The Dark Knight Rises
To build myself up and to keep fresh I, like so many others, watched Batman Begins (Filmstalker review) then The Dark Knight (Filmstalker review) one after the other with The Dark Knight Rises following the next night. It was a good decision because it really took me right back into the characters and raised the excitement level for the final film. At the same time it might have been a bad idea though, for who could live up to the superbly written, scored and performed Joker, the foe of Batman in The Dark Knight?
I feel like there's another need for a disclaimer before I get to the film because I got off to a bad start with the film, or rather the film got off to a bad start with me. Watching in Cineworld screen 7 here in Edinburgh I was appalled at the poor audio which carried through the film and I struggled to get my mind away from it for a good part of the opening.
The problem was that it seemed there was one centre speaker delivering all the standard audio and it had the treble cranked up to eleven, it sounded just like a mobile phone speaker would and so the voices sounded weak, without direction and unnatural. When the bass sounds and score kicked in from the bass speakers on the left and right (because there didn't seem to be a depth to the sound) the audio came to life and the centre sounded fine.
Perhaps I was just a little spoiled by watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with a proper Dolby True HD 5.1 setup. Anyway, with that pushed to the side let's talk about the film The Dark Knight Rises.
The film began with the preview that I had managed to see some time ago, and it was clear from watching the film that the voice of Bane had definitely been altered. I remember watching the preview for this whole sequence and my wife and I were astonished that we could not make out a single word that Bane said. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, we did make out a few single words but as for sentences, no way.
In the film this had changed and Bane's voice was understandable without a problem. When the preview was seen there was a fair amount of negative commentary about the poor audio of Bane's voice and the film-makers were quick to deny that they were going to change it for the film. Well either they did, or they had deliberately made it hard to hear him for the preview. Either way, his voice was totally understandable in the film.
That didn't mean that the opening sequence was all good, in fact I felt that this was the early indication of a problem that raised its head time and time again, a lack of explanation about what we were seeing.
I remember in the preview understanding a bit more about the reason as to why there was a dead body brought on board the plane, why they started its heart and performed some short form of blood transfusion. In the film it seemed a little less clear as we sped through the moment and flew forward. Looking back on it I'm not entirely sure if it was actually made a lot clearer in the preview or whether it just reinforced to me that it wasn't well explained, but it did feel as though there was a little bit of explanation missing, and that feeling followed through a lot of the film.
Was it really important though? Well I thought it was because like so many of the other moments that went by without some explanation that scene would have given some more depth and helped build that feel of a more complex and well thought through thriller, a thriller that just happens to have costumes on top of it. Here I thought we lost an insight into how well planned and motivated Bane and his team were, particularly that moment where he asks one of his own men to sacrifice his life for the plan. The scientist they kidnap is a key piece to the overall scheme and I just didn't feel that connection or weight through the film and his thread, instead he appears a couple of times at key moments and was otherwise forgotten about.
There were plenty of other areas where I felt that explanations or merely just expansion of the storytelling was missed or simply just cut too tight. I had this feeling throughout Catwoman's story, not to mention from the smallest of details with her tech glasses which received no explanation of how she got them or what they were, a small point but a distracting one.
It isn't just the small moments though, I felt the whole introduction of the thread of the "device" was rather clumsily done, mentioned as it was briefly and revisited later for an explanation. With that the Wayne Enterprises going bust reveal was greeted with a character reaction of "oh dear" and "I told you so" but you were left wondering what about the last eight years, why hadn't Fox said something earlier, or perhaps Alfred? They just let the eight years and the decisions go by to tell him now?
By far the biggest problem along these lines is the reveal of the Dent conspiracy near the end of the film, a reveal to all the people of Gotham. Although Bane and Gordon placed a lot of weight on this moment no one else seemed to and it fell by the wayside. Mind you the people of Gotham had so quickly and happily taken to their homes and hidden perhaps they didn't even hear or care, but it seemed one of the most important parts of the film which delivered little affect.
Looking to the characters there were similar lacks of explanation and back-story, what about the rich businessman who initially employed Bane, who was he and what was he all about? Where did he come from what was his purpose? What about the character of Miranda? Her character was as flat as a pancake and as see-through as anything, even if you hadn't heard the publicly announced character she was set to play, a spoiler larger than anything I've read elsewhere.
Away from the characters there were scenes and threads that suffered too, I thought the whole prison thread was very well conceived and visualised but again it raced through it, there felt that there was a lot more unsaid about the change and understanding of the character as well as the understanding of the past events. Character changes were something that suffered too, looking to the initial turn of Wayne he just sees a pretty lady trying to steal something and boom, after eight years the costume is on. Goodbye ex-girlfriend that almost was. Compare that to the events that you think could have happened in the last eight years and you wonder what kind of person he really is. Alfred has a similar turn to his character as, after all this time and all the frustration, he decides to give up on Wayne. Of course you can imagine this could be the last thread, but there's no understanding of that in the film.
There are many moments like this and it all adds to the feeling that there are so many moments missing, either because they've been snipped a little too harshly or removed altogether. While this did increase the pace of the film and keep the pressure on the audience, I think it could have been a stronger thriller if it had taken a lot more breaths and spent a little more time on the moments that were raced through.
Actually one other thing I want to mention about the seemingly harsh editing was in the violent scenes. The Dark Knight Rises has the same rating as the previous films but in this film it is definitely the first time that I felt many of the violent sequences had been toned down and didn't quite match the film itself. A lot of these scenes were with Catwoman herself, perhaps because she's the least fantastical character and the violence seems so real, whereas Batman and Bane didn't seem to have the same problem. You could feel the scene building to a moment of release but it never delivered and just moved on, missing the key punch, kick or other such violent outburst.
Just look to the fight scene with Catwoman and the thugs near the start where one of them receives a final kick, or where she spins rounds and apparently twists the prisoners hands to break them but they just go limp, or the more notable moment when Miranda says to kill them all and we just cut to everyone lying around. For the first time it is really palatable that the film has been edited down for the rating.
There were other problems I picked up on and stayed with me after the film, there were a couple of dialogue explanations which seem poorly placed in a Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan written film although they didn't stick out too harshly, but one of the biggest plot problems for me was how easy it was to free the thousands of Gotham policemen, who had all conveniently been trapped in the sewers, by just lifting a single manhole cover. Likewise it was just as easy to subdue them by dropping one smoke bomb and putting the cover back on.
The last issue I'm going to talk about on the negative side is Catwoman. While many people are revelling in the fact that she's in the film I wonder what she really brought to the film other than being a turning point for Wayne, betraying him and then saving him. Other than that I felt there was little need for her character and giving it more consideration I now think that it would have been far better to have used the character of Robin for these threads. How good would it have been if he wasn't the idyllic character and started on the rough side of the tracks, betrayed Batman and turned round in the end finally taking his place? I think that would have been far better for the film and the Robin character.
For all these flaws the film was still a strong thriller and there were some very strong moments that delivered that Dark Knight feeling, even if they did feel over efficiently chopped. The rise, fall and rise of Batman, the betrayal by Catwoman, the epic scale of the story and the superb way that Nolan has taken even the cheesiest of film endings and managed to deliver them with next to no whiff. Well almost.
The only fault I found with the ending was that they really shouldn't have had that final shot and just left it with Alfred sitting down, taking his drink, looking up and nodding gently. A cut there would have been superb, but to show us everything was alright for everyone involved did feel a little too cheesy and peppered the emotional moment I was having watching Alfred's dream retirement.
Perhaps I did struggle with the fact that the character's name was Robin and not something more subtle such as Richard Grayson, but his ending turned out very well leaving the question will he don the Batman costume or will Robin come to life and protect Gotham until the day the Dark Knight returns?
The scale of the ending was superbly handled and when it began with Batman returning to Gotham and lighting that flame which sparked the attraction of Bane I was delighted. I could feel the power ramping up in the story and it led all the way to the end with the Bat heading out to see in a seemingly insane moment that could so easily have become the Indy fridge of The Dark Knight Rises.
This last section carries a lot of dramatic weight and the characters really do deliver here just as the story does, and that reminds me of one of the strongest moments of the film I almost forgot to mention. The moment that Bane has Batman almost beaten and blows the roof above them to an earth shattering reveal had the strongest physical effect on me, I actually felt my stomach drop when I realised what was happening and it totally came out of nowhere.
The action sequences were once again excellent with some amazing stunts, and yet again Batman's gadgets look amazing in the film and extremely real, a testament to the power of practical effects first.
I have to admit to being disappointed with The Dark Knight Rises. I was expecting a lot more depth than was delivered. There was plenty to take in through the story but I just felt that it was overly edited and could have done with more explanatory scenes to give the story some time to breathe and sink in.
For me Catwoman was superfluous and could well have delivered the same story thread, and perhaps with even more weight, if it had been delivered through the Robin character. She seemed an unnecessary distraction. As for Bane, well I had hoped for more from him and although he was a good advesary it seemed only in sheer brute force.
Still, it delivered a great thriller that was also a superhero film and with the other two films remains the trilogy to define and lead the superhero genre. While I think that this film is perhaps the weakest of the series or at least equal with Batman Begins, it is still a very enjoyable film that delivers more of Nolan's excellent Dark Knight.