The Dark Knight Rises
Rated: PG-13 (Thematic elements, Violence, Mild sexual content, Brief Language)
Running time: 164 minutes
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
A Warner Bros. Release.
Before I start, let me lay all my cards on the table, okay? I have been a fan of Batman since I was a small child. As I’ve said before, I love comic book movies, but I was never a comic book reader, so I fell in love with the Adam West, high camp version from the ’60s. I waited in line all day for the 1989 Tim Burton version and became a fanatic the same way a large part of the Western world did in that summer. I watched the next three Batman films (Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin) with increasingly dashed hopes. I watched as the neo-Gothic world that Tim Burton had crafted became a neon nightmare and the slick quasi-sharp dialog became a stream of bad puns and forced humor.
As I walked out of the afternoon showing of Batman and Robin in 1998, I couldn’t even pretend that I enjoyed it. I left thinking that Batman as a film character was pretty much finished.
I still remember the feeling I had when I read that Christopher Nolan was going to reboot the franchise in 2005 and that he had signed Christian Bale to take on Bruce Wayne: Elation.
I had followed Nolan since he came out of nowhere with Memento and I had loved the bleak yet beautiful world he had created in Insomnia, so I was excited to see where he would bring the caped crusader in this new take. I had already cheered the casting of Bale based on his work in Equilibrium. If you haven’t seen that film, by all means, close this web site and do so now. After seeing the intensity of his performance in that film, I knew that Bale would bring something that every other screen Batman had lacked: danger.
You would be able to buy that this guy would put on a cape and cowl and hunt down the scum of Gotham city night after night.
In June of 2005, I was proven right when Batman Begins gave what is possibly the greatest re-set of a hero’s legend that I’ve ever seen. Batman Begins did what no other Batman film had done, it showed us WHY Bruce Wayne would become Batman and HOW exactly he would actually go about doing that. In every other film, he just WAS Batman and he just HAD all those wonderful gadgets. Jack Nicholson asked the question we were all thinking in the ’89 film, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” Batman Begins gave us the answer. And it was a pure joy to watch. And unlike all the other films, it put the focus on Batman, not the villains.
In 2008, Nolan delivered on the promise of Batman Begins and unleashed The Dark Knight. It’s easy to get caught up in Heath Ledger’s almost legendary performance as The Joker, and rightfully so. It is one for the history books. For the first time in screen history, The Joker was actually frightening. He left you unsettled. It is a performance that is in the same league as Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.
It really is that good.
However, The Joker is only one part of that film. It is a masterful film from the first frame to the last and it was the first film and so far, only film to show us what a battle between a Superhero and a Super Villain looks like from street level. We see the siege of Gotham from the eyes of the police out there as well as the regular people and even the gangsters. It is an epic battle between chaos and order that is fought on a city wide battlefield. That had never been done before and it was like a pure rush.
Now, in 2012, comes the final chapter in this epic trilogy and all the trailers and posters have said in no uncertain terms that this is the END of the Dark Knight legend, and even though we all know that Warner Brother and DC Comics are going to make Batman films in the future, there is an air of finality that surrounds this film that is uncommon in the comic book film world.
That leads us to the point of this review: is The Dark Knight Rises a worthy follow-up to The Dark Knight? Does is stand on its own? Does the overcrowding that plagues almost every third film in a series rear its head here?
I will try and answer these questions without spoiling anything because you should really discover the joys of this film for yourself and as unspoiled as possible.
First of all, Yes. It is a worthy follow-up to TDK. It isn’t a rehash of TDK though. It is its own thing. It does suffer from a lack of a stand out, history making performance like Heath Ledger’s, and if that was the only thing you liked about TDK then you won’t find much to love here. This is a film that re-centers the attention back on Batman/Bruce Wayne much like Batman Begins did. In many ways, though this is the third film, it is more of a direct sequel to Batman Begins. In fact, if you haven’t seen this film yet and want to do a little catch up, you really need to watch Batman Begins. You need to watch that more so than even TDK. All you really need to remember about TDK is that Rachel Dawes died and Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s crimes.
Everything else really ties back to Batman Begins.
Set 8 years after the events of TDK, this film opens to find Bruce Wayne a broken man. Broken in spirit after the death of his beloved Rachel at the hands of The Joker and broken in body from the abuse of fighting the scum of Gotham city night after night. In fact, the first 20 minutes of this film really drive home the point that Batman doesn’t have super powers at all. He is all too human and the toll it has on his body is considerable.
The appearance of a masked terrorist named Bane and a sexy cat burglar who he catches stealing pearls from his locked safe and lifting his fingerprints from that same safe are what bring Bruce back from his self-imposed exile and drive him to once again don the cape and cowl and return to the streets as Batman.
This is really just the jumping off point of the film and there are so many detours, side plots and sub plots that to tell you much more would be to venture into spoiler territory and that would be unfortunate because this is a film that you need to just experience for yourself. In a lot of ways, it is like a novel. There are lots of characters and a lot of things to keep track of, but it’s never cluttered.
Of the three films, I think this film has the least amount of Batman in it. It’s at the 45 minute mark that he first appears and there is a long stretch in the middle where he is absent, but his presence if felt all through the film. And this is not to say that it’s boring. It is not boring in any way. And, without giving anything away, let me just say that the 3rd act is a doozy.
The single greatest complaint about TDK was that it kind of sputtered out in the last act. After the midtown chase and the truck flipping and the whole middle section of the film, people found the ending to be anti-climactic. That is NOT something people will be saying about The Dark Knight Rises. The 3rd act is an epic battle between good and evil that almost literally tears the city of Gotham down.
A few words about the performances:
Christian Bale is simply amazing here. This is by far his best turn as Bruce Wayne. He has a great arc here as a man who begins the film broken and wounded and slowly over the course of the film, pulls himself up and rebuilds himself. By the end of the film, you can see who he is and where he started at the beginning of not only this film, but the entire trilogy and you can see he is a different person. A great performance.
Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman always class up whatever project they are in, and here is no different. Alfred is the one constant in Bruce’s life … a father figure who has always been there and always stood beside him. Their relationship goes to some tense places in this, but the underlying love and affection that Alfred has for Bruce is always present and just under the surface. Morgan Freeman always brings charm and a quiet dignity to Lucius Fox, the man who actually makes all those wonderful toys that Batman uses. Here, in a very dark film, he gets to have a lot of fun as he attempts to get Mr. Wayne “back in the game” and I think he is one of the great unsung heroes in these films.
Tom Hardy as Bane is a force of nature. His Bane is a monster. A monster with an elegant way with words. He does a lot with very little here because his face is trapped behind a mask and all the emotion he conveys is done with his eyes. It is common knowledge that Nolan and Warner Bros. did a lot of tweaking to his voice before the release to make it more understandable. I think they did almost too good a job. At times it seems like the voice is too loud in the mix. Too out front and too clear. It’s a small quibble and not something that takes me out of the film, but it is a distraction at times. There is a scene late in the film where Batman and Bane meet on the steps of city hall and they are surrounded by thousands of men fighting all around them and between Bane’s masked voice and Batman’s growl it almost strains credulity that they would even begin to be able to hear each other. It’s a small thing but it is something I thought about. As a performance though, Tom Hardy delivers a knockout punch in the role. There is a scene late in the film where he is saying goodbye to someone he really cares about and this person just touches his mask as they say farewell and the emotion in just his eyes is astounding.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) was the one big question mark in the cast. Last spring the interwebs were all abuzz with fanboys worrying that she couldn’t handle the roll and she would never be a good Catwoman … you know, all the normal talk that happens when someone casts a film differently than the one each fanboy is making in their heads. I remember back to late 2006 and early 2007 when Nolan cast Heath Ledger as The Joker. The screaming and gnashing of teeth about that was like a thunderstorm in the ether. How dare they cast the gay cowboy from Brokeback Mountain as an iconic character? It’s funny how everyone has a short memory when it comes to stuff like that. We all know how well that casting choice went. I have enough faith in Chris Nolan that I held my lounge in regards to Anne Hathaway and as it turns out, there was nothing to worry about. She is one of the best parts about this film. Whenever she is on screen, and especially when she is on screen with Batman/Bruce Wayne, the movie crackles in a way it did when The Joker was on screen with Batman/Bruce Wayne. They have great chemistry together and however many scenes she is in, you wish she was in that many again. Going into the film, I didn’t really worry about Catwoman, because I do have a lot of faith in Nolan’s casting choices and I knew that whatever he saw in Anne Hathaway, it would prove to be a good fit inside the film.
Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate is a character that is hard to write about. She’s very good in the film, but the character itself feels to me like it only exists to give the film a plot engine going into the last act. Although I’m almost certain that most of the diehard fans already know the twist that she is involved in, I’m still not going to talk about it because it does contain massive spoilers for the end of the film. Let’s just say that there is more to her than meets the eye and she gives a fine performance that is actually better when you see the film for the second time and you can see just how subtle she is in the role.
Gary Oldman as James Gordon is simply astounding in this. Besides Bruce Wayne, Gordon is the character who has lost the most in these films. He is broken in spirit and the guilt of the lie concocted by him and Batman at the end of TDK is eating him from the inside out. Watching his rebirth as this film goes on is wondrous to behold. Gary Oldman has been over the top in a lot of films and is most known before these films as the bad guy trying to kill a young Natalie Portman in The Professional, he was also way over the top in The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, Romeo Is Bleeding and twenty other films but here he gives such a solid and almost quiet performance as Jim Gordon that you really need to go and watch him in something else; check him out as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films, and watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and then realize that this is the SAME GUY.
Last but not least is the character of John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This is another tricky character to write about. On the page, this guy could be very dull. He’s an honest cop in a corrupt city. A man without secrets in a city and a movie that is choking on them. He plays a pivotal role in the film and as the film went on, I realized why Nolan cast Gordon-Levitt. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface with him as an actor and he is just interesting to watch on film. He can play earnest without it becoming sappy. He can give a speech about being a hero and how the city needs a hero and deliver it in such a way that it doesn’t sound like an after-school special. As with most characters in the film, I have to be careful not to say too much about him, but it is fair to say that John Blake makes quite an impression in the film and the same can be said for Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is becoming one of my favorite actors working today.
In closing, let me remind you that, though this film wasn’t shot 3D (thank God), over 72 minutes were filmed in true IMAX with Imax cameras and this is a film that really doesn’t need to be watched on a tiny screen or, God forbid, a computer screen. In fact, if at all possible, I would urge you to see this on an IMAX screen. The film is just beautiful to look watch. Christopher Nolan fills the screen with huge images. The vast skyline of Gotham is majestic and there are scenes that are so rich and textured that you wish you could capture them and frame them as art.
Christopher Nolan has really stuck the landing on this one. He made a film that stands on its own merits and fits nicely as the ending of this trilogy. It avoids the dreaded 3rd film curse, you know the one. Watch Spider-Man 3 or X-Men 3 to see just how far off the rails a movie can go. It is not just a rehash of TDK, which would have been tempting to do after that film made a billion dollars, but Nolan makes the film he wanted to make. He made an amazing film. A serious film. A film that makes you cheer even as you’re sad that this is the end. It gets so much right that it feels petty to talk about the few things it gets wrong.
I’ve seen this film 3 times now, and I’ve seen the last act probably a dozen times (I work at a theater and it’s on 7 screens) and after a lot of thought and after writing and rewriting this review a few times, I stand by my assessment that The Avengers is still the single best comic book movie I’ve ever seen. That’s high praise and it is in no way a knock against this film. See, to my way of thinking, The Avengers is light, snappy and fun. Things a great comic book movie, and hell, things a great MOVIE should be.
But The Dark Knight Rises continues the themes of The Dark Knight before it. It is dark and brooding. At its core are characters that do not have super human powers, they only have the power of conviction. The conviction that Gotham city deserves to die and burn (Bane) and the conviction that this city and by extension, this world is worth saving and fighting for (Batman, Gordon and the rest). It is a film about ideas and loss. It’s a film about what it takes to really pull ourselves up and find the strength to carry on. It’s a film about loss and betrayal. A film about redemption. A film about good versus evil. A film that will stay with you long after the lights have come up and Hans Zimmer’s pounding score has faded to memory.
The Avengers is the best comic book movie I’ve seen this year. The Dark Knight Rises is the best film I’ve seen this year. That should tell you all you need to know.
Until next time, keep the projector threaded.