The Dark Knight Rises – Review

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotilard and Joseph Gordon Levitt
Released: July 20, 2012

Click here for The Dark Knight Rises official trailer

It was an unenviable task for Christopher Nolan, to try and top the success of The Dark Knight. Expectation for Rises was impossibly high, making it the most highly anticipated film of the year, and one of the most of all time. It reunites the director with many of his Inception cast, as well as the cast from previous films. And it is certainly his most ambitious Batman film to date.
So, the burning question: Is it as good as or better than The Dark Knight?
The Answer?: It’s hard to say

The Plot:
It is 8 years after the death of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. Batman (Bale) has hung up his cape and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in Wayne Manor. He is alive, but not really living, as he has nothing to truly live for.
Until, of course, Gotham city falls under the shadow of a new threat: Bane (Hardy). A hardened mercenary trained by Rhas Al Ghul, he is a tactician that can easily match Batman both physically and mentally. With the help of his colleagues and the morally ambiguous jewel thief, Selina Kyle (Hathaway), the Batman must return, he must become what he was always destined to be. He must Rise.

To ask whether Rises is better than either of the films that preceded it is to miss the point of the trilogy. Nolan isn’t your average Hollywood blockbuster director, he doesn’t boast the tired slogan of Bigger! Better! More Explosions! Rises is a very different journey into Gotham than that of The Dark Knight. It bears far more similarities with Batman Begins, but, again, it doesn’t try to be an imitation of that movie either. Those who fell in love with the chaos and anarchy of the Joker character will probably feel that this is a bit of a step down.

It’s true that there is, surprisingly, not quite as much action this time around. It is a lot more character driven and deals with some deep emotional issues for Batman, his past and his future. There are a number of small flaws to nitpick with in Nolan’s conclusion of The Dark Knight trilogy. The fact that he has proved himself as such a talented filmmaker, and that he is dealing with such a highly anticipated film, makes these flaws especially apparent and easily noticeable. However, it is important not to let them outweigh the very important fact that Rises is an excellent film!

From the very beginning, a sense of finality underlines the tone of the movie (aided, naturally, by the posters indicating how The Legend Ends!). We see Bruce is clearly at breaking point when he is forced to face his most powerful foe. It isn’t so much the fact that Bane can break Batman, the man, but that he has the power to eliminate the symbol that is Batman. Like Bruce rising to become something more in Batman Begins, Rises echoes that concept. He is forced to face demons that were long believed to be conquered, and face the reality that he might not be strong enough to be the hero Gotham needs.

Christian Bale hands in another subtle yet powerful performance, arguably his best yet of the trilogy. Tying in with the theme of the film, it is plain to see that he is suffering. After TDK, he had lost everything. All of Gotham prospers on the shoulders of the lie that it was Batman who committed the crimes of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. He is more of an outcast than ever, and all he has to show for his heroic actions are ageing photographs of his no longer ageing family and friends. A slight furrow in his brow, a look of pained tolerance in early scenes…he is a broken man.

Batman has always been a symbol of power and justice, so Bruce Wayne hides behind the cowl and cape for empowerment. For the first half hour or so, things move quite slowly, but when Batman finally reappears in the film, it is with an absolute burst of energy that resonates from the screen and into the audience. When the ageing cop slyly comments “You’re in for a show tonight, son”, you can’t help but agree!

Adding to this sense of exhilaration is a very nice little surprise in the form of Selina Kyle. Never actually referred to as Catwoman, Anne Hathaway dons the ears and gives a surprisingly bang-on performance as the jewel thief with a soft spot for heroes. Much like Heath Ledgers Joker, many fans were dubious as to whether or not she had the acting chops to pull it off, or even if Catwoman had any place in Nolan’s Bat-universe. Yet her performance is almost certainly the stand-out in the film, as she is playful, sexy (but not excessively so) and utterly captivating when onscreen. And after all, who doesn’t love a beautiful woman riding a Batpod with cannons on the front? (I believe it was Edgar Allan Poe who first asked this question, but then, I am paraphrasing).

On the flip side of the moral coin we have the Big Bad Bane. Speculation and opinions about Hardy’s portrayal of the character have been mixed. On the one hand, he is an excellent choice for a villain, one of the few to be a physical match for Batman. While the Joker will always hold the top spot for the Dark Knight’s nemesis, Bane deserves recognition for, famously in the comic books, breaking the Bat. The fact that he has a tactical mind as well as biceps the size of a sack of melons make him a dangerous foe to be reckoned with.

However, there is some unfortunate baggage that comes with depicting this formidable opponent. There were worries that Hardy was the wrong choice for the role, that he could not fill Bane’s shoes, physically. These doubts were quickly quelled with the release of Warrior, when audiences saw how well he could bulk up. And his physical frame, coupled with his brutality in Rises, is nigh on terrifying. If Joker was a snake, Bane is a rhino. He doesn’t need clever trickery to get his way, because Bane ALWAYS gets his way!

The other issue is with Bane’s mask. Aside from the fact that it is a major restriction for the character, in that he does not have much expression, it also made Bane difficult to understand at first. His voice was modified in the final cut, but it still isn’t perfect. For the most part, it sounds as though he is speaking through a hollow tube, and there are some occasions when, despite the heightened audio, his dialogue can be easy to miss. And while he is an absolute powerhouse of a character, he feels just slightly shortchanged in the final scenes, not quite fulfilling the dramatic intensity one might hope for.

The rest of the cast hand in similarly excellent performances, no less than we would expect at this stage really. Gary Oldman still owns the role of Commissioner Gordon, getting some very emotional material to work with, as well as a few small-but-nice action scenes. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox does a good job, still somewhat condescending yet concerned for his employer. And Michael Caine, as Bruce’s butler Alfred, manages to jump between quirky and heart-wrenchingly sincere, an example of simply masterful acting.

And of course, there are the other newcomers, new love interest Miranda Tate, played capably by Marion Cotillard, and honest street cop Blake, depicted simply terrifically by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Tate seems a little unnecessary for a good portion of the film, simply adding needlessly to an already overwhelming cast. However, her character arc undergoes enough developments to justify her presence in the film. Levitt, meanwhile, is fantastic, a genuinely cool character, and a properly decent guy who is all too easy for the audience to root for.

If there is any one major issue about the film, it is that it is a little too ambitious. With so many characters onscreen, and with so much plot crammed into one movie, it feels just a little messy. The narrative could have been tighter, and it would have certainly benefited from slowing down a little to allow scenes to breath. With the uprising that takes place in the final act, we aren’t given the complete sense of chaos that one might expect in such a scenario. It is jaw dropping, action packed and filled with emotional intensity, sure. Yet, the people of Gotham seem largely absent, and we don’t get a proper sense of how this is affecting the common man which, when you get right down to it, is what Batman’s quest is all about.

Finally, there are also some issues with the finale that fans will, almost undoubtedly, be divided on. However, they simply cannot be written here for fear of spoiling the film. Many fans might feel that Nolan made some wrong choices in these final scenes, but they do make for a fitting end of a trilogy. Aided with the best soundtrack of any of the Batman films so far, he manages to conclude his story in a way that is both emotionally satisfying and pleasantly surprising.

Overall:
It’s a different vein from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but The Dark Knight Rises gets an awful lot right. Every performance is an impressive one, and there is more emotional drama than ever before. There are some action sequences, such as Batman’s encounter with Bane, that will give you goosebumps, whereas others will have your blood racing while you grin like a maniac. There are minor issues with pacing, and Bane, as a character, is a hairs breadth from reaching his full potential, but Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy closes with a resounding and satisfying bang.

Rating: 9/10

I am Gotham’s reckoning…” – Bane

Shamelessly Awful Stuff (no spoilers):

  • The narrative of The Dark Knight Rises is taken from the Batman graphic novels “No Man’s Land”, and “Knightfall”, the story in which Bane famously breaks Batman’s back.
  • There was much speculation regarding the identity of the villain in TDKR before Bane was announced. Rumours included Johnny Depp portraying The Riddler, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as The Penguin and Robin William as Hugo Strange.
  • While shooting Rises, Anne Hathaway’s stunt double accidentally drove into an IMAX camera on the Batpod. This marks the second camera that has been broken on a Chris Nolan movie (and there really aren’t that many…)

  • Anne Hathaway had also been cast as The Black Cat in The Amazing Spiderman which, at the time, was still under Sam Raimi’s direction and was going to be a direct sequel rather than a reboot.
  • “Giant crocodiles” are mentioned at one point in the film. Killer Croc in the 4th film maybe?

  • Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb…
  • Out of respect for Heath Ledger, the Joker is not mentioned at all in TDKR.
  • Overall, Tom Hardy gained 30 pounds of weight for his role, as well as studying various martial arts. That said, the Bane from Batman and Robin was still bigger…

This film is kind of like:

  • Getting a free Porsche with a small scratch on the hood

or

  • Moving out of your family home……..with Batman
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Controversial!
    If it’s not a spoiler, what don’t you agree with?

    • Weeeeell, this may be an unpopular opinion, but your opinion that there were too many characters on-screen/too much plot cramming, essentially that there was a little too much going on, is what I would have said about The Dark Knight. I thought the pace was significantly better measured in this one!

      Then again, I grant you that the populace of Gotham was a little absent and the emotional intensity could have built further, but I think the only way to do so wouldn’t be to tighten up the narrative/cut down on plot or characters, but simply to make the film longer. Which would have been difficult to sell to execs since it’s already almost 3 hours long! I suppose I’m saying that this is the best I expected, and I don’t think further editing/cutting of plot/characters would have improved the film.

      • Hmmm I think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree on those points.

        Might be right about making the film longer though. Probably wouldn’t have been able to sell that, but it’s still an issue

  2. Kudos for getting an Adam West reference in there. Good review, I’m almost entirely in agreement. Almost 🙂


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