The Dark Knight Rises is the final instalment in the Dark Knight trilogy, with returning cast members Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman being joined by some new faces under the helm of Brit director Christopher Nolan. The explosive score is composed by Hans Zimmer with cinematography by Nolan regular Wally Pfister.
In many respects, TDKR is Nolan’s Intolerance. A grandiose, unquestionably ambitious studio production with a humongous amount of money poured into it with one director/writer/producer (with a keen interest in editing) behind it all. I could be describing either Christopher Nolan’s last addition to the Batman franchise or D.W. Griffith’s silent epic. Only Nolan’s film quite literally shakes the cinema during its most action packed, high octane sequences.
There’s a storm coming to Gotham City, both literal and metaphorical. The judicial system has been built on the false legacy of Harvey Dent, and the repercussions are coming for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and everyone else in Gotham. As a masked rampant criminal mastermind known by the name Bane (Tom Hardy) threatens the people of Gotham City, it’s up to the Dark Knight to return (or ‘rise’, even) in order to save the day.
There is much to be admired from TDKR. For one, the performances from the main cast are all terrific. Bale’s Bruce Wayne is the confused hero, Hathaway’s Catwoman is as cunning as she is beautiful (albeit adding nothing to Pfeiffer’s original performance), Caine provides a sort of emotional sincerity much of the film lacks, Gordon Levitt is consistently well played, Oldman is typically Oldman and Tom Hardy, although at times seeming more suited to the 90s Batman franchise, expands his retinue as a great young British actor. From the beginning it is clear that Nolan desires to separate himself from the batch of 3D converts and CGI laden sequels, prequels and remakes Hollywood is churning out at the moment with some astonishing stunt work. Yet quickly Nolan’s style grows quite tiresome, with witty ironic quips being followed by tedious fist fights, or as a friend put it ‘If you want to punch anyone in Batman, you have to say something cool first.’ As an end to a decent trilogy, too, TDKR feels a bit of a letdown with one of the most compromised, forced and unnatural endings I’ve seen all year (and that’s saying something). TDKR attempts to interweave the previous two films to form an overarching narrative, but through rushed montages and much expositional dialogue this never feels like the big pay off it is meant to be and something Nolan ultimately couldn’t execute efficiently. It’s surprising, as well, just how much information characters wear on their sleeves with much of the first hour composed of character profiles and clumsily written dialogue.
At points Nolan tries to tell as many as 5 stories at once, and whilst this technique worked well for a few set pieces in The Dark Knight (and suited Inception perfectly), this arbitrary editing style creates a disjointed film. Take a chase scene involving Batman being chased by a dozen cop cars at 100mph: instead of focusing on this fast paced and undeniably impressive scene, Nolan decides to cut to Gary Oldman watching it from a hospital bed, and then to Joseph Gordon Levitt talking to a character we don’t care or know about, and then to Catwoman breaking into a safe, and then to one of Bane’s colleagues also watching it. In this scene he is giving the viewer 5 differently paced events, apparently all happening at the same time, yet it seems unnecessary for him to insert a nameless character saying what’s just happened seconds earlier when the some of the shots Nolan constructs are in fact visually impressive and more than competent. This is a cliché I expect from other directors, but not Nolan whose work I admire. More than this, plot holes riddle TDKR and can become something of a distraction when the filmmakers are trying to pack so much information into each scene that keeping up can become an arduous task – for a running time of 2hr 45mins, TDKR feels awfully rushed, most notably in the finale. Some of you who enjoyed the film more than I did might argue that I expect too much, and whilst you may be right, it’s more that the film does too much when opting for a more focussed and engaging narrative would’ve been the better option. In this sense, TDKR really is Nolan’s Intolerance, both in its irritating random editing style and in its grand production scale, perhaps a sign of Nolan’s own intolerance as a filmmaker – he must adapt his style to match his content or else he risks becoming a parody of himself. But as Griffith said that ‘Movies are written in sand: applauded today, forgotten tomorrow’, so too is The Dark Knight Rises written in sand with much of it already being swept away.