Note: The movie’s been out for nearly a month now, so I’m not going to bother worrying about spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t click on the jump. You’ve been warned. –PG
The first trailer for the game Arkham City featured the song “Short Change Hero” by the band The Heavy. I’m a sucker for a well-made trailer, and I think the Arkham City trailer was a great thematic combination of music and visuals. The chorus features the line, “This ain’t no place for no hero” — possibly the best one-phrase summation of the theme of Christopher Nolan’s entire Batman trilogy.
By that I don’t mean that Gotham is an irredeemable hive of scum and villainy that any decent person should stay away from, which the song implies of Arkham City. Rather, the Nolan films seem to constantly question whether Gotham really needs someone to dress up like a bat and fight crime. I can’t help but think it does, though, what with the super-secret criminal organization bent on its destruction,* and that seems to be Nolan’s vaguely reluctant conclusion as well.
The Dark Knight Rises is the third film in the so-called Nolanverse, and it does suffer from Third Film Syndrome – too many ideas, too many characters, and too many story threads to tie up. It’s the least of the three films, but given how good the first two are, it’s not really that bad. It’s no X-Men: The Last Stand or Spider-man 3.
In some ways, Dark Knight Rises feels like a sequel to Batman Begins rather than The Dark Knight. It’s like Nolan veered off into a street-level, dirty little alley of a movie before returning to the (somewhat) lighter tone of the first film. I say this despite the fact that the circumstances for Gotham, its residents and its hero have never been so dire as in this film.
DKR borrows from a number of famous Batman storylines, including Knightfall, No Man’s Land and a little bit of Dark Knight Returns (particularly the moment where Batman, back in action after eight years, rockets past a couple of cops on the Batpod and the older cop says to the rookie, “You’re in for a hell of a show tonight, kid” or something to that effect), while bringing the Ra’s Al Ghul plot from the first film to a close. I can’t say I was too surprised by the “twist” – this movie is crammed with clunky foreshadowing, and the post-coital moment where the World’s Greatest Detective idly notes Miranda Tate’s scar is the worst of them – but it did bring the story full circle.
This was also the first Nolan Batman film where Batman sometimes seemed like the hero from the comics – particularly the scene where he and Catwoman fight their way through the sewers, and most of the fight scenes. It’s to Nolan’s credit he lets us see the fight scenes this time, rather than tossing up half-second close-ups of flying fists and elbows.
Bane’s voice seems to have been a tolerate-it-or-hate-it thing for most people. I would rather Bane have been Hispanic – Nolan robbed one of the most iconic Hispanic comic characters of his heritage – but at least they kept his intelligence. If anything, the Stephen-Fry-as-Jeeves voice seemed like an ill-advised attempt to replicate the iconic success of Heath Ledger’s creepy Joker voice. Nolan seemed to want to highlight the contrast between Bane’s manners and his brutality. Does it work? Not quite, I’d say. The voice became something of an unnecessary distraction.
One thing that did bother me, just as it did with Batman Begins, was the crazy science fiction MacGuffin the last act is based on. Rather than just have Bane steal a Russian nuke or something, Nolan has to weave in the tired “limitless energy source that could change the world” cliché we’ve already seen in Spider-Man 2 and both Iron Man films. Batman racing to stop the bomb is very similar to the race to stop Ra’s Al Ghul similarly nuts plan to vaporize Gotham’s water supply with a super-microwave that would evidently vaporize water in pipes but not human blood.
I feel like I’d have to see the movie again to decide how much I like it. There are some fantastic scenes, particularly the brutal first fight with Bane. Anne Hathaway’s presence as Selina Kyle adds two things to these movies that we rarely see in any Nolan work: humor and a strong female character who actually gets to do something. I can’t say she’s a better Catwoman than Michelle Pfeiffer – that may not be possible – but she’s a sexy, charismatic cat burglar and a decent romantic foil for Bale’s Batman.
Speaking of, there’s probably a bit too little of Batman/Bruce Wayne and a bit too much Officer Blake, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his likable self and does a good job in the role. That said, put me down as one of those who doesn’t need to see the future adventures of Robin, or whoever he becomes. Let the franchise take a few years off and then reboot.
* On a related note, I’ve never really understood how The Dark Knight‘s theme of “escalation” makes sense when said “escalation” is going from guy with limitless resources who nearly turns the city into a living hell of rioting psychotics versus a facepaint-wearing hobo who stabs a few people and tries to blow up a couple ships. On a side note, I was watching The Dark Knight recently and realized that as the Joker is standing around waiting to get picked up at the very beginning, he has his mask off, which means all the passers-by can see his clown paint. I suppose the Joker never cared about witnesses to his crimes, though.