Today I am powered entirely by caffeinated beverages. This is because I stayed up until midnight on Wednesday so that I could be there for the first screening of The Dark Knight Rises. In case you have been living under a rock/haven’t left the house in the last 9 months/have sworn off the internet (how did you get here?)/have taken an adamant stance against all things pop culture related (why did you get here?)/ think that cinema is the devil’s work, Dark Knight Rises is the much-hyped finale in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The poster looks like this:
I think I should probably preface this by saying I’m not actually the hugest bat-fan. I’m more a Marvel than a DC girl, and I find myself eternally disappointed that not one modern cinematic adaptation features the Adam West “nananananananana” theme song. I’m also not a gigantic fan of Nolan’s interpretations. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like The Dark Knight. Mainly for the reason that everyone else likes The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger is a very fucking good Joker. However, I spent most of Batman Begins trying not to fall asleep. Even on the rewatch I was still bored. I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched it all the way through because I keep having microsleeps or day-dreaming about what I want for lunch. So I feel like the trilogy of bat-films have been a bit more hit-and-miss than people are willing to admit.
Which brings me to the other thing that irritates me about these films: the fan-base. They’re nuts. They’re so fanatical about the whole affair that Rotten Tomatoes had to disable the comments section on The Dark Knight Rises because people were using it as a platform to send death threats to reviewers who were anything less than completely gob-smacked at the flawlessness of Nolan’s cinematic vision. I feel like even the reviewers make too big of a fluff of it as well. The Hollywood Reporter said that the film “makes everything in the rival Marvel universe look thoroughly silly and childish.” Time throws around the words “grand”, “epic” and “achievement” a bunch. Guys. Seriously? Writing off the entire Marvel universe as childish because there wasn’t a thinly veiled (sometimes poorly written) commentary on America’s deteriorating economic climate and an emotional crisis dealt with through graphic violence and gothic imagery just serves to further illustrate the cloud of bullshit that sometimes lingers around this franchise.
But, I did enjoy myself. I was never bored in The Dark Knight Rises. Tired (midnight to 3am is late, yo) but not bored. The good bits were very, very good. I always find the supporting players in these films to be the show-stealers. Christian Bale’s Batman is a solid character, but I never feel like he’s the one to watch. (Also, sometimes when he does bat-voice I have to stuff my fist in my mouth to keep from giggling, but that’s another story.) This film is no exception and he was totally upstaged by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane.
Anne Hathaway gets an awfully bad rap from a lot of people. I don’t really understand why, but when I question people it usually just results in them screaming “I hate her face!!!” and then running off. Anyway, I think I might have died and gone to heaven this year, because there have been two seriously excellent female characters appearing in superhero films, running around and kicking ass with the boys. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a total badass in The Avengers. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is similarly cool. Since the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman days they have (thankfully) toned down the plether bondage outfit, to a (slightly) more demure black catsuit with “ears” that are actually her cat-burgalling spy-goggles tucked behind her hair. She does do all of her fighting in absurdly high stiletos, but to be fair they are actual stiletos and she does use them to slice up bad guys with some super-bendy high kicks. She’s got a lot of good lines and the moral ambiguity of her character makes for some quality cinema.
Villains have always been Nolan’s strong point. Obviously, the Joker is the one that everyone is going to talk about forever, which makes me feel a little bad for Tom Hardy. He’s following Ledger’s now-iconic portrayal with a pretty special performance as Bane. He is a totally chilling fear-incarnate, but then becomes strangely human at the end. He doesn’t have a mouth to express himself with, and no eyebrows, so everything has to come through the eyes and he does a wonderful job of it. But, unless he meets a tragic end in the next couple of months, people are only ever really going to talk about Ledger’s stint. (I say that with love. I actually cried when Heath died. He was my first proper teenage crush on an actor.) The only problem for Hardy is that the mask sometimes makes him impossible to understand. When that’s coupled with Christian Bale’s bat-voice, there are whole chunks of the film where I have only a very vague idea of what was actually said.
As for the rest of the cast, I have nothing but praise. Gary Oldman also does a stellar job. Again. Because he’s Gary Oldman, bitches. (I definitely have unresolved Oldman issues.) Michael Caine as Alfred is always a highlight and he has a good story arc this time around. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as adorable as he ever is. I’m pretty sure there were a lot of JGL fans in the audience, because whenever he came on screen there was a collective sigh of lust. And, of course, Christian Bale’s Batman is…well…Batman, I guess.
Beyond the actors, The Dark Knight Rises was watchable and I enjoyed it immensely. I would even go so far as to recommend people go and see it. HOWEVER (doomdoomdoom) there were some flaws and they were large enough to niggle at me. I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail for a couple of reasons: for one, I’m really tired and the idea of writing much more than this makes me want to cry, and two, I’m trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible for the millions of you who didn’t stay up until 3am watching the damned thing. So, the script wasn’t phenomenal. For the most part it was good. It wasn’t as good as Dark Knight, but it wasn’t awful either. There were, however, several moments of dialogue where I literally cringed. Like, physically curled up and made a quiet “uuuurrrrgh” noise. If you’re going to write banter between villain and hero, do it right. Don’t turn the punchline into “I came back… to kill you” and then stick some dramatic music over the top of it. You’ve got the world riding on your shoulders for this one, Nolan. That shit isn’t going to fly.
It wasn’t just the dialogue either. In trying to tear Gotham to the ground, Nolan draws a lot on the contemporary economic and political climate in the US. ‘Revolution’ in the face of an oppressive regime of out-moded class systems and emphasised gaps between have and have-not, is a theme pulled straight from the Occupy movement. Honestly though, it’s just a little clunky. Making a grandiose social statement in a superhero film is cool and all, but you gots to handle it right. This time round it was so thinly veiled that there may as well have been a sign. Having said that, given the nature of Nolan’s film making, I’m not sure subtlety has ever been a strong point.
Also, the technology has reached maximum ridiculousity this time round. I realise that, because the Batman’s superpower is essentially the ability to spend money on cool shit and also work out a bunch, the technology has to be “state of the art”, crazy cool, sci-fi movie stuff, but I spent a lot of time watching the gadgets in this and thinking, “that’s just silly.” I was concerned for the Batman’s health and safety as well. There’s a lot of long shots of him riding his bat-bike (I did warn you at the beginning I was just going to chuck ‘bat’ on the front of every word possible) with his cape flying out behind him. Which is fine, except that my first thought was like “Oh shit, what if that gets caught on something? This movie might end before it starts and wouldn’t that be tragic?” That’s obviously not a major downfall, but I just didn’t feel like the gadgets were cool enough to suspend disbelief.
Anyway, I think what I’m trying to say overall is that I liked it more than I expected to, considering my ambivalent responses to the first two. I am also trying to say that these films aren’t the be-all and end-all of the superhero genre. All other contenders do not need to pack up and go home. Stop making Nolan’s Batfilms into the best thing that’s ever happened to cinema ever. They’re not. They’re good. They’re maybe even great. But they’re not fucking perfect. Learn to take some criticism, fanbase. The Dark Knight Rises is in cinemas everywhere. Those who don’t go see it immediately will be drawn and quartered by an angry mob.