So, Batman anyone?
There has been a lot of hype for The Dark Knight Rises, mostly because it is director Christopher Nolan’s final outing in the modern batman trilogy. A lot of people have been hotly anticipating this film for quite a while now. As for me, I can’t say that I’ve been looking forward to it. It’s not that I don’t like Batman. Batman is by far my most liked DC superhero. But Nolan’s casting and plot decisions have worried me for some time, especially after the trailer came out. I was concerned about Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Catwoman has a certain personality that comes with the character and I’ve seen nothing in Hathaway’s filmography to suggest that she could play the part. Perhaps what worried me most was the decision to alter Bane’s voice.
Having finally seen the finalised version of the film, would I say that any of those worries were calmed or settled? Unfortunately, I was still disappointed by the final version. Admittedly, the final product was better than I expected but it still felt like it was lacking in parts. At times, while I was watching, I just wanted the film to really come together in a way that it never quite did. It’s not a bad film but it’s a film where you can see all the pieces being set up and you’re basically waiting for Nolan to pull the trigger. For instance, John Drake, I mean, John Blake has several conversations with certain characters that highlight his idealism and insightfulness to the point where very few will be surprised with how his character arc ends. It lacks a natural fluency. You can see it being built up right in front of your eyes.
That might be one of the biggest downfalls of this film. I never quite felt immersed in the film because it seemed like a lot of the devices that go into moving a story forward weren’t really hidden. Usually, when you see a really good film, you leave the film analysing it and talking over the story with your friend. With this movie, I was analysing it while I was watching it. That shouldn’t happen. The viewer should be too busy enjoying themselves to analyse it at that point. But I felt like I couldn’t just enjoy The Dark Knight Rises. Part of that was to do with the very obvious plot points and part of it was due to very strange casting decisions.
An example of one such strange casting decision was Tom Hardy as Bane. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hardy is a tremendous actor and Bane is certainly one of the best things in the film. However, Hardy has such marvellous range with his voice and the mask limits his use of diction and accent. Certain lines actually come off as rather comical, which was off-putting during particularly sober scenes. Other lines are completely muffled. I didn’t catch a word that was said after ‘I am Gotham’s Reckoning’. But Hardy was pretty much limited to using his eyes to convey emotion. Admittedly, he does it effectively, but I’m not sure why Nolan decided to change the mask to what looks like the mechanical offspring of Hannibal’s mouthpiece and the Jigsaw Killer’s Reverse Bear Trap. The distortion hasn’t been cleaned up much since the trailers either. Bane ends up sounding like a robotic Sean Connery.
The other strange cast choice was, as previously mentioned, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. She’s never actually called Catwoman in the film, just ‘The Cat’ in a couple of newspaper headline shots. It’s apt that she’s never called Catwoman because the character isn’t anything like Catwoman. Hathaway actually does very well in the role she’s given but, it’s unfortunate that the role isn’t Catwoman. Catwoman should be sultry and dangerous. Hathaway as Kyle has a sort of sly cheekiness going on when she’s all dressed up but she comes across as a bit pretentious at time. Perhaps the problem with her character stems from the fact that she is never truly depicted as a villain, or at least an anti-hero, as she really should be. At best, she’s misguided. Bruce Wayne, and Batman by extension, treats her like a naughty child who’s just too cute to properly reprimand. So she gets away with all manner of little misdeeds and he just kind of shrugs it off. She’s introduced as an accomplice of Bane but they have barely any interaction.
I don’t want to take anything away from Hathaway because she did a surprisingly good job with the role she was given. But that role wasn’t Catwoman. Some people will argue that it was Nolan’s interpretation of Catwoman but if you deconstruct a character down and start changing certain things about her then at some point the character stops being the character you deconstructed in the first place. For instance, Catwoman wears a full body suit of leather and uses her legs to kick criminals in the face and pin a man’s wrist to the wall. Awesome, right? Well it would be if Nolan decided to show us anything. Instead we get cutting shots between Kyle’s heel pinning the man’s wrist to the wall and her mask-clad face. It feels like Nolan de-sexualised Catwoman. Now, Catwoman isn’t all about sensuality but without even the allure, she feels empty. Hathaway is pretty but she’s not sexy. At least, not how Nolan depicts her.
Those two casting choices are really the worst choices in the whole film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is convincing as Officer John Blake and Marion Cotillard does a good job detracting from the rumours that she’d be playing Talia Al Gaul rather than Miranda Tate. Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine continue to do well with that they’re given. As for Batman himself, well he’s pretty much the least significant thing in his own film. Christian Bale gets to do a lot more of facial acting in this film, as Bruce Wayne gets more of a character arc. And I must admit, I do like how the film bookends with the start. It almost feels as though Nolan didn’t want to do a film with Batman in it at all and actively tried to keep the title character in the background as much as possible.
I can’t really say that The Dark Knight Rises is a bad film. It’s just disappointing. For what should have been the big finale to Nolan’s trilogy, the end result is actually rather systematic. All of the character arcs are there to see and, unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker, I’m never so invested in any of the characters that I can truly switch off and forget I’m sitting in a movie theatre. Many people have called this as definitive an end as you’d likely get for Batman but I don’t think that’s true. The ending makes sense in terms of a lot of character arcs but there’s a certain ambiguity about it that seems to leave things open for a fourth film. But Nolan said this one was his last, right?