into the ferocious interaction between Heath Ledger’s The Joker and Bale’s Bat. Bane, from his very introduction, is built of less interesting stuff – a masked villain who mounts dramatic stunts to level the social playing field. And, even with some post production fiddling, Bane’s voice remains difficult to hear and, more importantly, openly ridiculous. The strained tones and accent did nothing for me but make me imagine he was twirling a villainous moustache with every syllable, neutering his threat level no matter how many off screen executions he performs.
Hardy makes for a dull antagonist, with no clear reason for his actions and no apparent personal connection to Batman to make things more interesting. He’s a thug, however smart, a point reinforced by some extensive fisticuffs with Bale that peak with a most unsatisfactory demise. Bale himself is fine, and you’ll be pleased to hear he tones down the Bat-voice a little. Most surprising is Hathaway who does a fine job with the mannerisms and the action as Selina Kyle. She’s passably seductive and wields a good stiletto, but ultimately is more of a convenient plot device than a character.
Ultimately, it all just feels a little basic. There’s none of the charm and wit of something like The Avengers and little of the thematic depth of TDK. Even the twists are far from shocking and the latter half is rife with contrivance – particularly how easy it is to move around a city under martial law. Nolan’s commitment to realism even comes under fire from a host of silly vehicles and time spent watching Cat and Bat, in costume, mincing around and hitting things. Even the inevitable moment of sacrifice feels forced and unimpressive.
Nolan continues his uneasy relationship with action here too. There are a few larger moments which are engaging – like the mass of explosions at the football field and some missile chasing, and there’s certainly a better command of hand to hand fighting this time. But what TDKR really misses is spectacle or even a memorable set piece beyond the fun mid air jailbreak sequence from the opening which was teased already. The vehicular scenes are rarely interesting and, beyond the Bat flyer, the toys are all but absent this time around.
The Dark Knight Rises is sure to be a massive hit and is certainly entertaining for its unnecessarily bloated 2 hour 45 minute running time but the final journey for this iteration of the character provides few enough truly memorable moments alongside a weak villain and a plot so intent on proving that it’s smart it forgets to be engaging. And don’t get us started on the botched sentiment of the ending.