Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Every generation gets its own Batman, and perhaps each generation gets the Batman it deserves.

When movies are part of a set, like this one is, it’s hard to judge each one on its own merits, and there were a lot of high expectations from “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third movie in the most recent Batman trilogy.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why. “The Dark Knight” was indeed a great movie, with a virtuoso performance from the late Heath Ledger, but it lagged a bit in portions and featured an indifferent-to-just-bad performance from Maggie Gyllenhaal. Its aspirations toward an intellectual understanding of Batman and the nature of good and evil were worthy, though, and for the most part they were successful.

That’s not easy to do, and I’m not sure why anyone would think it could easily happen twice in a row. A great movie, yes. But not OMG AWESOME THE BEST MOVIE EVAR.

“The Dark Knight Rises” doesn’t quite ascend to that level, partly because it gets bogged down rather quickly with an enjoyably complex plot involving a full-scale war led by Bane, an intelligent, politically-astute warlord with great leadership skills.

It was an inspired choice to make Bane (Tom Hardy) the villain, but the film made one critical, critical mistake it only partially recovered from partway through the movie. That mistake was the design of Bane’s mask.

Poor Tom Hardy. Not only did he have to live up to the inevitable comparisons with Heath Ledger’s Joker from Dark Knight, but they expected him to do it with nearly the entire bottom half of his face covered up. That’s a pretty significant handicap for an actor.

And Bane is no Joker. He’s meant to be a more serious character. Saddling him with a still-slightly-cartoonish mask made it hard for the audience to find him even slightly credible. Hardy’s bizarre accent (which reminded me of Sean Connery’s in “The Untouchables”) did not help, although it might’ve been all right if it hadn’t been filtered through that stupid mask.

Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman fared a bit better, though I wished there had been more for her to do in the film. I kept getting the feeling there was more there, but the plot called for focus to stay on Bane, so we didn’t get to see it.

To be fair, the movie was extremely long, and like its predecessor it did drag a bit sometimes. Director Christopher Nolan seems to have become a victim of his own success in some measure–people seem to have been over-reluctant to cut away some of the fluff. Writers must sometimes edit out their favorite sentences and kill their darlings; filmmakers must do the same, and not enough of it was done in “Dark Knight Rises.”

There was much to like about the movie, however. The film’s ties to “A Tale of Two Cities” were interesting, and the depiction of a full-scale war of sorts in Gotham City was fascinating.

The supporting cast was stellar, as it was in “The Dark Knight.”

Gary Oldman is the best of all as Commissioner Gordon, who has to make tough choices throughout the movie, and bears the consequences as an adult conscious of the moral weight of his actions.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays a thoughtful young cop, willing to take risks to do what’s right. He has a great character arc.

Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Batman’s Q.We don’t get to see a lot of him in this movie, and perhaps that’s because we don’t need to. When he’s there, he’s key, of course.

Michael Caine’s Cockney-accented Alfred classes up the whole dang movie. This is no Jeeves, ladies and gentlemen. This is a man who takes his obligations seriously, and tries to give the best advice he can, given his awkward position as father figure and servant.

Marion Cotillard was totally wasted on this film, but really, when you had so many other characters who were marvellous, that seems like a minor quibble.

Oh, and Christian Bale turned in another credible performance as Batman and the ever-tortured Bruce Wayne, who has become a sort of mini-Howard Hughes in between the two movies. Dark, yes, but still sarcastic and happily for the audience, surprisingly non-angsty.

It was well-written and well-acted. The action scenes popped, and while the editing job was somewhat indulgent, arguably that indulgence was earned over the course of three very good Batman movies.

It was not OMG THE BEST MOVIE EVAR!!11!!!!11! Poor Tom Hardy’s mask and permissive editing didn’t allow for that.

But it was a good one, maybe a great one, and definitely worth seeing.