As the credits rolled on The Dark Knight Rises, I told my buddy Cary that “it was my favorite of all three of the Batman movies”. I might’ve passed judgement just a little too quickly. In fairness, the ending and the tasteful closing of Christian Bale’s run as the Caped Crusader overwhelmed me and left me with an exceptionally good taste in my mouth. But, as I have given the movie a little more consideration, I would have to say it is not my favorite of the three and in fact might actually be my LEAST favorite. The acting, music, cinematography, and overall tie-in-to-the-trilogy were solid if not transcendant in places, but the story execution was disjointed, there were at least 6 major characters that were unnecessary, and the runtime was too long. All in all, it’s the ending to Nolan’s trilogy, and while I cannot help but suggest you go see it, you should expect things to be a little bit off.
I’m not terribly interested in exploring the negatives anymore than that, but I would like to make some further remarks on the positives. First of all, the acting was superb. I think Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is amazing. Like, this might have been a career-making performance for her. The variety of emotions she displayed convincingly was fantastic. For example, in one scene, her character pretends to be hysterical to avoid suspicion from the police, and when they pass her by, she immediately switches into intense-mission-mode. The change is completely remarkable and believable, and it reminds me of Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man when he is looking at himself in the mirror and switching back and forth from Osborne to Green Goblin. The performance was so complete that I didn’t feel like I was watching an actress – I felt like I was watching Selina Kyle. Michael Caine is also excellent. His performance as Alfred has to go into the pantheon of great supporting characters. In fact, one particular scene of his nearly brought me to tears, and that never happens in the theater. Christian Bale’s performance in DKR seems more relaxed than in the first two, which is not to say he was better in this or worse in those. Its like there was an intensity that boiled over in the first two, and in this, he was having fun. Finally, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (or Gordon Levitt, Jr. as Cary and I call him for some unknown reason) is rock solid as the detective Blake. I couldn’t imagine him having a place in this film, but after seeing his performance, I feel like he was a fine choice, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for that guy.
Second, the music was great. The main themes were carried over from the first two movies, and I LOVE the primal Bane theme. It is one of my favorite musical devices in recent years, and it brings back memories of the Thuggee cult chant from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I also love that it isn’t subtle like the nails-on-the-chalkboard Joker motif but rather bombastic and over-the-top. It totally fits the character and his origin, and it proves that Hans Zimmer has more tricks up his sleeve than I realized.
Third, the cinematography was fantastic. I love the direction Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan are taking things in terms of pursuing extraordinarily high-resolution IMAX shots instead of forcing dingy, post-production 3d effects down our throats. By the way, watch this film in IMAX if you get the chance. Cary has seen both regular and IMAX screenings and he said the IMAX absolutely makes the movie better. So there.
Fourth, I think this movie does a great job of tying in the previous two movies. The story might be a little contrived and disjointed, but it pays tribute to the earlier films quite nicely. Ultimately, though, flashing back to the other movies stunted this movie’s soul a little. The first two movies are great standalone experiences, but this one feels like it would fall to the ground in a heap of unmet expectations if it were not propped up by material of the first two films. Still, the tie-ins were well done.
Okay, enough official critique. If you want to discuss elements of the movie in greater detail, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message. I am moving on to some other things I find very curious regarding this film.
First of all, it has a 9.1 score on imdb.com. A 9.1!!!! Just for reference, the highest movie score on imdb is a 9.2, so, in having a 9.1 rating, this movie is a tenth of a point away from being the most highly ranked movie of all time according to the imdb voters. I mean, did the voters actually see the movie? It is certainly enjoyable and possesses some great qualities, but I would have to say it’s far from a 9.1. I would give it a 7.7. This once again makes me think that the ease of sharing one’s opinion has led to people leaving scores immediately after the showing (when they’re still emotional about the experience), thus leading to unexpectedly high scores. I mentioned something similar here. And I’m just as guilty as anyone else of overreacting; the moment the credits rolled, I believed DKR was my favorite Nolan Batman movie, but once I played things back, I began to remember the frustrating moments that I forgot in the rush of the ending.
Granted, it may seem frivolous to talk about the voting habits of imdb users, but my greater curiosity is why people vote like they do. Is it fair to attribute artificially high ratings to “ease of sharing” only, or is there something more at work? It feels like the only way a movie like DKR could have a 9.1 with so many flaws is that the majority of the voters don’t give the movie enough thought. It reminds me of an interview I saw in which a woman said she voted for Geroge W. Bush because he as the “cute” candidate. Really? Is that how people are voting? If people don’t give much thought to their imdb scores, that is really not a big deal, but what about when that same lack of thought is exemplified in more important parts of our lives? Deciding how we vote, who we date, who we marry, how we address the spiritual side of life, how we approach our jobs, how we treat our families – these things are incredibly important, and I wonder if the lack of thought on display in movie scores might shows up in these arenas too. Actually, since I’m hypothesizing most people don’t give things much thought, I’m going to also hypothesize most people aren’t even reading what I’m typing at this very moment. Okay let’s move on.
Something else I can’t help thinking about is what the Nolan brothers+David Goyer went through as they approached this film. They were coming off one of the most commercially AND critically successful flicks ever, but one of the biggest reasons for that success was the late Heath Ledger. Without Heath around to reprise possibly the best supervillian a comic movie could offer, I wonder what the brothers+Goyer felt. Were they angry? Frustrated? Did they have a plot and script featuring the Joker already in the works for a sequel before Ledger’s passing? Did they simply take the turn of events in stride? Did they ever consider not making a sequel? Despite the criticism I doled out in the first paragraph, I am blown away that those guys could come up with a movie even this good. I would just love to know more about what they went through emotionally in making this movie, and I would like to know if this is the sequel they always intended or if they had a different direction chosen originally. Just some food for thought – Joker is not mentioned anywhere in this movie; Christopher Nolan said they wanted to stay away from him at all costs out of respect for Heath. I feel like there’s more to the development of this sequel than meets the eye. Speaking of eyes…
Once again, I’m so glad Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister shy away from using 3d. The gorgeous IMAX shots in this movie are incredible to behold; my eyes are happy just thinking about it.
Lastly, before I close, I have to mention two books: Knightfall and No Man’s Land. Those are two of the best Batman novels ever written, and DKR is largely influenced by both of them. I have read those books multiple times, and I’ve always wished for a faithful film adaptation of Knightfall. With that background, this movie was more gratifying than it would have been otherwise. I was delighted to see such esoteric things as Bane’s origin story being created onscreen – really unexpected. If you have a chance, read those books. They might give you a cool, fresh perspective.
In closing, The Dark Knight Rises is a good movie and you should see it. Despite problems related to poor story execution, unnecessary characters, and a subsequently bloated runtime, the film still features some of the best acting, music, cinematography, and story ideas we have seen in a long time. Bring on Man of Steel.
Grant Stevens is a lifelong fan of Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League. When he isn’t writing movie reviews, he works in real estate and writes songs. His next album is yet untitled and is currently in production. You can find more about Grant’s music at www.grantstevensgroup.com. Oh, and Grant is also a HUGE advocate for the correct usage of the word “ironic”.