As its own movie: * * 1/2
As part of Nolan’s Batman trilogy: * * *1/2
Concerning TDKR I followed Chuck D’s timeless advice: “Don’t believe the hype.” I didn’t expect much. In fact, I expected an awful mess. Not that I doubted Nolan or anyone involved. It’s just that the third films in trilogies don’t often turn out well (not counting “loose” trilogies like Kieslowski’s “Colors” or Fassbender’s BRD). Outside of Toy Story, what 3rd films have been great (of course, I’m the only person in the world with the controversial opinion that the 3rd Matrix film was the best, but I won’t go there)?
There’s sort of a sliding scale of Trilogy ending movies. An extreme example is X Men 3, which was so bad it probably ruined the whole trilogy for me. Others aren’t as bad but aren’t exactly great. Like Spiderman 3, which wasn’t as bad as most people remember but is still a mess. Alien 3, which isn’t too awful only if you compare it to Alien 4 (whoops, no longer a trilogy), but still angries up the blood. Godfather 3, which isn’t terrible, but I’d like to forget happened. What’s a good third film? Terminator 3 (does the Bale Terminator count because I guess this isn’t a trilogy any more either) was actually quite good. Still, not in the same league as the first two but good. Return of the Jedi had some of the best moments of the entire Star Wars trilogy, but also had its share of problems (I guess Revenge of the Sith was by far the best of the second trilogy, but that’s not saying much). I guess Return of the King, though all 3 of those films are equal to me for the most part and work best as one entire work.
Why does this happen? Generally, the first film is a testing of the waters. Typically an ambitious idea that gains traction, success, and by the time the second film comes out the film has more money, resources, and freedom to do what it wants. By the time the third film runs around it has too much money, it has to do too much: end the series, tie things up, but also introduce enough new stuff to be its own thing. That may be why Jackson’s LOTR films feel so cohesive, since they were filmed at the same time, and therefore are the exception.
There are also some apparently serendipitous reasons why the second films tend to be better, though these usually rise out of either 1) appreciation or renown created by the first film or 2)greater ability to get talent. For instance, the unsung hero of The Empire Strikes Back was legendary pulp sci-fi writer Leigh Brackett who punched up Lucas’ dialogue problems unlike anyone else. In The Dark Knight, it was getting then Oscar-nominated actor Heath Ledger to give a virtuosic performance as the Joker.
So, all that said, trying to follow up TDK, trying to end the series on a satisfactory note, trying to introduce so many new characters, trying to make a decent version of Catwoman work…I didn’t think could be done.
Well, I was wrong about a lot of those. This film would never duplicate the power of it’s predecessor, but I never thought it would. However, in large part because of Hathaway, Catwoman works in this film. The problem with the film came as a surprise to me because its main weakness is what The Dark Knight did so well. Every moment of TDK felt important. The film had momentum from its first frame. This film has a number of pacing issues. Long stretches feel disproportionally slow and even unnecessary. Certain tertiary characters (the guy from Torchwood for example), don’t feel necessary at all. Others, like Matthew Modine’s Foley or Miranda Tate needed more time to develop. It made me respect what Joss Whedon did in the Avengers even more. Then again every director is different. The trade off is that the action in the final act of the Avengers was a bit messy. Nolan really doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on character…not that that’s always a bad thing. Neither did Hitchcock. Like Hitch, or more aptly the director Nolan reminds me of the most: Michael Mann, Nolan is an extremely talented orchestrator.
Nolan’s is known for his ridiculously complex narrative structures. This film is probably his most straightforward…structurally speaking. In terms of an action film, or any film for that matter, it feels more like a complete comic book arc, in something like episodes and with breaks, faithfully brought to life than a typical movie (narratively, not visually like a Zac Snyder thing). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a classical Hollywood film style, it just doesn’t feel, and isn’t entirely concerned with a singular unity, which is often the case with 3rd films. That’s both the work’s success as part of the trilogy, but perhaps the biggest issue of the film as a film. Certain elements work in terms of a story telling style but not necessarily to a self-contained filmic work.
For example: the plodding pace of the middle half of the film almost pays off in contrast to the scope of the finale: a bit of catharsis or potential energy finally getting going. Following this view, it just seems that too much of the film was sacrificed for affect, rather than efficiency or effectiveness.
What this film, when compared to TDK demonstrates is that Nolan’s Batman is a relatively 2-dimensional character. There’s Broody Bruce Wayne, and morally conflicted Batman and that’s about it. Bale does a decent job working in these roles but in TDK Batman was almost a supporting character. It was The Joker’s film. And the soul of Nolan’s Batman universe is Michael Caine’s Alfred. In this film he is absent for nearly half of the film. Also not given a great deal to do is the other most interesting character in these films, Commissioner Gordon. The film even brings up his family troubles, which play a big role in the comics-not that the film has to follow the comics (see note 1 for something related to this)-but it seems like that could have been an interesting place to go…instead he isn’t really doing much.
Another issue with the film is its politics. TDK had a lot of intellectual appeal due to its parallels to issues and policies of war on terror. There were times in that film where it directly attempted to address the issue (rendition and a few well placed uses of key words), but it was mostly subtext. In this film, it’s obvious…at least the issue that Nolan and company want to address. However, in large part because of Bane’s underdeveloped philosophy or perhaps lack of development, we get mixed metaphors. We know he wants Gotham to burn, but it’s never exactly clear how or why he’s either co-opting or actually believes in some sort of people’s uprising against the upper classes. We get a shot lifted from Dr. Zhivago, a storming of the Bastielle of sorts, but the referents are all without any context inside of the film. Who exactly is following Bane and why? That’s the beauty of the Joker. He’s pure terror and doesn’t need a motive. Bane, with his mixed up politics feels more like a Die Hard villain with a breathing mask.
A quick word on those politics: It’s ironic that Rush had issues (or more appropriately delusions) with this film as part of some vast liberal conspiracy. If anything it lends itself rather easily to readings of being pro-capitalist and pro-1%: the city, and by extension society, is rescued from a populist, quasi-communistic/Anarcho-facist movement by a billionaire who is unfairly treated both in sentiment and practice (spoiler-see note 2). Then again he’s helped by the more ideologically consistent believer (though morally equivocating) in wealth distribution (Catwoman), so I hope it’s not nearly that simple. Likewise, time will help. Rewatching The Dark Knight, it may actually read better, not as an apology for George W. Bush, but as a prefigruing of liberal policies which would be embodied by Obama. That Batman is not Dubya, but that Obama is Dent: The idealistic figure of hope who turns to the violence he detested after confronting the reality of terror threats.
Anyway, back to the movie…
Bane is humanized, a welcome touch, but far too late to and largely to facilitate another plot twist. I’m not sure the twist worked for me, it wasn’t much of a surprise, and I wonder if it would have been more effective to know his backstory upfront (people forget the power in tragedy resides largely in that the audience knows what’s going to happen when the characters don’t) instead of having him just show up and break stuff while spouting difficult to understand phrases. It’s not that he’s hard to hear or understand audibly, as some have said, when he tries to be important or say something ominous it just comes across like lines taken from the Oxford English Dictionary of Villainous Phrases (Vol 2: 1946-present).
To put the last couple paragraphs simply, this may be the only time I’ll say this but, to quote Homer Simpson, this movie needed “Less yappin more zappin.” A few more car or rooftop chases and less talking ominously in tunnels.
So, did the film end the trilogy well? As much as it could have been expected. It does what it needs to do, and does it well (with the exception of a musical cue lifted from the LOTR trilogy that elicited a facepalm from me). It tries to do a bit too much, and I can’t really fault a film for that.
A FEW STRAY THOUGHTS
—-SPOILERS AFTER THIS LINE-BEWARE—-
1-Could some of the dissonance be that Nolan changed comic book universes? The first two films were based on comics from the Miller/Loeb universe (Year One, The Long Halloween). This was based on No Man’s Land and Knightfall which have some key differences in how they conceive of Batman and Gotham.
2-having his wealth stolen.
-This film and The Avengers both have the same climax: A troubled billionaire, who is trying to develop revolutionary clean energy, with a technological alter-ego sacrifices himself by flying off to save New York city from a giant bomb.
- I missed the Chicago setting. Gotham felt larger, but it was obviously New York (though LA and Pittsburgh were also clearly visible). Like the comics, where Gotham is an amalgam of major US cities, this was fitting, but it seemed to throw me off a bit since the landscape was almost a character in the first two films.
- Did the penultimate scene feel too much like Inception to anyone else? Not that it can’t or didn’t work…
-Seriously, where did Alfred go? I mean, sure there was no way for him to get back into Gotham, but I wasn’t aware he had much of a life or family outside of Bruce Wayne.
- Batman has two “love” interests in this film. Neither works or has any real believability in them. Then again this is a movie about a Bat dressed vigilante, but given all the attempts at realism, these relationships felt rushed. Well, the one with Catwoman mostly worked. The whole Tate thing was just a plot device.