I’ve spent the best part of the last year straining to avoid any news, reports or spoilers concerning Christopher Nolan’s final film in his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises. I’ve been relatively successful, too, and so when opening weekend finally came around I was excited to see what will undoubtedly become one of the most successful films of all time.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
But, at the same time, I almost expected more.
Such is consistent brilliance of Nolan, I think some of us (namely me) have begun to take his films a little for granted. It’s a given that they’re going to be great, and so every time we’re demanding that something extra to propel it beyond greatness, into infamy. The Dark Knight Rises is a great film. I haven’t seen anyone yet say otherwise. But there have been several who were left a little underwhelmed, which could be as much to do with the hype and expectation as the quality of the film itself.
It’s menacing, it’s dark, it’s long (it’s very long) and its scale is epic. But for all the fighting, the explosions and the cameos that bring the trilogy’s gothic Gotham universe to a finale, there’s something just a small way under the surface that feels a little… hollow. And I’m not sure if I can put my finger on it.
It’s always a risk, of course, creating a film on such an epic scale. It can overwhelm what’s important – character and story – but Nolan is by now an old hand at managing these weighty expectations. The film moves between more traditional comic book styles (origin stories, re-births) to frenetic action to surface politics: Bane’s ‘Occupy Gotham’ leanings provoking echoes of the displeasure at capitalism seen over the past year or more.
All the actors perform admirably, most notable Gary Oldman (obviously) for his repertoire of subtle facial tweaks that help ground the wild goings on around him. But as we move into the final twenty minutes or so, everything seems to become faintly familiar. The finale has a whiff of The Avengers about it (read: bomb disposal) and there are moments when it almost feels like an Inception sequel (half the cast are there, anyway). I’ve also heard some people comparing it to Bourne.
As I said at the beginning, I really enjoyed it: I’d easily give it four stars. I didn’t want it to end. But maybe the main reason I can’t bring myself to push it up to five is because of something that isn’t really the film’s fault at all: The Dark Knight. In TDKR, Batman’s opponent is someone physically (maybe mentally) stronger than he is. That’s about it. Sure, he preaches a bit about trying to decimate the wealth structure of Gotham (by blowing it up) but really, you get the impression that Bane just loves a good brawl.
A battle of brawn against brawn
That’s not to say Tom Hardy isn’t good – his body is a mountain and he does remarkably well at conveying character despite effectively only being able to use his voice and his eyes. But in comparison to The Dark Knight’s Joker, he seems a little tame. There’s no real way of knowing whether Heath Ledger’s performance seems even better because of his death, but that’s mostly irrelevant. Batman knows how to defeat Bane: he simply needs to be stronger. The Joker posed a more difficult (and far more engrossing) problem: he was a man who had no real agenda other than chaos and was ultimately a far more scary, engaging and effective antagonist.
My criticisms of The Dark Knight Rises are minimal, but they matter enough to me to make a small difference. The slight hollow feeling may well have been the shadow left by Heath Ledger’s joker, or perhaps it was the relative joylessness of the film – it takes itself very seriously. Either way, it feels strange to have written a review about a film I really enjoyed that primarily lingers on its negative points. If nothing else, that stands as a commendation of how much we have come to expect from Mr Christopher Nolan.