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The Dark Knight falls: Why Nolan's new Batman movie is irreparably broken

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Screenshot - 1114925

If I had to summarize my feelings toward The Dark Knight Rises in one word, it would be “disappointment.” Disappointment, or possibly boredom. Four years have passed since Christopher Nolan gave us the outstanding yet somewhat long-winded film The Dark Knight (which tragically marked the death of celebrated actor Heath Ledger), and suspense grew in that time. But when the moment finally came for him to rise, Batman didn’t.

Upon reflection, The Dark Knight Rises’ central flaw is its inability to define itself as its own movie. Yes, this is the end of a trilogy, and Nolan expertly binds all three together and reaches a final high note in the film’s last minutes that few other directors could manage. He pulls images and memories together to create new meaning, from young Bruce’s fall down the bat hole in the first movie to his climb to freedom in this one — from Ra’s Al Ghul’s death to his resurrection through others. Nolan knows how to tie three movies together, like a weaver with ribbon.

But a pretty ribbon is just a dressing, and Nolan’s movie suffers from much deeper problems. Mostly, it fails to establish its own unique identity, mood, and narrative brilliance, whereas both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight do so effortlessly.

TDKR Bane

Batman Begins, a visually darker and more muddy film than The Dark Knight, also features a musical score that is distinguishable from The Dark Knight’s, even though they’re composed by the same people: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. From a standpoint of cinematography, The Dark Knight Rises looks and sounds nearly identical to its predecessor. Not enough effort went into making it a fresh experience, although the final stretch of the film does introduce new themes in the score. Those are moments that give the film spark, but too late.

Take the theatrical trailer for The Hobbit, for example. Instead of relying on The Lord of the Ring’s iconic main theme, the makers of the film reinvented the sounds of Middle-Earth, constructing a new identity for a new movie. Only at the end do we hear echoes of Peter Jackson’s famous trilogy, allowing viewers to connect new to old and rekindle memories of epic fantasy battles and long roads home. We can appreciate The Hobbit for what it is without wanting to see Gandalf, Bilbo, Galadriel, and the other characters as they were before, replaying the same scenes with the same emotion.

That’s exactly what The Dark Knight Rises fails to do. It borrows the second movie’s music, drama, and violence, but without originality or passion. Alfred (Michael Caine) delivers the same speeches, but his tears don’t mean nearly as much. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is different — he walks with a cane and is a little unpracticed — but his voice is still too gruff, and he spends most of the movie not only out of his suit, but also out of the picture.

TDKR Bruce and Alfred

Characters like Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) are new to Nolan’s films, and Hathaway steals the show while Cotillard is at least watchable, if not particularly engrossing, but the real lead of the movie is little more than an unconvincing eccentric: Bane.

Bane (Tom Hardy) tries to strike horror into our hearts in the same way that the Joker did: with murder, flamboyance, robbery, and tricks against the police, Batman, and audience alike. But Nolan doesn’t put the same love and care into making him a genuinely terrifying villain. With Ledger’s Joker, I both laughed and sat silent, filled with horror and anger often all in the same scene. Bane’s is not a performance that makes me react. His is a performance that makes me cringe at Hardy’s awful attempt at a voice and then bores me with his take on morals and the state of the world. The Dark Knight did this much better, and not just because I could actually hear and understand what the actors were saying during scenes of importance.

Hardly anyone made me laugh this time. There were no pencil tricks to be found.

TDKR Selina Kyle

You might say that I’m unfairly holding silver next to gold and wondering why it doesn’t shine and glimmer as brightly, but remember that The Dark Knight was a film created by Christopher Nolan, a person who started a film series, did well, and then improved in every respect. He was original. He was fascinating. Every performance was inspiring, every scene was mesmerizing, and every act was believable.

The Dark Knight Rises feels like a rehashing of Nolan’s greatest achievements, done half as well at best. And it’s hard not to compare when every note, every cinematographic shot, and every character reminds you of those done better in a film four years their senior.

Where did Nolan go wrong? His heart wasn’t in this one, and it showed. The film started to gain momentum in the last 45 minutes of its 164-minute (that’s nearly three hours) runtime, but that’s not good enough. The Dark Knight was captivating from start to finish, and it lasted only 12 minutes fewer.

TDKR Bane Fight

“The Legend Ends,” reads the tagline for The Dark Knight Rises. Perhaps so, but perhaps it ended as soon as Ledger passed away, the cast grieved, and Nolan wondered how he could possibly top one film, let alone two.

GameZone writer Robert Workman awarded The Dark Knight Rises five stars in his review. Where do you stand?

Follow @wita on Twitter for tales of superheroes, plumbers in overalls, and literary adventures.

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Stephanie Carmichael Twitter: @wita
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