Movie: The Dark Knight Rises
Rating: 4 out of 5 quinoa salads
The Dark Knight Rises is a good movie that at times is a damn good movie. In a vacuum. On its own merits. But dammit, we don’t live in vacuums or meritocracies. We live in Internets and dreams and apartments. As I left the theater following a Thursday at midnight debut of Rises, I looked at a pair of fellow moviegoers who were in costume as overweight Bane and underweight Robin (there were no Batmans, too mainstream for Portland) and muttered “Expectations are a bitch.”
The setup feels forced at times. Characters explain and understand and do key things quickly and conveniently, as if Nolan saw the shot clock winding down and started rushing. Early on it is clear that this Batman will not rise (HAHAHA) above the bar set by its predecessors. It does get better, but throughout the duration it feels like the audience is asked to overlook more than in the first two films. Begins and Dark Knight had a strong sense of reality that added gravity. Rises takes step towards the fantastical, whether it be Catwoman flipping around with bladed high heels or gigantic mushroom clouds. It feels less like peering in on some different reality and more like watching a movie.
I’m not sure all of that is entirely fair. There are other factors to consider. Rises faced challenges inherent to a third edition. We’ve seen a lot of Nolan’s Batvision by now, we’ve seen Batman kick a lot of ass, and this being the final act the stakes must be raised and some real conclusion is in order. Quality third installments do not come easily and can tarnish a series. (I’m still angry at Spider-Man 3.) By that standard, Rises is fantastic.
Now the good stuff. After reading and rereading fan speculation on the plot of Rises I was thrilled to discover that everything I had read was wrong. This Bruce Wayne is not just emotionally damaged, after years of crime fighting his body has broken down as well. For the first time we pity the Batman. This is brought to the forefront in one long and violent fight scene which has claimed more hold on my memory than any other. From that point on Batman’s eventual victory has added meaning.
Bane was a bold choice as villain, which I point out because he works so well here that this could be easily forgotten. The character didn’t exist in comics until 1993, and the last time we saw Bane in live action he looked like this:
Nolan took a cartoonish tertiary villain character, stripped away the bullshit, and rebuilt him as something that feels menacing and real. I wonder if such a prominent mask held Tom Hardy back from making Bane even better, but it’s hard to ask for more. I realized just how much I enjoyed the character when I felt disappointment at a twist took some of his significance away.
I will cringe when Internet assholes complain about Rises being the worst of Nolan’s Batman movies; when they say it felt a bit forced, or that Hardy’s Bane doesn’t measure up to Ledger’s Joker, or whatever else. I’ll cringe because I agree but feel that it ignores that Rise offers a lot to appreciate. This movie faced tremendous expectations and all of the challenges inherent to third installments. Overall Nolan delivered an engaging final act with a satisfying conclusion. I just wish I didn’t have to use any qualifiers. Expectations are a bitch.