Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: An Opportunity - missed.


The Dark Knight Rises has been the most hyped-up film of 2012, and considering how many long-awaited movies were released this year in the comic category (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-man) there was an enormous amount of expectation for Nolan's next installment in the Batman franchise. The trailers that circulated television and the internet were superbly edited, and probably the best example on how to promote a film brilliantly. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that from the moment I saw the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, I could not wait for its theatrical release. And before I write any more of this review, I shall state my belief that no film can be over-hyped in my humble opinion. Films like Avatar, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Toy Story 3 and The Artist were all massively hyped, but they all exceeded my expectations. If I film falls short of your expectations, I believe that it is because the film is poorer in quality rather than you expecting too much (many will disagree with me on this I am sure).

That saying, I have to say that The Dark Knight Rises was - for me - disappointing. Despite its strong cast and intense plot, it fell short of outstanding. This is a real shame for the film could well have been a masterpiece , but there were many factors that contributed in preventing the film from being as great as it could have been. Before I receive a lot of hate comments, please read the rest of the review because I'm not saying the film was terrible. I did actually enjoy the film and I thought it was in fact a good film, but I also believe that it was deeply flawed.

The biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises, was undoubtedly - the script. I don't even want to imagine how long the film was after editing before they realised they had to make it under three hours long. Many of the scenes could have been cut, and many of the scenes needed to be longer. One of the most annoying things about a film can be a scene being so ridiculously short and containing so little amount of dialogue and meaning, that when it ends you have no idea why it was included, or what it even meant. The Dark Knight Rises had this in abundance. On the other hand, there were very short scenes that were important to the plot, but they were not fully developed due to lack of time (I am sure). I blame this fault on the editors and the director. Knowing that the film had to be under three hours, they must have literally hacked the hell out of every scene they could to compress the feature to a reasonable time. I really believe this is the case, because some scenes made no sense and were pointless, whereas others were important but had been so chopped up that they too became pointless. One of the biggest issues with the films predecessor, The Dark Knight (2008) was it's lengthy duration, and after watching the newest Dark Knight, it is clear that Nolan and his editors have not learnt from past experience.

Unbelievably, the duration of the picture was not the only lesson that failed to be learnt by the makers of The Dark Knight, because The Dark Knight Rises still contained the main criticism people had about its prequel - sound. The sound design was appalling. I love Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for this film, I love the people behind the sound design because the sounds you heard were hugely impacting and really made you feel like you were in the chaos of Gotham, but the sound AGAIN drowned out the dialogue nearly 50% of the time. This was so irritating because this was the problem with the film before, and still they had made the same mistake. I was struggling to hear much of the dialogue, especially when Gary Oldman and Christian Bale were speaking their parts quietly in a whispery sort of voice (this is not a criticism by the way, Bale is my favourite actor). Furthermore, the villain of Bane played by Tom Hardy had a muffly voice which was difficult to hear anyway, but made almost impossible by the sound design. They truly failed in getting the balance right between sound and dialogue in the film.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of The Dark Knight Rises actually lies with the villain, Bane. Tom Hardy is known for being an intense and rather scary actor generally, and in the trailers for the Batman picture his physique, strange mask and obscure way of speaking really made him seem terrifying. We all love a good villain, and after seeing the trailers for this film I thought yes - this should be another addition to some of the great villains in movie history. Nolan achieved this in the first few scenes featuring Bane, in fact the opening to the film and Bane's entrance is fantastic. On a plane where there are men brandishing guns at hooded hostages, we suddenly hear this very odd, distorted and creepy voice coming from one of the hooded figures. The hood is removed revealing a man with a cage-like mask strapped around his mouth and head. He looks like a muzzled pitbull or rotweiller, and all you can think is why is he wearing this contraption? Is it to stop him from attacking us? Or is it to cover injuries he received in an attack? Either way, this image makes him appear violent and dangerous. A perfect start for a villain. A few scenes later, when Gary Oldman's character comes face to face with Bane, we see the extent of his powerful physique and he looks like a beast. With enormous shoulders and fierce muscularity, he looks invincible and as an audience you start to think how will Batman beat this guy?

Sadly, as the film progresses, Bane's fear factor deteriorates. At the start we see him brutally attack people with astounding speed and lack of humanity, but all this changes. The majority of Bane's scenes in the latter part of the film show him walking around in a big sheepskin coat, making unmotivating peeches to aggravate Gotham; in truth he doesn't really do anything. You just see him standing on the side or walking out of buildings. The terror he exuded disappears completely. Also by the end of the picture a human side to Bane is shown when his past is revealed and we see that he does care for some people. This is the worst mistake any filmmaker can make with a villain because as soon as you give them an understanding of humanity, you obliterate the evil they once embodied. I thought that Tom Hardy did brilliantly with what he was given. The voice he gave to Bane was really unnerving, but even that was tampered with by the sound design because they said that you could not understand what he was saying. This resulted in the heightening of the pitch of his voice, making the dark and sinister sound Hardy had clearly worked so hard on almost comical, to the point where he sounded ridiculous. Hardy did the best with the script he was given and if he was unhappy with what the filmmakers did to his character then I am not surprised. Nolan and co. ruined what could have been one of the most terrifying villains the screen has ever seen. They achieved it with Heath Ledger as the Joker in the prequel, but failed to do so here.

Christian Bale has always brought a depth and admiration to Batman that no other Batman has managed to do previously (for me). But I felt he had hardly any screen time at all in this installment, and any screen time he did have, he wasn't given as much to work with he previously had. If you felt sorry for Bale's Batman in the first two films, then you will definitely feel it here. He brings so much pathos to the character that we are almost overwhelmed by his suffering and his quest to give something to his city. Watching him we really felt like this was a man unable to recover from the loss of the woman he loved, and even his parents before that. A man who hasn't had a break from tragedy all of his life. His scenes in the prison I found were particularly moving because, and all credit to Bale here, he depicted the suffering so strongly yet subtley, that I felt as if I was intruding on the sufferings of a broken man physically and mentally. Add this to the fact that this man is Batman, a hero, it makes it profoundly sad. I believe that Bale is the most talented actor of his generation. He delivers every ounce of talent, creativity and strength he has into every performance he gives. You never feel that he is not giving his all. The fact that he transformed the comic book hero of Batman into someone much more accessible for audiences, into someone more than just the man in the cape, is a real credit to Bale's as an actor.

Marion Cottillard made her first appearance in the franchise with this film, and although I like her a lot as an actress (fantastic in Inception, and of course, La Vie en Rose), I felt that she didn't have a great deal to work with either. Considering her character was new to the franchise, she was in need of development but nothing like that was given. There was no real substance to her.

Another disappointment for this film was Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman. She looks incredible - very sophisticated, very feline, and although her catsuit was not as cool as the Michelle Pfeiffer one, she did look fantastic. I particularly liked her cat ears that could be used as a visor - a new take on what can be rather silly looking ears. They did attempt to give more depth to this Catwoman, and thanks to Hathaway, that depth was achieved. She seemed like a young girl who really wanted a fresh start from her life of crime, and there is a lot more to her than just a jewel thief. I felt this strongly when Batman says he owes the people of Gotham, and she tells him, "You don't owe these people anymore."She understood the sacrifice and pain Batman had undergone all his life, whereas everybody else in the film seems to pressure him into thinking that he owes the people of Gotham.

Other actors in the picture like Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman all had very little to say in the film but still played their parts well.

The most outstanding performance of the picture was from an actor I have already written a blogpost on, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He plays a police officer, Blake, that is upgraded to detective when Bane launches his attack on Gotham. He is also an orphan, like Bruce Wayne, who believed in what Batman stood for since he was a child. The film I believe is given so much more life with Levitt's performance. It all seems real with his character being a part of the plot. His feelings on being an orphan, his belief in what Batman stood for, his inspiring of Wayne to put the mask back on, and his fight to save the city make him possibly the best character in the film. He represents all that is good in Batman, and the good reasons why Bruce Wayne started to put on the mask. It so turns out that later on Bruce Wayne sees in Blake these qualities, and if I am not mistaken, he passes the role of protector of Gotham onto this young detective at the end of the film. I love how the end film ends with us learning Blake's full name is Robin, and we see him go into Batman's lair - I really cannot wait to see where this will lead concerning a new film. Levitt is sensational in every role he plays and here, he made us notice a character that I'm sure many actors would have made unnoticeable.

Up to now it may seems like I have done nothing but whinge about The Dark Knight Rises, but I did really enjoy it. The final hour of the film is incredible, seeing Bruce Wayne escape the prison (which seems like a real hell hole, and the ultimate test for our hero to overcome). The scenes where Bane finally unleashes his plans on the city of Gotham at the football stadium are a wonder to behold, with a young boy singing the US national anthem whilst the camera keeps cutting to the back of Bane walking through the tunnels of the stadium. I found this chilling for the image of innocence against the image of brutality was a disturbing mix and my heart was beating rapidly at what horror Bane was about to conduct. The stadium floor collapsing was breathtakingly horrific.

There are many scenes in this film which are terrifying, not in that they scare you there and then, but that they are a living nightmare - for an army of thugs to take over a city and to leave its inhabitants helpless and awaiting possible death. To be utterly helpless in the face of danger is a feeling no human ever wants to experience. This is shown in one scene - brilliantly played by Levitt - where the American army refuse to let a bus of orphans cross the bridge out of the city because Bane threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb if anyone crossed the bridge. The anger, frustration and desperation in Levitt's face and voice is really powerful, especially when we see that innocent children were not given a chance to escape.

The finale to the fighting is beautifully done. I am a girl who did not grow up reading comics and who never wanted to be Batman as a kid, but when I saw that hero in his mask, "sacrifice" himself for the city, I had to force the tears back. It is an immensely moving and powerful moment, one that was echoed throughout the entire cinema by the sound of silence.

The Dark Knight Rises
is not one of the greatest films ever made like it was bigged-up to be, but it is certainly the best comic book film I have seen. This is not because of the script, or because of its flaws, but because of the parts of the film that were really out of this world visually, emotionally, and dramatically. Bale made our Batman the hero he truly was, and Levitt provided us with a ordinary hero who turned out to be extradordinary. The threat of Bane, although it became a little lax as the film progressed, still managed to instill terror in our hearts and minds as we watched horrific killings, explosions, and the destruction of a city.

I really wish this film had had more thought put into the script with characters, concerning the length of scenes, and the sound design - because if more time and precision had gone into those things, this really could have been the picture of the year. As far as being consistently good is concerned, The Avengers is superior. However, regardless of its flaws and inconsistencies, I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises much more than The Avengers. Yes they edited some scenes poorly. Yes they failed to maintain Bane's terrifying presence throughout. Yes they didn't balance the sound with the dialogue. But the film still kept me more gripped, more entertained, more moved, more amazed, more terrified, and more in awe than I have been with any other picture I have seen in the past couple of years. All I can think is, if the film had been more consistent, Nolan could have made one of the greatest films in history.


  1. Tim Burton famously said that he would've included Robin in his Batman films if he had a psychological profile of the character that worked with how he saw Batman. It sounds like Nolan succeeded in doing that. 'still seems awfully old to be "the boy wonder" but if they have to, they have to.

    The use of sound in movies is a bigger issue than the use of 3D. I'm convinced a lot of films are ruined by poor choices in the placement of music and the volume of it, as well as the volume of the dialogue.

    1. Absolutely. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are exceptional cases of poor sound design, but the majority of films being released at the moment aren't innocent of it either. It's particularly difficult when I find that the majority of screen actors these days speak very quietly - they don't project their voices like actors did a decade or so ago.

  2. Wonderful review Claudia, but I held back on reading more about the characters as I'm seeing it on the night of mty birthday and someone already spoilt me the ending, ewww! But thanks for your review and I love reading your posts here! I just saw Joseph Gordon Levitt in 50/50 thanks to your review and his performance was so charismatic and likable! Definitely one of the best young actors we have now, and he oozes love for acting and passion, which is a great quality in actors I don't really find nowadays (with all the performance actors I see now!). Can't wait to see TDKR next week and I'll tell you all about it! I'll review soon Mildred Pierce, Shame, The Dark Knight Rises, On the Road and others, I'd love for you to tell me what you thought about these films if you've seen them! Can't wait to hear from you! xoxo Fanny