Friday, August 10, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Movie Review

I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon of The Dark Knight Rises. Before I get labeled a hater or someone who badmouths Hollywood movies for the sake of it, let me point out I was a big fan of both Inception and The Dark Knight. It is true I dislike most big budget action films, but not for the sake of setting myself apart from the masses. It’s because they are so often so bad. The world was geared up to love The Dark Knight Rises. It’s been built up immensely. Everyone – not just Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. – has significant investment in its success. If you hate the third part, what does that say about your love for the first two? We are primed to enjoy this final chapter in the trilogy. I’m afraid my primer didn’t take.

In a nutshell, The Dark Knight Rises is an incoherent mess crushed under the immense weight of constant exposition. Inception suffered from a lot of expository dialogue, but I found myself so overwhelmed by both the action and the emotional elements of the story that I didn’t really notice. This Batman lacks the emotional heft of any of Nolan’s previous films.

I remember having the strangest sensation throughout most of Inception – a feeling that I was always waiting for the film to slow down and the story to begin. I had exactly the same sensation with The Dark Knight Rises. It’s a feeling that comes from Nolan’s breathless direction and Lee Smith’s editing. Most movies contain several opening scenes that set up and explain the background and the action. This usually lasts about fifteen minutes after which the film settles. Nolan’s films (the recent ones anyway) don’t ever settle into a groove. They jump haphazardly from one scene to the next, each one containing characters explaining events to each other. Two and half hours of this grows tedious. The big final battle is not immune as the exposition continues to flow, dutifully keeping the audience well informed as to the order of the on screen chaos.

The confusion stems from a glut of under-developed characters that Nolan has built into the story. Having already populated the first two films quite heavily, he finds it necessary to combine new character with old ones. Even the deceased Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) gets a cameo and more than a few lines of dialogue explaining – once again – who he was and where he is now. Look, there’s the guy with the half-burnt face from The Dark Knight. I thought he was going to become the villainous Two-Face. I guess Nolan wrote him out of the storyline. Gary Oldman reprises his Commissioner Gordon; Michael Caine is here again as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler, housekeeper and moral compass; Morgan Freeman returns as gadgets man Lucius Fox; Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane gets a gratuitous cameo near the end; the specter of the dead Rachel hangs over Wayne’s decisions. Even Liam Neeson reappears briefly as Ra’s al Ghul because Bane, this film’s primary villain, is intent on carrying out his plan to burn Gotham to the ground – penance for its unforgivable decadence or some such hokum.

The new characters include Marion Cotillard as a Wayne Enterprises board member and environmental do-gooder; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a beat cop with a soft spot for orphans; Matthew Modine as a feckless police captain; and Anne Hathaway as the amoral thief Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. Unfortunately the majority of her character development – what might have been one of the more interesting supporting players – is left out. This Catwoman isn’t so much an alter ego as it is a description of her cat burglar reflexes and style. Finally, in an attempt to reunite the entire cast of Inception, Tom Hardy plays the masked Bane. He is probably the most formidable villain Batman has faced in any of the seven feature films. As a former member of the League of Shadows, he is as strong and adept at hand-to-hand combat as Batman. He is made all the more frightening by a mechanical face mask that alters his voice into a low rumble reminiscent of Darth Vader. I must admit it was difficult to impossible to understand him at times.

Nolan’s biggest problem as a writer as he’s become more and more of a box office dynamo is to confuse complexity with quality. He constructs a dizzying plot line that requires holding multiple facts in your head at once while you constantly reexamine and re-evaluate as new events occur. It makes for a largely unsatisfying movie experience. Maybe most people get so caught up in the visual effects, action sequences and wall of sound that they barely notice the gaping plot holes. And yes, the effects are spectacular in the sense that they turn the movie largely into spectacle rather than enhance the story. I admire Nolan’s insistence on avoiding a lot of CGI or at least employing it in a way that I can’t always tell it’s CGI (the notable exception being helicopter shots of Manhattan with New Jersey, Long Island and the Empire State Building erased so it can double for the fictional Gotham).

I love Wally Pfister’s cinematography that gives this Batman series a dark and sinister hew. They make Gotham a city cast in shadow waiting to be saved. And I like how Nolan tries to frame this comic book yarn in such a way that it’s as if it takes place in the real world. There are no magic tricks or super powers. Though I thought Hathaway’s character a little thin, I like the contrast with Tim Burton’s depiction of Catwoman, who was supernaturally transformed into something part feline.

I just don’t think Nolan is a creative enough writer to effectively pull off such a complex story. And the director in him doesn’t trust himself to linger on anything. All that wonderful atmosphere goes to waste when handled by a man that doesn’t allow his audience any time to soak up what he offers up.

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