When I wrote a review for The Dark Knight on its release in 2008, I unlike many, had very mixed feelings. I thought, and still think, that it is part masterpiece part mess. The last 40 minutes or so of that film showcased how the finale really makes an impact on your opinion; to me the introduction of the second villain, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, was rushed and took too much focus away from Heath Ledger’s groundbreaking (and OSCAR winning) performance as the perfect comic book villain; The Joker. The introduction of Two-Face drawing focus away from Batman’s perfect enemy made The Joker seem less important, in other words, it was a huge mistake.
Yet here, four years later, The Dark Knight Rises has hit cinemas worldwide amidst a mass frenzy to consume the nearly three hour long film as quickly as possible. Thankfully, it doesn’t quite fall into the trap of introducing too many villains, there is essentially only Bane – a terrorist mercenary with a gas-mask who calls himself “Gotham’s Reckoning” – but nonetheless Nolan’s conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy is a messy affair.
The plotting is fairly straightforward, Bane arrives eight years after The Dark Knight’s action, Gotham hasn’t seen its caped crusader since the death of Harvey Dent for which Batman took the blame for. Despite the basic story, the film drags on for almost three hours and to be quite honest it always seems like there is a whole lot of nothing going on, by this I mean the pacing is fast and frenetic, it cuts between the various characters ( Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and newcomers Anne Hathaway as Cat Burglar Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as rookie Policeman Blake) frequently but rarely are they actually doing anything of great interest. It seems like writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan couldn’t think of enough for Bruce Wayne to do for the entirety of the traditional length of a blockbuster and so piled on numerous other characters with minor and perfunctory story lines to make up the time.
This wishy-washiness means we are left waiting for something big and exciting to happen for the entirety of the film. In a way, The Dark Knight Rises is closer to some sort of epic crime drama than a blockbuster superhero film. And unfortunately, the Nolans aren’t anywhere near as talented at bringing together all these strands into a coherent and successful film as the genius writers and directors of old.
Take Bane for example, as a villain he is intimidating enough; he sure has a physical presence to rival Batman but what’s new about two masked villains having a fist fight? There are a couple of slugging matches throughout the film and unfortunately they lack any real ingenuity. The previous two films greatest successes were having an arch rival for Batman which challenged him mentally, we already know Batman can beat up thugs, but it was a matter of being outsmarted. Here we get only a hint of Bane’s intelligence, he never really shows it when mask to mask. On top of that, his appearance is almost distracting, his mask means that Tom Hardy is unrecognisable and the voice is so strangely altered with that it seems to be coming from anywhere but his mouth. Considering this is one of the most expensive blockbusters ever made you’d have thought they could perfect such a simple problem.
Despite the problems, The Dark Knight Rises clearly has ambitions larger than most Blockbuster films, I love that it has subtext about the world’s economy and the idea of the vox populi taking control of the state away from the fatcats at the stock exchange. It’s refreshing to see a superhero film which really practices what it preaches; to be about something more than just a man in a suit. Yes it may be a bit of a mess, but it did hold my attention for the entirety of the 2hrs 30mins and made me scratch my head and debate it for nearly five days after the screening. The fact that this is so rare these days makes it well worth seeing it on its own, but is it the masterpiece it’s lauded as? Yes, but again it’s part-masterpiece & part-mess but still the best film we can hope for this summer.
The Dark Knight Rises is out now in Cinemas everywhere.