I enjoyed Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) when they came out, but never bought into the hype surrounding particularly the latter. Good, yes; revolutionarily brilliant, no. Maybe that’s why I also didn’t feel the great sense of disappointment that has apparently befallen fans of the first two instalments of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) takes place eight years after the last film (longer than real time) ended with Batman as a hunted man, having taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent so Gotham City could have a hero to believe in. The Batman hasn’t been seen since. Bruce Wayne has withdrawn from public life and deteriorated in health. But when Bane, a mysterious figure associated with the League of Shadows, the group whose leader Batman killed in the first film of the trilogy, begins to terrorise Gotham, Wayne feels the need to don the cowl once more.
It goes badly, in keeping both with the comic storyline Bane originated in (the character famously broke Batman’s back) and with one of the motifs of the film: By Batman’s own admission, he is a symbol to the people of Gotham, and his absence is a dereliction of his duties that must be punished. Broken by Bane, Bruce Wayne must go back to his roots and be reborn as the Batman before he can become a symbol of true hope once more, as opposed to the false hope offered by Bane, who gradually takes over the city by pitting the poor against the rich.
The film’s screenplay is competent, if occasionally overzealous, in highlighting this (and other) motif(s), but doesn’t really succeed in developing coherent themes. Unlike The Dark Knight, which might justifiably be said to comment on post-9/11 concerns about privacy and the trustworthiness of government and commerce, its sequel merely hints at issues like the growing income disparity, and contents itself with platitudes regarding human propensities for chaos and revenge.
In the end, the film is a fitting capper to its series in that it’s well-made action cinema that takes itself a little too seriously but makes up for that with good acting and a thrilling plot. Despite the almost three-hour running time, the movie never really becomes boring. The viewer is swept along from destruction to more destruction, driven by Hans Zimmer’s effective but unmemorable score. I’m writing this review a few days after watching the film for the first time, and couldn’t really describe more than a few action set-pieces to you. I was satisfied in the moment, though.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) has less lofty ambitions and certainly can’t be accused of taking itself too seriously. In this sequel, Holmes is annoyed at his heterosexual life partner Watson for getting married – and thus leaving the game – before they’ve had a chance to catch his arch-nemesis Moriarty in the act. Because said villain is very clever but apparently also stupidly vindictive, Watson of course does end up joining the chase to foil his dastardly plans, after all. Is it a spoiler to say that they succeed and Moriarty fails? Not really.
If you want to watch this film looking for an intriguing cat-and-mouse game between two equally intelligent opponents, look elsewhere. Like its predecessor, A Game of Shadows isn’t anywhere close to a straight adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Instead, it’s another attempt to establish a new superhero franchise inspired by, but not really based on an established literary property. Or history, for that matter; anachronisms abound in both films, perhaps to better facilitate the obligatory explosions.
Both Holmes and Moriarty, as well as their various sidekicks, are only as smart as the plot requires them to be at any given moment. And said plot itself provides only very flimsy excuses to show Holmes and Watson travelling all over Europe at implausible speeds, building up homoerotic tension and escaping lots and lots of bullets (and cannon balls). Because even supporting character deaths are not invested with any particular gravitas, the pretty-to-look-at gratuitously slow-mo action rather quickly becomes exhausting rather than engrossing.
The film is okay while you’re watching it, as a thrillride propelled by its score (once again provided by Hans Zimmer, a man who is often criticised for the same-y-ness of his music, but whose contributions to both the films under discussion in this post are invaluable) and the rapport between Watson and Holmes. But that’s all it is, a bit of rather silly fluff that maybe should have taken itself more seriously.