Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Third movies in film franchises are tricky things. With very few exceptions, they’re usually over-the-top, style-over-substance affairs that exemplify poor storytelling. With regards to “superhero” movies, the odds are even worse — just about every third superhero movie has been met with mediocre to disastrous reviews. The reasons for this are many (executive meddling, higher expectations, trying to tie off too many loose ends), but one of the biggest reasons is the crew (and especially, the director) attempting to top themselves. It’s tricky because sequels usually try to do “bigger and better,” but when you’re making a sequel to a sequel, you’ve already been there. The only option is to go even larger, but the characters are often lost in these epic notions. Of course, when you’ve already made one of the highest grossing movies of all-time (as Chris Nolan did with The Dark Knight), how do you even get bigger? Can you simultaneously raise the stakes, but keep the characters central to the story without taking too many shortcuts?

If you’re Chris Nolan, yes, you can.

The Dark Knight Rises is Chris Nolan’s sequel to The Dark Knight, itself a sequel to Batman Begins. If that sounds convoluted, it somewhat is — I wouldn’t recommend seeing Rises without seeing the first two films. Unlike some movies, which try to remain accessible to new audience members with each installment, TDKR builds on and directly references events from the preceding movies. That’s not to say you can’t go into The Dark Knight Rises with fresh eyes — just know that you will miss out on a lot of the world-building that Nolan and his team have masterfully accomplished over the years. Of course, even with the first two films out of the way, TDKR spends a lot of its first hour in exposition mode. It’s not as crazy as Nolan’s previous film, Inception, which had a lot of explaining to do, but, compared to the final two-thirds of The Dark Knight Rises, the movie spends a lot of time trying to get you up to speed.

Bruce has been in hiding for eight years and is just itching to crack some skulls.

And this is not a short movie, either. At nearly three hours in length, The Dark Knight Rises will test the limits of many people’s bladder control. It’s a bit extreme, but Nolan mostly uses his time well. In fact, despite its long length, the film almost feels like it may be a tad too short. The movie rushes forward at an unstoppable pace, throwing event after event and character upon character at you. If this movie has a flaw (and it has very few), it’s biggest one is rushing through a few plot devices and characters a little too fast. Some characters make a few decisions or discoveries that should’ve taken them longer to do so, but, given Rises‘s length, a little believability had to be thrown out the window at the expense of time. It’s not a huge sacrifice, and TDKR still very much exists in Nolan’s “real” world, but it’s worth mentioning.

Despite the headlong pace of the movie, however, The Dark Knight Rises always keeps its characters in mind. Bruce Wayne is tested even more than he was during the events of The Dark Knight, and Gotham City faces even darker times than before (despite beginning under more hopeful circumstances). A new, fascinating villain arrives on the scene in the form of Bane, a hulking, always-masked mercenary of sorts. I’ll get this out of the way real quick — No, he’s not the Joker. Heath Ledger’s take on the villain was iconic, to be sure, but Joker has always been Batman’s arch-nemesis. Nobody else would have the same kind of charisma or chemistry. That being said, Tom Hardy takes a B-list villain from the Batman comics and turns him into a terrifying force that is as ruthless as he is interesting to watch. It’s amazing to see how well Hardy can emote with simple things like inflection and body posture (which is all he has to work with, given the giant thing covering his face).

Bane is a huge presence, but he’s not the steroid-pumped Hulk from the comics. (And that’s a good thing.)

The other big addition to the cast worth mentioning is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (I won’t say “Catwoman,” as the name isn’t used once during the film). Not being a huge fan of the character in other forms of Batman media, I was surprised by just how enjoyable Hathaway was to watch as the thieving antiheroine. Both Nolan and Hathaway deserve credit for developing a character that simultaneously stays true to the source material, but changes enough to make her more likable (and less focused on being scantily clad). In fact, Nolan somehow pulls off telling a convincing backstory for Selina Kyle without really trying to. We get more screen time focused on Bane’s backstory, but the little bit we get of Kyle’s tells us all we need (and, I would argue, more effectively). There are plenty of other new comers to the cast in TDKR, and they all do a commendable job, but none stand out quite as much as Bane and Selina Kyle. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Michael Caine as Alfred are as solid as ever, though they feel slightly underused in the first and second halves, respectively.

Great performance from Hathaway, but if the cops were really intent on catching her, I’m sure the Incredibles-style mask wouldn’t stump too many.

The final bit to analyze here is the story. The Dark Knight Rises succeeds in giving the dark, deep, and complex stories we’ve come to expect from Nolan’s Batman. Of particular note is the wide array of ups and downs TDKR has in store. The “Rises” clarifier of the title couldn’t be any less appropriate. In his final Batman film, Nolan really grapples with what makes a hero keep going — even after he’s been defeated. At the beginning of the film, Bruce Wayne is still grieving the loss of Rachel (his love interest from the first two films) and of Harvey Dent (one of his former allies in his war on crime). Eventually, the need for Batman’s return arrives, which means Bruce must overcome some personal demons. Of course, it’s never that simple, and after slowly revealing more and more of Bane’s plot, the film introduces an endgame that promises to test Wayne more than he ever has been before. This is Gotham (and subsequently, Bruce Wayne) at its genuine darkest. The Dark Knight had its moments of despair, but The Dark Knight Rises ups the ante in such a decided way, it’s obvious that this is Nolan’s final take on the Batman mythos.  It’s dark, bleak, and it really works.  The strength of the characters really comes through, and it’s fascinating seeing the lengths that some of them are willing to go.  Once Rises gets going, you can’t look away until that final scene.

Objectively, The Dark Knight Rises is easily the most “comic book-y” of all Nolan’s films. There are a few masked characters, the stakes reach a point that may or may not be possible in our “real world,” and the film has an obvious “MacGuffin.” Those who appreciated the “comic bookishness” of Batman Begins will no doubt adore what they see here, but those who only really cared for The Dark Knight‘s gritty realism may find themselves ever so slightly disappointed (To me, The Dark Knight always felt more like a crime drama than a superhero film anyway).  Still, TDKR does right by Batman — successfully adapting a large amount of Batman lore, but changing it for Nolan’s more grounded take.  In fact, Rises probably contains even more Batman-related “Easter Eggs” than both Begins and The Dark Knight.  The fans will definitely eat it up.

The Dark Knight Rises is the culmination of three of the best comic-to-movie adaptions of all time.  For that reason alone, you should see it, but simply leaving it there would be selling Rises short.  All three of Nolan’s Batman films are dark, intelligent, masterfully executed, and push the envelope of what a “superhero” movie (or even an action movie) can be.  As a standalone film, it may not be the best in the series (I still give the edge to The Dark Knight, as it shows Batman in his prime), but as the conclusion to the series, it couldn’t be much better.  The ending is especially poignant in light of all that happens across the three movies.  It’s the ending the series deserves and the one it needed — providing substantial payoff to anyone who’s stuck with it this long.  Despite some minor flaws, The Dark Knight Rises easily cements Nolan’s Batman as the best superhero trilogy ever made.


~ by digitallysmitten on August 2, 2012.

One Response to “Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises”

  1. I completely agree with all statements made above. The character development throughout this series, the deep themes in the story, and it’s masterful execution make it rise (haha) above the rest for sure.

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