‘The Dark Knight’ Doesn’t Rise Very Far

One of the most eagerly anticipated and highly hyped films of the summer is “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final film in the trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. Although I have been a fan of the Caped Crusader for as long as I can remember, I was extremely disappointed in this final chapter. I know that the film has earned raves, but I must have missed something because I found it much too long, tedious and convoluted in places, sadly lacking in screen time for the hero, and downright boring in spots.

Since his birth in the May 1939, No. 27, issue of Detective Comics and his subsequent own comic book beginning in 1940, Batman has enjoyed widespread adulation as one of world’s most popular superheroes. As such he has been the subject of myriad cartoons, TV shows, and eight major motion pictures in which no fewer than five different actors donned the cape and cowl.

Adam West was the first back in 1966 (“Batman”), and then it was Michael Keaton (still my favorite) in 1989 (“Batman”) and 1992 (“Batman Returns”). In 1995 (“Batman Forever”)Val Kilmer took a shot at the role, and in 1997 (“Batman & Robin”) one of the biggest casting debacles in the history of Hollywood occurred when some half-wit had the bright idea of having George Clooney wear the bat suit. This move was tantamount to having Pee Wee Herman play “Superman” or Rowan Atkinson portray James Bond or Nathan Lane in the role of Indiana Jones or substituting a Chihuahua for Rin Tin Tin.

Critics ripped Clooney’s laughably inept portrayal of a superhero so badly that the Dark Knight didn’t appear on the silver screen again until 2005 (“Batman Begins”), the first of Nolan’s trilogy with Christian Bale in the lead role for that the film and the next two — “The Dark Knight” in 2008 and now “The Dark Knight Rises.”

If you saw “The Dark Knight,” you’ll recall that Batman fell into disfavor at the end of that movie because he allowed the police to believe he was responsible for a murder he didn’t commit, and “The Dark Knight Rises” begins eight years after Batman’s exile from Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Batman’s alter ego) still is nursing wounds he suffered at the end of the last film, but the appearance of two characters – Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar, and Bane (Tom Hardy), a hulking pervert wearing a weird mask who wants to destroy Gotham.

With the exception of Clooney’s Batman film, which doesn’t even belong in this discussion, “The Dark Knight Rises” is the weakest Caped Crusader movie of them all, but it does have one redeeming factor that I will get to that a bit later, but before we do that, let’s consider the bad news about this movie.

First, with a running time of 164 minutes, the film is ponderously long. Many of the scenes are dragged out to the point of tedium, and this is particularly true of a segment where Bruce Wayne is incarcerated. I almost hoped he would die in prison so the movie would finally end.

Now when I watch a movie about a superhero, I expect to see a lot of said hero on the screen, but that definitely is not the case here. Batman in costume does not appear until 46 minutes have passed, and then he is on the screen for just about 10 minutes. He doesn’t show up again until the 70-minute mark for just under six minutes, and then he returns 57 minutes later for the finale. I would guess his total screen time at 30 to 35 minutes tops.

Here’s more. The film contains two major fight scenes between Batman and Bane, and both of them are incredibly lame. Think of all the great climactic fight scenes you have seen in action movies, and then compare them to these. They aren’t even in the same universe. Give me Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed or Martin Riggs versus Mr. Joshua any day.

Another thing about this film that really annoyed me was the way Bane talked. He wears this stupid mask, and when he speaks, he sounds as if he is doing a bad impersonation of Darth Vadar talking through a defective McDonald’s drive-through speaker.

Also, anyone not completely familiar with the Batman story may well be lost at places in this film because the plot becomes quite confusing in places, and some of the transitions between scenes are quite weak.

Additionally I thought that Bale’s performance was totally lackluster. He appeared completely uninterested in his part and imbued Batman with all of the enthusiasm of a somnambulist. I mean I know the hero was supposed to be depressed in this film, but a superhero should be able to overcome adversity and ultimately triumph. In the film’s production notes, Bale explained the evolution of his character’s mental state.

“In ‘Batman Begins,’ you see the tragedy and the pain that motivates this angry young man, who feels useless and is searching for a path and who wants to find out who he is and what he can become. Then in ‘The Dark Knight,’ he’s discovered that path. He is useful; he is doing what he imagines is the best thing for him to be doing in his life. Now, we are eight years on, and he has lost the one thing that gave him a purpose until he is forced to deal with a new threat to the city and to himself.”

Maybe Bale was following directions in making Batman such a milquetoast in this film, but I didn’t like it.

Now with all this negativity behind us, let’s look at some bright spots in the film. Some of it was shot in Pittsburgh, and seeing aerial pictures of the city was impressive, and some of the special effects were good, especially those in the scene filmed at Heinz Field.

But the biggest bright spot in this movie was the presence of Hathaway, who is simply sensational as Catwoman. Her character is much more interesting, athletic, and impressive than Batman. Hathaway’s fight scenes are superbly choreographed, and she lit up the screen in every one of her segments. In fact she quite simply stole the show. In the production notes Hathaway made in interesting observation about her character’s influence on Bruce Wayne.

“I think Bruce owes Selina a big thank you because he was leading a pretty lonely life until she came in and got his blood pumping and reminded him that there are fun people out there in the world. One of the things that fans have always enjoyed about Bruce and Selina is the playful side of their relationship. They may operate very differently, but they actually have a lot in common: they like to keep certain things hidden; they’re usually several steps ahead of everyone else in the room; and they prefer to dress in black.”

I will add that the entire production owes Selina a debt of gratitude because if it hadn’t been for her, the film would have been a complete waste of time. Supporting cast members Michael Caine as the faithful butler Alfred, Gary Oldman as police commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as inventor Lucius Fox, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Det. John Blake all turn in respectable performances, but it is Hathaway who really illuminates “The Dark Knight Rises.” And it is she who elevates the film’s score from a three or four to a final mark of six.

With this film we bid goodbye to the Caped Crusader on the big screen for a time, but I’m sure he’ll be back at some point. And when he does return, let’s hope he’s the Batman who showed up when the bat signal first glowed in the sky over Gotham City 73 years ago.

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