Film Comment: Why I Didn’t Really Care For The Dark Knight Rises

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That’s right, the title says it all. I didn’t really like The Dark Knight Rises. Well, that’s unfair. Yes, I enjoyed it more than most films that come out in the cinema, but, when measured against the middle and even first film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises just falls short. I just expected a better class of film.

The first issue is the lack of any character on to whom someone can latch onto and care about. In The Dark Knight, it could go three ways between Harvey Dent (who I thought was fantastic), The Joker (by sheer force of personal magnetism and gleeful evil) or Rachel Dawes (by virtue of her being female and not entirely unlikeable). Harvey Dent’s fate made me genuinely remorseful and genuinely sad. There we saw a good man, and his incidentally not awful fiancée, torn to pieces by the actions of a madman (I think we can all appreciate the emotional impact of that, given recent events) yet, in The Dark Knight Rises, there is no one. The nearest we come is Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, who is, at the very least likeable, but to infrequently brought into the fray to be of any real significance.

This film left us with Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, who must stand as one of the worst written and most clichéd characters in recent cinema history. Her character follows the exact same arch as around about a dozen sexy female antagonists who later turn out to be trustworthy, yet aren’t, but have a heart of gold and a sharp tongue. It’s just tired and I expected better from Nolan. Maybe he finally decided to settle for some of the comic book archetype characters that he had previously expanded upon without adding any depth.

After that we come to Batman himself. The problem with him in Nolan’s imagining is that he has quite explicitly been a symbol, devoid of any personal attributes that might be said to be remotely relatable or human, such as a sense of humour. Bruce Wayne is not an attractive character. He has nothing to draw you in except his own self-righteous torment, his artificially manufactured ennui. Here we have a muscular, good looking billionaire who gets to dress up like a large flying rodent and beats up villains, and we’re supposed to feel sorry for him? I could get past it in the first two films because it wasn’t relied on that heavily: it was incidental to the fun and mayhem, but in the third outing it forms the bulk of the story leaving us with something fun enough, yet overtly portentous and pretentious.

The other problem, which I believe to be the biggest problem, is Bane. I do cut Christopher Nolan some slack because of some dubious test screenings but there must have been a middle ground between incomprehensible and effete Shakespearean actor. I know some consider posh accents to be threatening but, with the Darth Vader filter, Tom Hardy just ended up sounding like James Earl Jones attempting a ludicrous British accent.  He reminded of Sean Connery’s voice over work in DragonHeart. I cannot help but feel that Nolan chose a specifically nothing villain to make room for everything else he wanted to do with the film. Had he chosen another Heath Ledger, the entire film would have been about that one character and his own artistic ambitions would not have been satiated. It is, however, to the detriment of the film, because when you remove the heart of a good action thriller (the compelling bad guy) you really aren’t left with much.

My final criticism is that it’s just not fun enough. I don’t mean fun in a laughy, happy ludicrous sort of fun, but fun that can be serious, fun that can be dark and is the sort of balls to the wall fun that existed in the last film: mature, dangerous edgy fun. The Dark Knight’s strength lay not in its seriousness, but in its anarchy. I know that no director should try and pull the same trick twice (listen up, Tarantino), but to ignore the fun is to lose what exactly a good action film should be. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t thrilling, it isn’t touching and it isn’t even that interesting.

The series has lost most of what made the second film great (I’m almost ignoring the first one because it’s simply not in the same league), and by treating the subject matter with entirely too much reverence, Nolan has sucked the life out of what could, and should, have been the finale to possibly the greatest trilogy in movie history. It’s not a disaster but when measured by Nolan’s output over the last decade – beginning with Memento and ending with Inception – this film simply is not that fantastic. By almost every other standard, it’s great, and I’d watch it again, but, when compared to greatness, it simply does not shine.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012), directed by Christopher Nolan, is distributed in the UK by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12A. The Edge’s review of the film can be read here.

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