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I waited in line several hours for my 12:01 showing of The Dark Knight Rises at the Provo Town Center’s Cinemark. And I was very, very annoyed when my phone said 12:03 and the theater lights hadn’t dimmed yet and the movie’s trailers still hadn’t started. But hey, that’s life. By 12:04 things were rolling and I was too excited to be annoyed anymore.
All of the following text contains major spoilers for the plot of The Dark Knight Rises. You have been clearly warned.
My review of The Dark Knight Rises has been organized into a Good List and a Bad List. You might notice that the Bad List is a little longer than the Good List. Let’s just say that sort of represents my feelings about the movie.
The Good List
I can summarize the good here: The Dark Knight Rises is filled with an ensemble cast who perform their roles perfectly; the additions of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway were surprisingly good; and the character Bane was, in some ways, an even more terrifying arch-villain than the Joker.
-Batman. Look, he’s Batman. Frankly he isn’t as bad-ass as he is in either of the previous movies, but he’s still Batman and Batman will always make the Good List.
-Bane. The only man to ever break Batman. Bane was a different type of villain than either of those seen in the previous movies. The combination of his intimidating appearance, his physical power, his intelligence, but most importantly his constant calm and control made him simply frightening. The fact that he easily matched and defeated Batman, all while maintaining that eerie control with his Vader-esque voice, made me think that this guy was one of the coolest villains I’d ever seen. But my awe for Bane seemed to have been delegitimized at the end of the movie, however, which is why Bane makes this review’s Bad List as well (see below).
-Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. I have always liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I’ve felt less strongly about Anne Hathaway. But both did surprisingly well in the movie considering their scripts and I have nothing negative to say about either. Hathaway exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations, and her rendition of Catwoman seemed to fit well in Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. Gordon-Levitt’s character as the street cop John Blake was solid and seemed like an appropriate successor to Bruce Wayne as Batman (something that was made predictable almost immediately into the movie and then made certain about half-way through), although I could have done without the cheesy “actually-my-real-name-is-Robin” throw-away line at the end, but what can you do.
-The Mask. As I racked my brain for appreciable themes in The Dark Knight Rises, this is the one that stuck out: the identity of the hero is not important. It was carried over from the previous movies and is a major theme of the entire trilogy. It was stated outright in this installment and then obviously implemented when it becomes apparent that Bruce Wayne will not be able to continue as Batman and that “Robin” John Blake will be his successor.
The Bad List
I can summarize the bad here: when I watched The Dark Knight four years ago, I walked away thinking about the amazing symbolism in that movie. I analyzed and appreciated that movie as a piece of art. The Dark Knight Rises did not offer that same experience.
-Bane. The reasons that Bane is an epic villain are stated above. However, as awesome a character as Bane is throughout most of the film, his awesomeness is completely delegitimized in the final scenes when in an odd plot twist it is revealed that Bane is not, in fact, the heir of Ra’s al Ghul, the fearless child who escaped the prison-pit, or that he is special in any real way — the ending reveals that Bane was just a random prisoner who happened to be trained by the League of Shadows. With his epic back-story demolished, the viewer is left to wonder what exactly made Bane a villain fit to rival and defeat Batman. There is also the fact that Bane’s death was completely anticlimactic, and frankly the movie’s arch-villain — and the only man to ever defeat Batman — deserved something a little better.
-The flow. Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight flow well. You know, they’re both long movies but you don’t really find yourself lost in the plot or the timeline. That’s not always the case in The Dark Knight Rises. The long passages of time in this new movie, which some viewers might not immediately catch (unless they’re carefully watching Bruce Wayne’s facial hair), sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. And then at times scenes jump abruptly between several different simultaneous story lines, such as Bruce Wayne in the pit, Bane terrorizing Gotham, Catwoman in prison/on the streets, Gordon and his police freedom fighters, Lucius Fox in Wayne Tower, and John Blake rescuing kids on a bus. There is a lot more going on in this film and it moves at a different pace than either of the prequels.
-The dialogue. The Dark Knight was full of amazing dialogue which fans still love to quote. Batman’s lines, the Joker’s dark humor, and Gordon and Harvey Dent had a few pretty awesome ones too. But after walking away from The Dark Knight Rises, I can’t remember any dialogue that stuck out to me (a major exception is the line that I mention in the next paragraph, but for reasons also mentioned there it becomes less awesome) except, maybe, Bane: “Your punishment must be more – severe.” I do also remember a number of one-liners, especially from Batman, that struck me as rather cheesy, which surprised me since they often seemed like prime opportunities for the characters to say something more original and, well, not cheesy.
-The OWS themes. At times it was overt — in the rising up after Bane takes over Gotham, servants begin attacking their masters and the rich and wealthy are judged and killed in public “courts.” But the Occupy Wall Street theme was most bluntly and unabashedly revealed when Catwoman whispers to Bruce Wayne, “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. ‘Cause when it hits, you and your friends are gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Even though the hero is a billionare (yet one who loses his fortune and becomes a little humbled in this installment), the share-the-wealth theme sticks out a little too starkly.
-The ending. “I haven’t given them everything. Not yet.” The line that Batman tells Catwoman, which should have foreshadowed the death of the Batman and provided an epic ending to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. And despite my immediate feeling when I saw that bomb explode — that feeling being a deep appreciation for the poetic justice of Batman actually “giving them everything” — part of me knew it was too good to be true. There was no way that Nolan would take the backlash of killing off Batman, even if the integrity of his saga required it. And, sure enough, moments later it became apparent in a rather lame plot twist that Bruce Wayne was indeed not being poetically killed off but instead was secretly getting his happy ending — something that just seemed completely antithetical to the previous movies and to what the character Batman has always represented.
I watched Batman Begins and was surprised and pleased that a Batman film was actually being rebooted to include the dark themes and character developments that Batman has always required. I watched The Dark Knight and walking away appreciating it as a work of art and rich with symbolism. I watched The Dark Knight Rises and felt like it was just another special-effects-filled superhero movie.