The Dark Knight Rises – It Rises, It Rises, It’s Risen, It’s Here
[Caff note: spoilers abound in the post-article comments area. You were warned. As well, Omega-Level sends out love, thoughts and best-wishes to everyone grappling with the DKR midnight shooting tragedy in Colorado]
How is anything supposed to follow The Dark Knight? Nolan’s trilogy ender will reap enormous numbers of attendees and box office dollars solely based on people wanting another TDK. Another round of dark, violent and unpredictable chaos in Gotham. Another villain as jarringly memorable as Ledger’s Joker. And another story that transcends comic roots and becomes lovingly embraced by the mainstream as a ‘crime saga’.
This might hurt your appreciation of Rises as it nearly did mine. In so many ways, this film feels like a direct sequel to Batman Begins. It notably takes the few elements it needs from the trilogy’s second chapter – Harvey Dent’s ‘legacy’, Rachel’s death and Bruce’s need to pass the mantle on – and forgets about the others, rejoining the stream Begins established seven years ago.
It’s awesome that the film feels like a much more appropriate bookend to Nolan’s trilogy in that regard. My fear was that the runaway success and rampant permeation of the Joker and TDK into popular culture would mean that everything about Rises would follow from, and be influenced by TDK, and only TDK. Not so. Not so at all. I’m definitely still a little dizzy off the high of the midnight venture to see this, and I’m sure I missed many more vital connections to TDK, so take his all as a sleep-deprived first gut reaction.
I exchanged words with numerous groups of friends last night, including resident OL admiral (I’m pretending there’s more than one OL spaceship), Caffeine Powered. “That was a lot of film”, said one. “My brain is mush,” said another. “How does anyone take all of that in in one screening”, said a third. Oh shit. That was me.
The truth is, I’m firmly clutching my ticket to a second screening tonight, because the 2h45m spectacle is just too much to lovingly embrace and critique in one go, but I’ll give it a shot anyway, spoiler-free as always. I pushed myself to find things to knock down here. Let me say right off the top that this film is a wondrous capper to the trilogy, a really tremendous ride, even if there were some potholes along the way. Even if I have a bunch of things to take a shit on, I am overwhelmingly pleased with what’s on the screen.
Immediate Gut Responses
• This film feels like it’s all over the place at first. There’s a lot happening, and a lot of catch-up to play for a viewer to discern what’s happened since TDK ended. I don’t know if this was my adrenaline out of control, interfering with my brain trying to find its footing in the film’s first hour. Or perhaps the film really does have a bit of a meandering gaze in its first act before things finally get going for real.
• The tone, the themes, the sound, and yes, the story, are so strongly reminiscent of and bound up with the trilogy’s first film. Batman Begins leads proudly and loudly into this, and in a number of ways, The Dark Knight somehow, bizarrely feels like an interm side story to me after a first run through Rises. Harvey Dent’s legacy (and the way Bruce and Batman are bound up in it) are the huge exception; is that enough though? It was Nolan’s decision that even referencing the Joker would be inappropriate, but I can’t get behind that; it was too pivotal a chapter to ignore, and I feel as if the second film’s legacy isn’t as present here as it should be.
• The soundtrack, so bold and strong and critical to the first two chapters of this trilogy (and Nolan’s films in general), is a little schizophrenic at times (largely owing to the strangely playful character themes that show up every now and then), but the good so greatly outweighs the bad that this is easy to let slide. It’s loud, and in charge.
Down to the details (without actually talking about the details) here’s where my mind is on this film after a letting one caffeine and booze-streaked screening stew in my brain for a few hours.
Bruce gets to star in his own story again: One very acceptable criticism about The Dark Knight was that the film strayed so very far from Bruce’s story too often a time. It was the Joker’s film. Or Dent’s film. Or even Rachel’s film. Or Gordon’s film? Or a film that belonged to all of them equally? And even if Bruce equally shared the spotlight with all of those characters, that meant a proportionately low amount of time on the film’s titular character. I’m on board with that criticism. Rises features a huge cast once again, but mercifully returns plenty of focus to Bruce and Batman. Bale’s at his best.
Bane isn’t the Joker, and was never going to be: It’s thrilling that Bane comes across as strong as he does; the Joker, especially Ledger’s Joker, is an impossible act to follow. I’d have appreciated even more menace, or inhuman strength, or strategy being attributed to the colossal figure, but what we got did the trick for the most part. Hardy’s voice has been cleaned up considerably from the Prologue’s exhibition after it was very rightly criticized for being generally incomprehensible. Sure, you could argue some garbled words could add to the mystique and menace of Bane, but it’s just plain lousy storytelling to consistently have your villain’s dialogue aurally obscured. This has been corrected. If anything, some of Gary Oldman’s lines are harder to make out than Bane’s. Bane’s voice seems to come just from the theatre’s center channel, and sounds otherworldly, even if that’s just the product of ADR and some synth-work. The effect is wonderful. It adds to the monstrosity of Bane. Alas, I’m enormously displeased with a turn the story takes in the third act that altogether neuters this promising villain; no details, as promised, but damn, if that 11th hour chapter for Bane doesn’t up-end much of the success the film has in establishing him earlier. It’s a real shame.
Catwoman – Anne, latex bodysuits, holy shit at that terrible character trill on the soundtrack, and more: Wait. I just covered it all in that header. I think. Yeah. Anne’s great. The bodysuit’s great. The character theme that tons of people I’ve talked to didn’t notice (which is unfathomable to me; the soundtrack just turns into a cartoon version of itself to accomodate whatever cat burglar antics Selina’s up to onscreen) – it’s terrible, and doesn’t fit into the soundscape of the trilogy at all. But yeah. She manages to be less essential to the storyline than Jonathan Crane (the Scarecrow) was to Ra’s Al Ghul’s plot in Batman Begins, which is disappointing. You might wind up feeling like she was just tacked on for fan service (she was), but a few moments where the Bat and the Cat share action scenes together will raise the hair all over your body and make it all worth it. Sort of. Batman did need a character of Catwoman’s caliber for some of the story being told here; it’s just that it could have been almost anyone else that takes away from the Cat’s prominence.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman – Old Reliables: Few surprises here. Genuinely awesome in nearly every scene they’re in. Caine gets the spotlight between these three stalwarts, and justifiably so, since the story wheels back and returns attention to Bruce much more than its predecessor did. He has a few shining moments that really put a stamp on the trilogy at large and will make your heart break for Alfred Pennyworth.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The world is infatuated with this dude. I don’t get it. I clearly missed the pivotal films where he broke out and proved his acting chops (friends have recommended 500 Days of Summer and 50/50; I’ll get to them), because in both Nolan outings, he’s plain old serviceable jane, just fine, but nothing more. Come at me bros. The character he plays in Rises is a very welcome presence in Gotham, however, and will get a rise (/giggle) out of many a viewer. He’s definitely critical here, thematically, as well as to the plot, a far cry from the hollow shell he inhabited in Inception. I can’t help but imagine a better rendition of John Blake though; someone a little wider-eyed, a little more emotional, a little more invested.
Marion Cotillard, a Superflous Exercise: I’m going with my gut on this one, and making the claim that this entire film would be better if Marion’s character was totally and utterly ripped out of the film. This is a spoiler-rich debate for the comments below, so I won’t get into it here. Let’s hash this one out OL!
Pacing – My tangential aside on BB/TDK: I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me, Batman Begins, for all its strengths and weaknesses, felt like a symphony to me (in so small part thanks to the persistent, strong soundtrack guiding you throughout). It flowed rather well, even if that flow was largely attributed to its montage storytelling. The Dark Knight felt like a much more imminent, present calamity, which helped its tension, but a ton of flow was sacrificed in the process. Critics will tell you all the time that Nolan’s doesn’t give a shit about traditional story structure or acts or pace, privileging other elements instead (and go for it Chris, we love you).
The result is a strange feeling you’ll get every time you watch TDK again, right around the time Rachel’s been killed, Two-Face is born and The Joker escapes. The film seems to float naturally into a denouement, a very palpable wind-down from a truly thrilling and chilling climax. Suddenly though, the film picks up again for one more act and a couple more set-pieces for the Joker to embark upon – the hospital, the Ferry scene, the construction site, the Joker’s ultimate corruption of Dent, and so on. They were indeed necessary story elements to complete the story of The Dark Knight. But a viewer can’t help but shake the feeling that the film has crescendo’d after that first climax. It’s strange to be taken on a second ride right away, and then a third. Even if what follows is brilliant and spectacular, it doesn’t jive with where you’ve been guided; it doesn’t contribute to an expected flow. Maybe that’s a testament to the Joker’s anarchical chaos; fuck conventions, fuck what people expect.
All I’ll say in return is that the storytelling in TDK is a little jarring, especially when its first tremendous climax comes at a time where a film of traditional length would actually be ending on the clock. Rises, after finding its footing, subscribes to something more traditional. It’s impossible to not recognize the film’s flow and pace and anticipate where it’s going to go once the middle of the film sets all its events in motion. For a final chapter in a trilogy, having the film match my expectations and crescendo in synchronous harmony with where my brain was trying to go was extremely gratifying.
It’s Hollywood, it’s Nolan – There are some hilarious WTF-worthy moments: I won’t spoil a single one, but I’m sure we’ll get into it in the comments below. As usual, you’ll feel certain that some of these were shoe-horned in for wider audience appeal, or for Nolan to take a shot at humor in his bizarre, slightly out-of-touch way (nothing as egregious as “No more dead cops!” or “Oh that’s not good, that’s not good!”, but maybe watching the film again tonight will yield a gem as worthy). No, I’m mostly talking about very strange editing decisions, chopped up action that doesn’t flow well, or story moments whose logic requires a ton of disbelief to be suspended, enough that you’ll pop out of your immersion and just start laughing. Those are never good. But from a distance, they’re forgivable when surrounded by such splendour.
The Soundtrack – Good god, yes: I saw some criticisms of this soundtrack going into the film last night. Too much percussion. Too cacophonous and droning. Too loud. Shit dudes, I was in an IMAX theatre last night (for obvious reasons I’ll detail below); the sound in that bitch is second-to-none, and let me tell you, that cacophony of intensity and cranked volume was fucking thrilling. Like Begins, your heart will pound as the sound takes you where you need to go in this film. The percussive chant that’s permeated this film’s marketing for over a year (you’ll know it when you hear it – unmistakably haunting Moroccan chanting, ‘He Rises, He Rises’ in translation), it’s thrilling. It’s used very, very well, and you’ll be inhuman if you don’t get goosebumps when it begins to come from a diegetic source within the film, louder, and louder each time, until the chant’s meaning is literally realized. It’s stunning.
IMAX: To my recollection, Batman Begins was DMR’d up to take advantage of the IMAX screen, if not in the aspect ratio department. The Dark Knight actually had several scenes filmed in IMAX format, easily noticed when the aspect ratio of the film grows vertically, even in home releases of the film. It was stunning, and unheard of for a Hollywood film to feature so much IMAX footage. The cameras are notoriously difficult to work with – they’re apparently very large, cumbersome, and most importantly, very loud, rendering them a tremendous nuisance for dialogue-heavy scenes. It should be recognized then as a huge accomplishment that such a large portion of Rises is in IMAX format. It felt like over a third, and perhaps nearly half of the film took advantage of the crystal clarity of the IMAX picture, including the film’s stunning prologue. It’s a shame that many scenes schizophrenically switch back and forth between widescreen and IMAX, the sin Transformers 2 committed and that The Dark Knight elegantly managed to avoid. In the end, just having IMAX footage at all in a blockbuster of this scale makes that editing faux-pas forgivable. Between the glorious IMAX visual and the wonderful sound generated in those theatres, I heartily recommend seeing this film in that format; it’s worth every extra penny.
There’s more to discuss, including the film’s third act details, and more spoiler-rich debate. That’ll be in the comments below! Sound off OL denizens. Let’s hear what everyone has to say about the end of Nolan’s saga.
Budrickton – Gruffly yelling at you in Bat-speak, “IT’S NOT A REVIEW, IT’S JUST SOME OVER-CAFFEINATED THOUGHTS”
(Image credit: batman-news.com)