The Dark Knight Rises: Initial Thoughts

The Dark Knight RisesEveryone and their mother will be writing about The Dark Knight Rises over the next few days — I’m sure there’s already been an explosion in articles, blog posts and comments on both, not to mention various related terms trending on twitter almost constantly for most of the week already — so I figured I may as well add my voice to all the thousands shouting into the dark. But rather than a full review (which I’ll save for when things have quietened down a little, and perhaps there’s some kind of consensus or even just other reactions to respond too), here’s a couple of stray thoughts and paragraphs that immediately struck me.

Naturally, this is all spoiler free.

Christopher Nolan’s film is properly epic, and a proper trilogy-closer too. We’re so used to superhero stories that never end that even when he said this would be an ending I half expected something spectacularly open-ended. But no, this is as much a fullstop as we’re ever likely to see on a big-screen superhero… unless it proves really popular and they all start doing it, of course. It feels really weird, but only because it’s not something we’re used to.

The epic part has its pros and its cons. It creates a grand close to the trilogy, but it’s a very busy film and arguably the makers bit off more than they could chew. There’s probably enough story and characters for two whole films here, and maybe they should have pulled back a bit on some threads. Equally, that sense of scale creates the uniquely epic sensation, and maybe it will reward repeated viewings and more leisurely contemplation, each apparently-short moment loaded with information. Or perhaps not — it is literally something only time can tell.

There’s been some backlash already, and though I’ve only skimmed it the feeling I get is mostly one of mismanaged expectations, rather than flaws of the film itself. It’s definitely more comic book-y than The Dark Knight, but only about as much so as Batman Begins. That has clearly disappointed some, but may delight others, and not bother others still. The marketing is part of the problem: the final trailer’s slow, measured, elegiacal style suggested Superhero Movie As Art, whereas Nolan has instead delivered a proper summer blockbuster — albeit one with a more measured pace and less frenetic action than usual. It’s more ‘traditional’ in that respect — I’d wager the pacing is similar to a blockbuster of 20 years ago, rather than the non-stop-bombast we get today.

I also think it might have benefited from a title change — the fan-mooted Gotham City seems ever so apt. Perhaps that would have aligned some expectations in the right direction. Ultimately, you see, this isn’t A Batman Film for the people who want that — it’s The Conclusion Of Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne Story. And I think that’s fine, but perhaps you need to expect that, or at least be open to it as a possibility.

Stray thoughts:

On BD I may watch it with subtitles, not just for Bane (one review I read noted that some of Gordon’s lines “seem to get lost in his moustache”, which is an amusing way of putting the fact that half the cast offer muffled lines at some point; could just be cinema sound systems though).

Criticism of Nolan’s action direction, which has gone on since Begins, is increasingly unwarranted. Some may feel there isn’t enough action, or that what we get doesn’t go on in enough detail, but that’s the style of these films — they’re story movies with action sequences, not Action Movies. The previous two were the same. But the actual shooting and cutting of the action we do get is never less than fine.

Related to the epic-ness, I’ve seen numerous complaints of poor pacing or a slow middle. I didn’t feel that once. Similarly, this epic-ness may be why it can feel certain cast members are underused. The one that surprises me is Matthew Modine — is he really a big enough name for his supporting role here to be labelled “underused”? I didn’t think so. The stand out for me was Michael Caine, who may bring a tear to your eye, but there are several other noteworthy performances.

This is why I’m going to write a full review later, though this has already turned out a tad long.

The big question on everyone’s lips has always been, can it equal or better The Dark Knight? I don’t think it does. I didn’t ever really think it could, so perhaps I just correctly managed my expectations in that regard. But it not being as good as one of the greatest action-thrillers ever made doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic film in its own right, and it has a tone and a feel that’s both connected to the previous two Nolan Bat-pics and distinctly its own.

I think it’s wonderful stuff.


My ‘official’ drabble-length review can now be read here.

2 thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises: Initial Thoughts

  1. I saw it yesterday too (haven’t been in such a packed cinema in ages) and like you I’m waiting on reviewing it. It’s a great movie trilogy and I agree its really the Bruce Wayne trilogy not a Batman Trilogy at all really. Hathaway’s Catwoman really surprised me, I thought she would be the weak link in the movie but she was possibly its heart and soul. However my one negative note is this- as with all of Nolan’s films, I was frustrated by a cool detachment from the characters. Nolan is a director much like Kubrick, making impressive, but yet distinctly cold movies. I felt I should have been really rooting for Wayne/Batman in an emotional, edge-of-seat pumping fist in air kind of way but as with his other films, I oddly found myself distant from it, even at the end. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I think that’s what frustratingly keeps Nolan’s films from achieving genuine perfection. If he could nail the empathic response of, say, a Spielberg movie, well, that would be truly something. As it is, if Nolan had made the LOTR trilogy they would be great films but I feel I wouldn’t give a toss at the end, wheras I blubb like an idiot everytime Frodo says goodbye to his friends at the end of it all.

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    • I think you’re bang on about the characters. Inception was very much the same deal, and a lot of people who really criticised it (at least at the time of its release) were obsessed with the fact it had no real emotional connection to its characters. Which does raise the interesting question of if you can make a great film without that.

      I don’t think Nolan’s wholly incapable of it — specifically in this film, I think Alfred generates a substantial amount of emotion relative to the size of his role (as much thanks to Michael Caine as Nolan, of course), and there are similar examples in his other films — but I think that, overall, Nolan is more concerned with plot and the mechanics of that than he is with the characters inhabiting the story.

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