When it comes to writing a review of a film like The Dark Knight Rises, it's pretty much just an exercise for the mind and a workout for the fingertips — I'm either preaching to the choir, or screaming in space. Whether you will see it or not is already a foregone conclusion. However, when it comes to dissecting superhero movies and the darker side of geekdom for horror.com specifically, my focus must fall squarely on the nemesis.
So, how does Bane stack up?
In my opinion Scarecrow, as portrayed by Cillian Murphy in the first of this Nolan trilogy debuting back in 2005, is still the best from a purely monstrous, supernatural angle. Heath Ledger as The Joker was seminal in his performance as a comic book villain — he put forth a standard of nuance, menace and downright dastardliness that set the bar higher than ever .
There are a few riled up rogues in The Dark Knight Rises. One of whom you may not recognize as such right away; another starts off as adversary and winds up an ally; then there's the through-and-through, no-holds-barred baddie, Bane (Tom Hardy). Not since Darth Vader or Frank Booth has there been a more menacing mouth-breather. However, he's the least-interesting villain in what I consider also the least-interesting installment of the franchise. Full of breathy bluster and spoiling for a sparring, Hardy does his level best; but hobbled by the ever-present mandibular mask the actor is reduced to little more than a buff bod and beady eyes.
While the quasi-political statements (Occupy Gotham!) and personal moral dilemmas ("I'm not worthy!") posed are considerable, the bat's wings droop more than once over the 2 hour and 45 minute running time. The Dark Knight Rises suffers from exposition, spoon-fed flashbacks, and heavy-handed symbolism. The longer Bale's Christ-like beard grows, the more the overall gloom and doom gets just a little bit too heavy. (And in case you aren't sure how to react, Hans Zimmer's insistent score will let you know.)
Had the film been trimmed by a good 20 - 30 minutes, or if Bane didn't have to compete with so many of Batman's other burdens, this would be a different review. Still, I liked it. It's just that there's more darkness than rising (that is, until the end. No spoilers here, but I have to say: when the final scene swelled to a very optimistic reveal, I grinned — big).
I saw the film in 35mm, but I understand it's definitive in IMAX. Either way, DP Wally Pfister's work is wondrous in its de rigueur desaturation and while not much care has been taken to make Gotham other than modern-day NYC/Chi-Town, it's all easy on the eyes. When it comes to the ears (as I mentioned) Zimmer's music is manipulative, and Bane's breathing and blustering are a bit of a strain.
Having said that, The Dark Knights Rises is a big, beautiful action adventure with heart and soul at its core. Bale isn't the Batman we once knew, but he's evolved the role admirably and it will be fine without him. Relatively unchanged (and thank goodness for it) are Michael Caine and Gary Oldman as Alfred and Gordon. They're solid, welcome, and familiar. Marion Cotillard is fine, if underutilized. My favorites in the film — even more so than Bruce Wayne / Batman himself — were Joseph Gordon-Levitt as rookie Officer Blake, and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman
I've been a sincere fan of Levitt even since his days as "the kid" on Third Rock From The Sun, but didn't really know what he was capable of as an actor until I saw Brick and interviewed him 1:1 about the art of portrayal and how he approaches it. He's a smart one, and over the years it shows more and more. From the lovelorn romantic in (500) Days of Summer, to the anachronistic stoner in Hesher, "the kid" can do just about anything and sell it at a markup. In The Dark Knight Rises, he's got a relatively non-flashy role, but I cannot imagine another actor in it.
When it comes to the comely Catwoman, she's an icon. She's been played by many others, and will live on with or without Hathaway. Hathaway seems to a have forged a little path of her own in playing characters made famous by others — Agent 99, The White Queen, Fantine — but this time around, she can lay claim on originality over familiarity. Her Catwoman is true to form (and how! Hourglasses everywhere are jealous ) in that she's snarky, sexy and slippery, but unlike most other actresses who approached the role with a comic book cattiness, Hathaway brings a subtle complexity and the mien of life lived (maybe not nine lives, but she conveys the deepness of at least one stint on the mortal coil).
Upshot? Bane's a bit blah, but Catwoman's cool and Bale bids Batman adieu with dignity.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson