Director Christopher Nolan is an authority on expansive visuals, just check out the trailer to Batman Begins on YouTube for a refresher course. And though this picks up where The Dark Knight left off, Rises actually continues the story of Batman Begins, almost as if the Heath Ledger film is a stand-alone, not truly part of the trilogy.
Ledger’s acting was so overwhelming that one would have hoped Nolan would have sought out another player with an opportunity to rivet filmgoers’ eyes to the screen. Alas, thespian abilities take a back seat to loud volume, dizzying explosives and a death march that makes for a brooding film that whacks the viewer right on cue. It’s not that Tom Hardy doesn’t play his Bane role with malicious delight, he does, but he’s also about as visible as Ted Levine was playing Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. Heath Ledger’s Joker was omnipresent, the big bad Bane (or Buffalo Bill) is the destroyer, find him…and then catch him if you can.
The seriousness of the Nolan/Christian Bale collaboration is appreciated, though the director spends too much time each outing delving into moral dilemmas. That’s what drags this (and the previous) motion picture sideways. Just give us the Batman in his element, not Bruce Wayne involved in another identity crisis. It’s the same problem with just about every superhero movie having to be yet another “origin of Spiderman”, “origin of Superman”, “origin of Iron Man”…enough already. The audience doesn’t need to know “how” Buffalo Bill was created, so if the villains don’t get a bio-pic every time out, why should the heroes? As we’re at the third part of this series you, thankfully, don’t get that rehashing here, but you do get similar situations where Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has his moral crisis, where butler Alfred (Michael Caine) has second thoughts (and third and fourth…) with only Lucius Fox (a splendid Morgan Freeman) no such personal dilemma this time around.
The two most fun actors in the film feature the all-grown-up 31 year old Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake (who was 15 years of age when he appeared as Demi Moore’s son in The Juror), and an utterly delightful Anne Hathaway (the White Queen from Alice in Wonderland) as Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. They are the heirs apparent to this franchise and both sparkle with a freshness missing from the standard bearers who have all played their parts twice before. Where Christian Bale seemed inspired to tango with Heath Ledger, to give his acting an extra push, there’s no such impetus here. This particular script doesn’t call for it when fans of the franchise are clamoring for the star of the show to exude strength and outsmart the bad guy(s). Commissioner Gordon gets knocked out of commission for a moment, Batman as well, their roles here about as entertaining as viewing your favorite baseball players on the disabled list – and the film suffers for it just as any major league team takes a hit when a marquee name goes down. Marion Cotillard (from Inception and Contagion) brings a James Bond-ish elegance to the affair, and gets an opportunity to make her mark and it is nice to see Matthew Modine back in action, another blast from the past who works fine in his role.
With an estimated budget of $250 million (about 20 million more than The Amazing Spiderman) it just seems in this era of The Avengers, Green Lantern, Green Hornet and so many more superhero flicks planned we could have experienced the Riddler in a Frank Gorshin-styled brilliance, playing cat and mouse as a more refined, less frazzled answer to Ledger’s the Joker. In a perfect world the Riddler would have entered the realm of the Dark Knight at this point in time, Bane/Dark Knight Rises coming off as a decent sequel to Batman Begins while trying to emulate the Joker’s art deconstruction but not with as much sophisticated chaos. The villains aren’t in the same league and without a great villain one needs to compensate. The compensation here is more volume, more explosions, less Batman, more mind games. It will work because The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger was such a landmark and we all want to see what comes next, but it is still a let down of sorts. Ledger won the Oscar, Tom Hardy won’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. Not that he doesn’t enjoy himself, he does. It’s just that both the character of the Joker and Ledger’s interpretation were a perfect storm that would be tough to duplicate…so they didn’t even try.
And that, dear reader, is where Director Nolan could have put his energies. Jake Gyllenhaal, coming off of a fantastic appearence in the Sci-Fi thriller Source Code is pliable enough to have riddled the audience…and the Batman…into submission. It would also have been a nice nod to Heath Ledger. Bane, as a villain, has the Darth Vader voice but not the Darth Vader charm. If Senator Lloyd Bentsen were still with us he would say “Bane, I served with Lord Vader. I knew Lord Vader. Lord Vader was a friend of mine. Bane, you’re no Lord Vader.”
Without the master criminal you don’t have the master plan. The Dark Knight Rises has lots of metaphors I won’t bore you with (other critics are on ’em already), except for one: the repeated attempts of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne trying to run up the challenging stone wall, trying to get out of the dark. It’s a microcosm of the entire film itself. The Bat needs to stay in the darkness…and what this bat movie needed was lots and lots and lots more bats. Of course you will have to check it out, and it will entertain – there’s no doubt about that. It’s just that it could have been so much more and as a bookend to this great reboot/series, it deserved to be much much more.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.