The Dark Knight Rises – Film Review

During the forties, the fifties and, to a lesser degree, the sixties, most films had a supporting feature – the ‘B’ movie.  These tended to be low budget with unknown actors starring in what was considered novelty films; UFO stories, monster movies, and corny super-heroes.  At the time, many kids who accompanied their parents to the movies tended to enjoy the low rent ‘B’ movie more than the more adult main film.  As a consequence, when these kids grew up to be filmmakers, many gravitated to want to make ‘B’ movie subjects of their own but with main feature budgets and production values.  Director Christopher Nolan must have been among that group.  With films like Momento, Inception and his own Batman trilogy, Nolan has taken gimmicky, support movie subjects, and with huge budgets and a ton of creativity turned the ‘B’ movie into something resembling high art.

The third in the Nolan Batman series begins with an impossibly elaborate hi-jacking sequence that could kick-start a Bond film.  The aerial sequence is audacious in its content and breathtaking in its execution.  Cut to Wayne Manor.  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now hiding away in his mansion leading a secretive Howard Hughes existence; no one has seen him for eight years and no one is sure if he’s really there, with the obvious exception of his faithful butler, Alfred (Michael Caine).  When Alfred tries to talk the reclusive millionaire out of his hiding, Wayne responds, “There’s nothing out there for me.”

 

The world outside of Wayne Manor, principally Gotham City, has lead a relatively crime free and peaceful existence for several years, but a new threat emerges forcing Wayne out of his imposed hiding and back into the Bat suit once again.

The Dark Knight Rises is a long and unapologetically brooding, two hour and forty-five minute journey that feels bloated and overly complicated in its first half and a white-knuckle thrill ride that never lets you relax in its second half.  Director Nolan has crammed the almost three hour adventure with plot, and lots of it.  Like The Dark Knight and Inception, the film demands attention.  It’s an earnest attempt to make the ultimate caped crusader film in epic form with back stories for everyone, and while there are way too many characters involved in telling what should really be a simple plot, those who take their graphic novels seriously should feel sated.  For those who don’t, The Dark Knight Rises may seem like an over-indulgent, sprawling mess.

 

The most imaginative action sequences, those moments that can be best described as having the wow factor, have become a staple of a Christopher Nolan film.  They’re expected.  Here there are several, one of which – the football stadium sequence – appears in the trailer.  To tell any more is to spoil the fun.  All of the action is superbly choreographed, though for me the best scenes involve an emotional Alfred appealing toWayne to be a part of life again.  They’re the kind of well written and extremely well performed sequences that would normally appear in a different kind of film, not an action-packed super hero adventure.  It’s where the ‘A’ movie values meets a ‘B’ movie subject, and that’s what separates a Nolan production from others in its genre.

If you see the film on the huge IMAXscreen, and you’re the kind of audience member who wants to be overwhelmed and looks for a sheer visceral experience, then the IMAX presentation is for you, but with it comes problems.  The volume is so head-bangingly loud – imagine the bass control on your home stereo on full with the volume control maxed – ambient noises tend to drown out important pieces of dialog.  The principle villain, Bane (an unrecognizable and incredibly beefed up Tom Hardy), has a face mask throughout and is often difficult to understand at the best of times.  With Hans Zimmer’s pounding soundtrack overloading the IMAX speakers there are times when it’s impossible to understand what he’s saying.

The plot is convoluted with too many characters – as much fun as it is to see Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman I was never completely sure what she had to do with what was going on – and I’m not convinced that the subject warrants such a serious approach, but the film is crammed with so many cinematic riches and imaginative stunts you tend to overlook what you don’t understand or can’t hear and just go for the ride for fear of being left behind. 

 MPAA Rating:  PG-13    Length:  165 minutes   Overall Rating:  8 (out of 10)

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