The Hype: The Dark Knight Rises

Gunnar Bio PicI’ll say it right now: The Dark Knight Rises is not the worst movie of all time. It is not The Room, it is not the second Exorcist movie, it is not Ishtar. It isn’t an Adam Sandler film and it isn’t Plan 9 from Outer Space. Now that we have that out of the way, let me say this:

The Dark Knight Rises is a bad film.

To get an idea of just how bat-awful Christopher Nolan’s last caper with the caped crusader truly is, think for a moment about the kind of film The Dark Knight Rises could have been. Here we have a plethora of incredible talents, a laundry-list of A-List all-stars including Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy, guided by the same director who’s given us colossal mindfucks Inception, Interstellar, and Momento, all of whom are making a movie centered around one of the greatest living franchises in American history. Add to that the incredible hype and unbridled creative freedom that Nolan deservedly achieved thanks to his previous Batman films and it’s easy to imagine this movie becoming an earth-shattering phenomenon even if Nolan ultimately turned in a picture of a kid lighting a turd on fire.

Unfortunately, it seems Christopher Nolan decided to test this theory. Let’s break this film down and explore what went wrong.

Act 1 – “A False Hope”

The first hour of The Dark Knight Rises gives us much of the ambition and character development that made The Dark Knight so immediately enthralling. Nolan’s wheelhouse seems firmly dark-knight-rises-behind-the-scenes-christopher-nolan-catwomangrounded in unique and visually powerful action sequences. His adept eye for acrobatic storytelling is incomparable, and when Bane overtakes an airplane in the first ten minutes of the film, the cinematography and coordination lead to a breathtaking opener.

However, like the plane, everything starts to freefall from there. Why does Bane sound like a Muppet and Dr. Strangelove made strange love and had a baby, and that baby learned philosophy from college freshmen trying to quote Nietzsche at a local Starbucks?

Later Anne Hathaway comes in, and it seems like things are getting better until she tries to coo a sultry “Oops, nobody told me it was uncrackable” to Christian Bale’s reclusive Bruce Wayne. Whereas Michelle Pfieffer let Catwoman dance on the hot tin roofs of 1980’s sex-fueled fatalism, Hathaway clumsily and unwisely tries to channel the great, late Lauren Bacall, sounding forced and very out-of-place. Hathaway doesn’t stink the way Tom Hardy’s Bane stinks, but her Catwoman does very little to go above our most basic expectations. Already we begin to see some tiny cracks in the foundation of a presumably rock-solid film.

However, things are still looking pretty good. Bale shows us a complexity in Wayne that is compelling, Michael Caine provides the perfect moral compass in a deeply concerned Alfred, and Gary Oldman looks like he’s ready to just say “Fuck it” and carry the movie the rest of the way himself as flawed yet extremely capable Commissioner Gordon. Maybe they will add some gravitas and purpose to the random appearances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard. Maybe…

Act 2 – “Exposition Overload”

…or maybe not. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake, a policeman who represents the ideals of a good cop and happens to appear wherever needed, which is to say he’s a basic redundancy of Commissioner Gordon. Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a philanthropist who appears out of nowhere and effortlessly takes over Wayne Enterprises. If it feels like these characters are forced, it’s probably because they are. Christopher Nolan’s single greatest weakness is his overzealous desire to cast actors he’s developed a personal affinity for, which is why half of the cast of Inception appears in this film (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard), and why half of this film feels miscast. 

the-dark-knight-rises-movie-review_181809_gSoon after Blake and Tate, the movie suffers under the weight of its various bloated plotlines.  At least five minutes is dedicated to Batman vs. Catwoman, Batman vs. Bane, Batman vs. some police dude, Bruce Wayne vs. his past, Bruce Wayne vs. Alfred, something about an identity eraser called “Clean Slate,” a nuclear bomb, whatever the hell Joseph Gordon-Levitt is doing, Bane taking on Gotham’s politics (with the voice that launched a thousand memes), and a story involving a prison and the League of Shadows, the secret fraternity of ninjas seen in Batman Begins. Bane breaks Batman’s back, some small-time baddies we never really get to know or care about are murdered, America sits by and watches Bane take over Gotham, and Bruce Wayne gets haymakered in the back to cure his broken spine because that’s how spines work. By the second hour of The Dark Knight Rises, this is no longer a film about Batman, which leads me to a certain theory…

Act 3 – “The Bat Caves”

…Christopher Nolan didn’t want to make this movie. Nolan mentioned a few times that Heath Ledger’s death affected him deeply, and that he was hesitant, even resistant, to return to the franchise. He sought other projects: Inception, a planned epic IMAX romance, a planned Howard Hughes biopic. It is easy to imagine his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, coming to him one day and saying, “Hey, what if we took the cast of Inception, turned Bruce Wayne into Howard Hughes, and topped it all off with some shoehorned romance?”

“But what about Batman?” Christopher wonders. “How will there be room for him with all of this other stuff going on?”

“Who said Batman has to be in it?” Jonathan smirks.

*cue Inception noise*

Eventually, Wayne fixes his back and somehow teleports back to Gotham. The do-gooders do good, Miranda Tate is really Rha’s Al Ghul’s daughter, Bane is her protector… you know what, who christian_bale_batman_costume_the_dark_knight_rises_2012_hd_wallpaper-vvallpaper-netcares? There are so many plotlines vomiting all over each other at this point that by the time you’re hitting the two-and-a-half hour mark of this overburdened clusterfuck you’re ready for the damn nuclear bomb to just blow up, already! Remember all those little cracks in the foundation? Well they’ve spread and spidered and run amok, and the film’s collapsing under its own loftiness.

And if you thought all of this was starting to sound a little ridiculous, just guess what Detective Blake’s real name is, the man who seems to want to inherent Batman’s crimefighting do-gooderness. Just guess. Okay time’s up: it’s “Robin!” You now have my permission to die.

So again, this is not the worst movie of all time, and with Batman vs. Superman coming soon, perhaps the day will come when even Nolan’s worst fuck ups will be missed over Zack Snyder’s bombastic, overwrought messes. But The Dark Knight Rises is hardly a monumental achievement, incredible action flick, or fantastic conclusion to Nolan’s Batman saga. It is a mediocre popcorn film disguised as a political statement disguised as a superhero movie.

I mean seriously, dude’s name was “Robin.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%

Box Office: $1.084 billion