The Dark Knight Rises

The German word “Originalversion” (“original version,” used to describe movies that are shown in the language or languages they were made in) is in itself at the same time absurdly tautological and weirdly paradox. Something is either an original or it is a version thereof, it can’t be both, if I’ve read my Walter Benjamin right. Of course every copy is its own original, too. But enough about “Copie conforme.” Let’s talk #TDKR.

No spoilers here (except what you already know anyway from the trailers and stuff). There will be a second, spoiler-laden post after this one.

Can you name the other records?

Despite the prominent display of Prince’s dismal, just utterly horrible “Batman” soundtrack (on vinyl!) above my desk, I am not a Batman-fanboy. A fan, maybe. I watched the 60s TV series as a kid (and still, sometimes) and it’s a great, campy pleasure. Before Friday night’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” I had never seen a Batman-movie on the big screen, but I did see all of them, and liked most of them. I remember being into Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” but I haven’t revisited them since the 90s. (I started to watch “Batman” once, ten years ago, but for reasons not entirely to blame on the movie, I couldn’t make it through the whole thing.) I loved Michelle Pfeiffer’s whips-and-chains-and-leather Catwoman (Meow!) long before I knew I loved whips and chains and leather. “Batman Forever” will, well, forever hold a place in my heart as the film that brought us “Kiss From a Rose” (AND “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” which, to this day, is still my favorite U2 song). “Batman and Robin” (not to be confused with Baz Luhrmann’s romantic drama “Batman + Robin”) came and went at a time when I had other things on my mind (I guess?) because I do remember seeing it once on TV but not much else about it.

Looking back at it, I don’t really understand why I wasn’t at least a tiny bit excited when I heard the guy who directed “Memento” was attached to a new Batman-movie. I love “Memento” to all its magnificent, fragmented pieces, but I didn’t connect to Nolan’s follow-up, “Insomnia,” another title I have started but not finished. [The list includes such diverse entries as “Public Enemies,” “Irréversible” and “Once Upon a Time in America” (tldw).]

I only saw “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” once, years after they came out (but still years apart). I remember less of the former than of the latter, but I recall being underwhelmed by both. I was, of course, blown away by Heath Ledger’s Joker, but I had trouble connecting his performance to the rest of the film. And then there are my aforementioned issues with Christian Bale, who, I don’t know, just rubs me the wrong way. Well, he used to, anyway, but more on that later.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is not a movie I had to see in a cinema, but “The Dark Knight Rises,” Originalversion, was one, because it was the first OV shown by Trier’s Broadway Filmtheater in way of their new digital projector, and the more people went, I figured, the more likely they will repeat the process. (Luckily, the house was full on Friday, so my hopes are up. I’m guessing “Prometheus” will be next.)

Which brings us – at last! – to the movie. “The Dark Knight Rises.” Did I like it? I’m not sure. I did not not like it. But there were a few – too many, maybe – things that didn’t work for me. It wasn’t so much “This is bad,” but “This could be better.”

Tom Hardy plays the villain, Bane, although you’d hardly know it from looking at him. I have great admiration for Hardy (Have you seen “Bronson” yet? No? Watch “Bronson.” It’s okay, I’ll wait. … Done? Hardy is awesome, right? So awesome.), but Bane just doesn’t work. And it’s not Hardy’s fault. Laurence Olivier himself couldn’t have done much better behind that damn mask. What we are denied of Hardy’s face and expression we are given doubly so of his voice, which is booming loud and distorted and confusingly disconnected from Bane’s body. Hardy chose to record Bane’s lines in a crazy, over the top fashion that sounded to me like he wasn’t really interested in the performance, and, having to ADR most if not all of his dialogue, he is, after all, literally phoning it in. You’ve all seen “Bronson,” you know how well Hardy can do over the top. Here, though? Not working.

Christian Bale also has to wear a mask and speak in a silly voice (Inexplicably, even when no one else is around or he is talking to someone who knows he’s Bruce Wayne, Batman will still not use his normal voice. Drives me crazy!), but thankfully not all the time. Between the reclusive, unkempt Bruce Wayne we meet when the film starts and the broken, tortured Wayne in later parts of the film, we get one or two scenes of Bruce Wayne, eccentric millionaire playboy, and I really wish there had been more of those. (It’s the same with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man: More millionaire playboy, less man in a bodysuit and face-mask, please!) As the batman (I love how they never call him “Batman,” always “the batman”) Bale growls away his lines without much room for range or emotion, which is, again, not the actor’s fault but the character’s. A man wearing that costume will always come across inherently silly, but I found Bale’s Batman to be the most believable I’ve seen, so far. (I’d be interested to know whether they apply make-up to Bale’s face when he’s in the suit differently than when he’s playing Bruce Wayne. There always has to be some suspension of disbelief when it comes to accepting that people don’t recognize Bruce behind that mask, but it worked very well here, I thought.)

Speaking of costumes, I loved what they did with Catwoman, Anne Hathaway’s character. Of course the skintight suit is nice and sexy, but what I found most clever was how they gave her these glasses that, when she flipped them up, turn into cat ears. Genius. (Now if only I knew why she needs the glasses in the first place…) Going into “The Dark Knight Rises,” I wasn’t sure what kind of performance I was to expect from Hathaway. “Rachel Getting Married,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar (and lost to Kate Winslet, what a ripoff!), is the most important and powerful film I know, and one of the reasons I love it so much is that when I watch it I don’t see Anne Hathaway, I see Kym. (Another good example for this is Meg Ryan’s Sally, who I don’t think of as Meg Ryan, at all.) So I knew Anne Hathaway to be a good actress, but I’ve also seen her in movies like “Love and Other Drugs” or hosting the Oscars, where she didn’t shine quite as bright.

All of which is to say: Anne Hathaway is the single best thing about “The Dark Knight Rises.” Selina Kyle is the most real, genuine believable person in all of Gotham City, which may not sound like much of a challenge, but don’t forget that you’ve got people like Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles. The talent is there, but Hathaway’s (and to a lesser extent Bale’s and Gordon-Levitt’s) is the only one that is used to its full potential. It’s great to know that her performance in and recognition for “Rachel” wasn’t a mere fluke…

… unlike, let’s say, Marion Cotillard’s Oscar for “La vie en rose.” The more I’ve seen of Cotillard’s subsequent work the more I am convinced that the praise for her performance as Edith Piaf belongs to the make-up and costume departments (and good timing – not much competition here). I didn’t like her much in Nolan’s “Inception,” but in “The Dark Knight Rises,” she gives easily the worst performance of the movie, and she has no mask to blame it on or hide behind. Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a basically pointless character. She is used to set some of the plot in motion, which could have been done by any of the other new or existing characters, and given some last minute back story and retroactive purpose that the film could have done without (and that don’t make much sense if you think about them for more than a second. One of her last scenes was acted (and executed) so badly that it garnered mocking laughs from the audience – and it was not supposed to be funny.

One much more welcome addition to the already crowded cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a hot-headed beat cop who continues to believe in Batman long after Gotham has given up on the Caped Crusader. For much of the movie Blake is the main hero, fighting for the city when Batman is not there to do so. I liked that he isn’t degraded to the role of Batman’s sidekick, a part that, if you look at a character like Robin from the TV show or the Joel Schumacher films, usually only serves the function of getting into trouble and then rescued by Batman. Fortunately, Blake is no Robin. He doesn’t need Batman to rescue him, he takes actions into his own hands. Gordon-Levitt lends great authenticity to the role, you really believe his motivation and earnest conviction to do good. If Anne Hathaway isn’t reason enough for you to see “The Dark Knight Rises,” see it for Gordon-Levitt. (Of course it helps that they are both so easy on the eyes, as well.)

The film owes a chunk of its 164 minute running time to the host of secondary and tertiary characters, from Caine’s Arthur and Freeman’s Lucius Fox, who sadly never disappear into their roles but always stay Caine and Freeman, to Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon (Oldman does his best with what is a limited character, but I keep forgetting he is in these films) to Matthew Modine as Foley, Gordon’s Deputy Commissioner. Modine is great, but his scenes felt like ones you’d put into an Extended Cut, something for the fans but not essential to the story.

There are other things Nolan could have stripped from the movie (several scenes in a desert prison did not further the plot and it was clear from the get-go how they would turn out), but to the director’s credit I never felt the movie was too long, just longer than it needed to be.

The action and fight sequences are well done and a joy to watch on a big screen with a good sound machine. (Broadway’s new projector and sound system weren’t quite up to the task; I noticed a lot of image noise and distorted sound.) Bane and Batman’s first fight in the sewers of Gotham takes a page from the “They Live” playbook, with no score, no fancy angles, just two dudes punching each other – well, mostly one dude punching the other one, really. Chase scenes in various Bat-vehicles (including a flying one that reminded me too much of those flying things James Cameron puts into allofhis… movies) are fast and fun and easy to follow (sometimes with these kinds of movies the action is presented in a way that I have no idea who is fighting whom at any given moment). The film opens with a stunning aerial set piece aboard (and outside) a plane in-flight that looked exciting but lacked the human element Heath Ledger’s Joker brought to the much more memorable opening scene of “The Dark Knight.”

On the technical side this movie is as good as it gets. The sets are gorgeous, Wally Pfister’s camera moves effortlessly, Hans Zimmer’s score is adequately pompous (could have done with less chanting, though), the sound design and editing works well for the most parts, Bane’s voice being the huge exception.

In conclusion: (Hi there, people who have scrolled past the above 2,000 words!) You don’t need me to tell you to see or not see “The Dark Knight Rises.” Your mind was made up the first time you saw the trailer, or even before that. If you’re not sure if it’s worth the ten bucks (or whatever it costs where you are) to see the film on the big screen, I say go for it. Yes, it’s flawed, but it’s also very entertaining, and big in a way a summer blockbuster should be. Plus: Anne Hathaway.

I’ll leave it at that. (I’ve written about one word for every 8 seconds of the movie!) I have some thoughts left that go deep into spoiler territory and maybe even a few more about the unfortunate shadow the Aurora shooting has laid over “The Dark Knight Rises,” but that is for another time.

If you’ve read this far, I’d love to hear what you think, both of the movie and my take on it. I enjoyed writing this, and I’d like to do more long articles in the future. Tell me if I’m wasting my time.

(Kommentare dürfen natürlich auch auf Deutsch geschrieben werden!)


3 thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises

  1. Das entspricht schon ziemlich genau meiner Meinung. Ich wüsste nur noch gerne, was du denn zu den politischen Aspekten denkst, zu der ganzen Stimmung (deine Kritik ist sehr figurenzentriert), aber vielleicht kommt das ja noch in einem nächsten Artikel?
    Also, eine Leserin hast du in Zukunft auf jeden Fall sicher, wenn du wieder so etwas schreibst :) Da es angenehm zu lesen ist, ist die Länge gar nicht so schlimm.

    • Gute Kritik meiner Kritik, in der Tat hätte ich mehr auf die Handlung und die Thematik eingehen können. Denke aber auch, dass so etwas besser geht, wenn man den Film als Ganzes betrachtet, was ohne Spoiler sicher nur schwer möglich ist. Vielleicht sehe ich den Film heute Abend noch mal, aber auch wenn nicht werde ich bestimmt noch etwas dazu zu sagen haben.

  2. Toller Artikel, gut geschrieben, und ich kann mich der Meinung größtenteils anschließen.
    Mich hab am meisten gestört dass ich die Motivation der Schurken in keinster Weise verstanden hab. Wofür wollten die sich und alle anderen umbringen?

    Die Katzenohren hab ich übrigens als Nachtsichtbrille interpretiert. Und stimme zu dass hier zum ersten Mal eine Catwoman glaubhaft und sinnvoll ist. Michelle und Halle waren auch heiß, aber die Katzenhaftigkeit war komplett unmotiviert.

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