Team ScreenAnarchy Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Now that many of us have had a chance to catch up with Christopher Nolan's conclusion to his Bat-trilogy, some of us in the ScreenAnarchy crew wanted to provide some short, spoiler-free reactions. If you'd like more in-depth takes on the The Dark Knight Rises, check out these comprehensive takes by Greg Christie and James Marsh.
Jason Gorber (IMAX version)
First of all, it would be somewhat callous on my part to ignore the fact that the premiere of this film will inexorably be tied to tragic events in Colorado. Condolences and thoughts go out to those victimized in something as beautifully communal as a film premiere.
I managed to see TKDR twice on opening weekend, knowing full well from experience that the first viewing of such a highly anticipated work would be full of all kinds of misgivings. Expectations are fickle things, and often with "event" works like this you can't help but be swept up in what you think (based on both trailer and preceding works) the film is supposed to be. When it's not that, you're sometimes disappointed, usually through no fault of the film.
The best thing I can say is that it behooves one, most definitely, to screen parts one and two (yet again) almost immediately before seeing the third. This is very much an echo of the first film (some may claim a weak one at that), and its clunky elements and superficial politicizing very much fit into the world first articulated in Batman Begins. When held beside the earlier films, the politics seems less jingoistic or opportunistic (some have called it "Occupy Batman"), and instead very much a part of a whole, a relatively unsophisticated, broadly populist message that's appropriate for the source material, and as socially sophisticated as Robin Hood.
If you overthink it the ideology falls into farce. Instead, it should be seen that all three films simply drape the politics over the plot like a cape, outlining a rough shape but never coming close (to the greater benefit of the films) to being anything more than a tool to tell a compelling superhero tale, adding where appropriate pinches of grey to the normal black-and-white moralizing of such works.
Nolan manages once again to create some astonishing set pieces (I adore the opening sequence for one), and the film as a whole works as a fitting, satisfactory conclusion to what came before. What it's not is something nearly as revelatory, or dark, as the second piece of the puzzle, despite some wonderfully ominous moments. Naturally, it was never going to leave things completely nihilistic, and that speaks to the expectation management I spoke of above.
Find a way to see the spectacle on real IMAX screens (although even in "lieMAX" the image does impress). After all, 15/70 is all the better to enjoy the lovely Ann Hathaway's tuchas in even more splendour!
Ard Vijn (IMAX version)
Today I saw Nolan's third Batman film in the best possible circumstances: in an IMAX theater, with good seats, with friends, on the first day after returning from a splendid vacation. And I was sober. Actually, so was the film.
I really liked all three of these films, but it's the kind of "like" which comes from admiration rather than love. I actually loved Tim Burton's two Batman films, even though I will fully acknowledge that they are far more flawed than any of the three Nolan films. Burton made two gloriously feverish dreams, train-wrecks almost and seemingly unfinished in several departments. They were awful, awesome and they touched me. In contrast, Christopher Nolan delivered three cold morality thrillers with some comic-book fanservice.
What Nolan does bring to the table is a strict adherence to his own logic, a consistent aesthetic (even though Gotham indeed looks different every time) and splendid work from his actors. Note that so far I haven't said anything yet specifically about The Dark Knight Rises and that is because it fits in so well with its two predecessors, forming a whole with them, merging them even. While you didn't need to have seen Batman Begins to enjoy The Dark Knight, this time you do miss out on a lot if you watch The Dark Knight Rises all by itself without any knowledge of the other two.
The only spoilers I will allow myself to make are that yes, Nolan does finish his trilogy, and wowzers, Anne Hathaway turns out to be surprisingly good as Selina.
Oh, and I really liked it. There, I've said it twice...
Jim Tudor (IMAX version)
From Adam West in 1966 to Christian Bale's record-setting three outings as Christopher Nolan's version, the long-running DC Comics hero Batman has proven to be one of our most fluid icons. Over the years, he's shifted visually and tonally from camp humor to intense crime drama (with almost everything in between) as effortlessly as mass audiences are to accept him most of those versions. And that's merely in terms of the character's big screen outings. Whatever one may think of one incarnation over another, there's something undeniably cool about that.
But as much as things change for Batman, the more they stay the same. As we see in The Dark Knight Rises (in glorious IMAX clarity), some days he still can't get rid of a bomb. Thankfully, the movie isn't one. This latest magnum opus from the highly regarded Nolan may not measure up to 2008's The Dark Knight, but that's okay. With virtually the entire cast returning and Anne Hathaway's winning take on Catwoman, much is in place for a satisfying final Bat-film. However, moreso than usual, the filmmakers' modus operandi of dressing up real-world complexity as comic book allegory is particularly transparent. The uncharismatic Bane dominates too much of it, with Joseph Gordon Levitt occupying yet more. But if I have one lingering complaint about TDKR, it's that in its 144 minutes, maybe 35 of them actually feature the title character. He'd just risen, and I was missing him already. See you at the reboot, Batman.
The Dark Knight Rises is an aimless mess whose plot is driven by an under-motivated villain (seriously, explain Bane's endgame), dialog that explains and explains while the movie shows less and less, and more worrying, no real theme (or at least, not one which can be reached by the contents of the film). While its predecessors had their own narrative issues, both ultimately worked as pieces forming a bat-mythos predicated on the power of, well, creating a mythos. And while Rises grasps at the same, Batman's eight-year absence, abrupt return, and the subsequent lack of man on the street reaction to the latter robs this chilly movie of any kind of emotion.
Sure, we have Joseph Gordon Levitt's rookie cop John Blake telling us in an overlong monologue about how Batman inspired him once upon a time, but instead of providing us insight into his character or the Bat-legend, the clunky storytelling here does more telling than showing. Levitt does the best he can with the material, bringing sincerity to an underwritten role (ditto Hathaway, who is sexy and dangerous as the cat burglar never actually called Catwoman).
And if you want to make hay about the politics of the movie, either as a screed against the naivete of the Occupy movement or an attack on the 1%, don't bother: Rises barely has time the time for the political implications of the habeas corpus-robbing Dent Act which is, I guess why the thousand or so cons in Blackgate are so angry and ready to tool up and take to the streets with Bane? Where The Dark Knight was so effective is in making the choice between civic solidarity and chaos a choice. I have no idea what this movie is saying about the people (but it's obviously saying something).
And whither Batman? The Bat/Bruce starts the movie broken, rises, and is broken some more, trusts some very untrustworthy people, and continues to outsource the actual detective bits to Alfred and Lucius. The character is diminished here, and based on what's shown onscreen, it's tough to find anything that would inspire or cause anyone to care if he rises yet again.