For most films, one viewing and one review is more than enough. It’s rare for a film to come along that — no matter how well it works — demands a second viewing and perhaps additional discussion. The Dark Knight Rises is certainly one of those films. This has a lot to do with the fact that it’s closing Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. A trilogy that I saw the other day was being hailed as “The Godfather Trilogy of Our Generation.” That’s taking things a bit far, but the emotion and fan dedication around this trilogy is certainly unprecedented. At least since that story in a galaxy far, far away.
Yesterday our own Robert Fure gave you a list of 11 Things That Didn’t Work in The Dark Knight Rises. And he’s some great points. There was a lot that did not work. As I explained in my own disappointed review last week, this film is a right mess. Christopher Nolan made plenty of uncharacteristic decisions in bringing his trilogy to a close. But upon a second viewing this weekend with a group of friends, I realized that The Dark Knight Rises is too big a movie to be one way or the other. I still absolutely stand by every word of my review and agree with the points that Robert brought up yesterday, but I feel as if there is an entire list of things that did work. Because this is that kind of movie. Big enough to have plenty of good to go with the bad. With that in mind, I’ve composed a list of 11 Things That Did Work in The Dark Knight Rises.
Obligatory Warning: The following points are meant to be discussed following a viewing of The Dark Knight Rises. Nothing will be held back for the sake of spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle
It took a second viewing to really fun with this character, but she is just that: fun. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle provides energy when she’s on screen. She’s really the only character who is not constantly being sucked into the vacuum of dour that permeates so much of this story. She’s a rogue in black spandex and one of the few unpredictable quantities this movie has to offer. Even though her ending in a cafe in Italy seems rushed and way out of left field, she is one of the few characters in this story that has any discernible arc. Also, she’s fun. And that’s important in a world where there’s just no fun.
Wally Pfister and His IMAX Camera
Even if Christopher Nolan did, as I accused him, make this film just so that he could play on a scale unlike anything available to other filmmakers, he does create some massive scope with the IMAX lens. The opening sequence that sees Bane’s gang overtake a plane, the big motorcycle chase scene that leads to the introduction of The Bat, the list goes on. All of these scenes benefit from the sheer size of the IMAX eye. Taken as pieces on their own, they are pure awesome.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there’s a character in this movie whose in-character voice is sillier than Bale’s Batman growl. Or the fact that this film has far more Bruce Wayne than it does Batman. Either way, Christian Bale really shines. Whether selling the hobbled, broken Bruce Wayne with a busted leg or a broken back, or showing us the rage of Batman in the sewer fight with Bane, Bale gives his best performance yet as the billionaire bat.
Bane Breaks The Bat
Ever since Bane was announced as the villain for this film, there was no one moment from the comics that fans wanted to see more than Bane breaking Batman’s back. And Nolan did it, in spectacular fashion. In both of the movie, the friend sitting to my right let out a noticeable gasp of excitement just as this was happening. Sure, it signifies the beginning of the muddling of the movies timing, but in many ways it was worth it. For a trilogy that seemed disinterested in iconic “comic book moments,” we can be glad that Nolan chose to keep this one in Bane’s story.
The Production Design
Production Designer Nathan Crowley has been with this franchise from the beginning, and with Chris Nolan since Insomnia. He’s responsible for creating some great sets — not the least of which was Bruce Wayne’s penthouse apartment in The Dark Knight or R’as Al Ghul’s lair in Batman Begins. In this one, he shines with the design and detail in two particular areas: the Bat Cave, with its rising platforms and the prison from which Bruce must rise to freedom. No one will ever accuse this movie of being subtle, but those sets were very cool.
The Talia Twist
Even though it severely softens Bane as a villain, the twist of having Miranda Tate secretly being Talia Al Ghul the entire time was pulled off with a certain amount of bravado to the point of being a fun surprise. The fact that she only lasts about another 5 minutes in the movie is a letdown, but it’s important to remember the game she’s playing throughout the entire movie. In the scene where Bruce comes back to Gotham under siege to get Lucius, she tells him to “do what is necessary.” I didn’t notice it the first time, but it’s delivered exactly as R’as did in Batman Begins, and it’s pretty clever.
Bane’s Big Boom
The football stadium. A city-wide series of explosions. All but one bridge out of the city demolished. To accomplish this in one sequence, with such wide shots, is nothing short of impressive. It is a massive display of firepower that will be a favorite of the franchise for years to come. This is what Christopher Nolan meant when he said that he was going back to silent era scale.
Lucius Fox and Jim Gordon
Despite everything we’ve said about the incoherent story, the performances were strong. If there’s a theme of this second-look at what worked, there it is. TDKR continues the theme of using Alfred (Michael Caine) as the emotional core of the story, but he leaves half-way through the movie. So it rests on the performances of Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman to be the core of the emotion as Gotham us under siege. And they deliver in their own ways. Freeman with the charm of Fox and Oldman with survive-at-all costs heroism of Jim Gordon.
John Blake on the Bridge
One of the themes that sort of gets buried in all of the other stuff is John Blake’s push-pull relationship with structures and rules. Like Bane, perhaps, he sees the structures of the system as obstacles in the path between him and his goal. This all comes to a head when he tries to get a bus load of orphans across the bridge and out of Gotham and comes up against a cop (played by Dexter alum Desmond Harrington) who just won’t go against orders, no matter the cost. It’s a great scene delivered with ferocity from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the film’s true scene stealers.
Of all the toys that Batman has been given in this trilogy, none has been more consistently spectacular than The Bat-Pod. It’s introduction in The Dark Knight was wicked cool. It even took down a semi truck in spectacular fashion. Here we get more of the ridiculous turning abilities of the bike as it’s wheels spin end-over-end. It jumps, it zooms, it comes in at the last minute to save the day. Make no mistake, The Bat-Pod is still the cool kid on the block. Sorry, The Bat.
The Future of John Blake
Even though much of the path up to it was terribly forced, including a groan-worthy moment in name revelations (seriously, his name had to be Robin?), that last shot does promise something quite cool. I’d love to see a movie in which John Blake takes over the mantle of Batman, struggles with cleaning up the mess Bruce Wayne left behind (those prisoners didn’t just file back into Black Gate, after all) and deals with being the hero without the billionaire resources. That’s a movie I would probably watch, even if Christopher Nolan wasn’t involved.
As you can see, there’s plenty of good to go with the bad. That’s what truly makes a film like The Dark Knight Rises – or a franchise like The Dark Knight Trilogy, for that matter — so much fun. The discussion goes on and on. There are layers upon layers to be enjoyed and scrutinized. Even if I don’t consider TDKR to be a great film, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a film worth talking about.