As sometimes happens, the two of us had differing opinions on something, in this instance the final part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Rather than argue about who gets to publish their review over email (it has happened before!), we will just post the two reviews.
We’d put them side by side if layout constraints didn’t exist but as Nigel’s name comes first alphabetically (?!), his kicks things off and looks mainly at the pros while Páraic’s deals with some more of the cons of the summer’s biggest film. The combined Spooool score is ★★★½.
While we’ve both done our best to ensure there are no major spoilers in either review, you may still be better served to go and see the film before we go on…
Review #1 – Nigel’s take
Heath Ledger’s premature death meant that the public’s interest in the follow-up to the relatively modest and controlled origins story shown in Batman Begins had reached unprecedented levels. Somehow The Dark Knight exceeded all these expectations with one of the finest blockbusters to grace our screens since the Jaws and Star Wars fuelled summers of the late 1970s started bringing American audiences out of the sunshine and into the dark confines of the cinema.
The Dark Knight Rises is really as much about the spectacle and experience as it is plot and script, you will either buy into this or it will leave you cold. With this film it really feels like Nolan was encouraged by Warner Brothers to crank his epic-0-meter right up to 11. This sensation is enhanced if you’re lucky to view the film in its native Imax format. Unlike the most recent Transformers and Mission: Impossible films which could only handle the giant cameras for a few scenes, a whopping 72 minutes of separate Imax set-pieces and shots are sprinkled throughout the film with the height of the picture expanding right before your eyes. These cuts can take a few minutes to get used to, but you quickly realise that this is the perfect way to appreciate a really beautifully constructed film in an immersive environment – please note this film will not play well on an iPhone.
So while the scale of the film cannot be brought into question, it’s a shame to see some serious flaws with the plot and pacing. Eight years have passed since the last film with Bruce Wayne retreating into the shady east wing of Wayne Manor to become a Howard Hughes style recluse. The course of the film then takes place over the space of about six months, and while I’m not a fan of stupid on-screen titles “5 months later – somewhere in Albania”, it would have helped ground things rather than relying on big chunks of expository dialogue.
Despite early reservations, the villian Bane really does deliver. This older weaker Batman has physically and intellectually met his match. In most superhero films, there is never any doubt that everything isn’t going to be alright, but here Batman is truly broken (in more ways than one) and while things obviously get resolved and tied up, getting there isn’t quite as clear-cut as you would have thought.
The pre-release talk of how The Dark Knight Rises’ script would mimic the Occupy social movement and Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities created a sense that this could be as much about allegory and social commentary as it was the concluding chapter of a super-hero trilogy. The film deals with these things well but really Bane’s modus operandi of destroying Gotham from within comes mostly from the legacy of Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows introduced in Batman Begins…
Like Constantinople or Rome before it, the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die.
– Ra’s al Ghul, “Batman Begins” (2005)
Away from Bane and Batman/Bruce, the guy who gets most of the screen-time is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s police officer John Blake. His character development is predictable enough, but he serves as a fitting ally to Commissioner Gordon and Batman.
Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine show up and do exactly what we’ve come to expect (not a bad thing), but the real surprise package is Anne Hathaway’s Selena Kyle, a woman whose performance has been summarised by most as “not at all as annoying as I’d feared”. Also ticking the potential love interest box in the Nolans’ script is Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, who is now part of the Wayne Enterprises board and spearheaded a green energy project in the years following the events of The Dark Knight with Wayne.
There will be questions about Nolan’s choice of ending which is no great surprise after the devisive spinning of Cobb’s totum at the end of his last film Inception. The fact is there were only 3 endings that he could really have taken in telling a story like this, all of which tend to involve the hero saving the day. He could have chosen the Jesus Christ/Neo route (saving the day and sacrificing yourself), the Frodo Baggins/Harry Potter/Luke Skywalker route (saving the day and retiring gracefully) or the Sherlock Holmes route (saving the day but escaping mysteriously). Whether Nolan made the right call is up to the fans to decide, personally I thought it was an ample way to tie things up.
Putting everything into perspective, the film is about as good as you could possibly have thought it could be, given the amount of things that the Nolans had to deal with. I’d watched the two preceding films just before this final chapter and while it’s not the perfect film so many early reviews told you it would be, it works perfectly as a concluding chapter much like those other franchise powerhouse pictures of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, both of which have some flaws that are overlooked when viewed in the context of a bigger story.
Review #2 – Páraic’s take
Much pressure lay on Christopher Nolan’s shoulders with his final instalment of the Batman trilogy. However with such previous box office success in his first two outings and Inception you’d think he’d have been given free reign and treated his audience with a bit more intelligence. On the first count I’d say the studio gave him freedom knowing the film would be one the highest grossing of the year regardless and granted him a near three hour running time, so the fault must lie with the Nolans. I say “Nolans” as his brother is the chief writer alongside Chris.
Unfortunately Spooool wasn’t up and running for Inception‘s release, a critical acclaimed piece which I personally thought was one of the worst films of 2010. Slow motion action with psycho babble does not a good film make (wise words indeed Yoda). Now there is a scene in Inception whereby if you’ve seen, oh I dunno, more than 2 films in your entire life you know exactly what the last shot of the film is going to be. It’s the exact same with The Dark Knight Rises, two characters converse in a totally needless piece of dialogue and once finished you may as well fast forward to the end as they’ve just told you it. I’m surprised they didn’t turn to the screen and wink at us.
Now although I didn’t like Inception I will at least give it the accolade that you had to pay attention to it and it didn’t spoon feed you as much as The Dark Night Rises. At no point is anything left for you to interpret or look ahead for without Nolan leading you by the hand, each critical and obvious character development is explained ad nauseum. There are also enormous plot holes which I can’t go into for spoiler reasons but more than once I was left going how did he get there or out of there?
There are essentially three big twists in the film and all but one are predictable. I will say this though, there is a massive continuity error involving a robbery – the heist takes place in daylight but then about thirty seconds later it’s all of a sudden pitch black for the chase scene. Nonsense.
Now all the actors are good and well cast, the often hated and derided Anne Hathaway turns in a well rounded and believable performance as Catwoman, Bale has made Batman his own and carries the performance off with ease while the standout role is Tom Hardy as Bane. With only his eyes and muscles visible he steals every scene. The best piece of dialogue comes from Bane when he explains the dangers of hope and how it’s through hope that you really break a man’s spirit.
This is what makes the film so frustrating; there are glimpses of a great picture here but it is so bogged down in faff and filler that it loses any semblance of a great film. The whole storyline of the poor rising up and the rich being held accountable for all their greed is so relevant and apt for the time we live in, but it’s handled so poorly by Nolan it leaves you pulling your hair out.
With the ending flagged so early in the film there is no sense of foreboding or real tension and at times the action gets a bit too Transformers like and you can’t help but find yourself drifting off.
Brilliant in parts and one you’d watch again but, having seen what came before it, falls well wide of the mark.
★★★ + ★★★★ / 2 = ★★★½
USA, UK / Directed By: Christopher Nolan / Written By: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan / Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine / 164min / Action, Adventure / Release: 20 July 2012 (UK/Ireland/Canada/US)