Before we get started I want to address that this review is about the film The Dark Knight Rises. It is about the things that happened on-screen and nothing more. Maybe I will find the time to comment on some of the film’s hurdles to its release (fan boy outrage, Bane/Bain, and the backlash) but I won’t do it here. As far as the shooting in Colorado goes, words fail me. There is a deep sadness in me for what happen and a very real sense of horror. Wherever the victims are now, I hope that they have their own private showing of The Dark Knight Rises so they can finish the film that they came for.
This is also a first reaction review. I will most likely see TDKR two more times in theaters and my opinion on the film might change. This review also contains MAJOR SPOILERS. I’m sure most of you have seen it already but if you haven’t please proceed at your own risk.
Again MAJOR SPOILERS
It’s been four years since The Dark Knight came out and now we finally have the next and last chapter of the Nolan/Batman saga. Anticipation, for me at least, rivaled such entertainments as all the Lord of the Rings films, the Star Wars prequels, and the last season of The Sopranos. This was THE FILM of the year and of this young decade and the hype was almost to the point of no return. Nolan knew this was going to be the case but that didn’t stop him from completing his trilogy. So did it pay off? Having waited 4 hours and spent 40 dollars to see it (long story) I have finally witnessed the climax of The Dark Knight. Quite simply Rises delivers on its promises and somehow “Rises” above its numerous shortcomings.
Even though TDKR is its own movie, its biggest triumph is how it is a sequel to both Begins and TDK. Both of its predecessors were very different from each other. Begins was more of an inspirational superhero movie while TDK was more of a realistic one. Both were very good (especially The Dark Knight) but they never seemed to fit together. Rises mixes the tones of each to create a film that amazingly ties the two films together. I expected Rises to conclude the series but I never expected it to bind Begins and TDK together as if they were always meant to be. This makes Rises, in my mind, not a stand-alone film but a necessary one for this trilogy to work as a whole. It may sacrifice it’s own identity for the sake of the trilogy as it brings the series full circle.
Written by both Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, Rises doesn’t contain the grace of their previous efforts. The plot is ambitious but it doesn’t maneuver the details as well as it should. The twists are nice but they become more of distractions to the primary goal, which is concluding Bruce Wayne’s story. I appreciate their efforts to make the plot more “complex” but a simpler story would have made this movie into something a lot more lean and poignant. Which brings me to my next point, Rises is the most “nickpickable” film in the series. This is quite an accomplishment because both Begins and Rises had their fair shares of “leaps of faiths”. Events can feel fragmented, character’s actions are too quick, and motivations are sometimes a mystery. There are just too many questions on the “how” and Rises never feels up for providing answers to them. The logistics of situations don’t make great moments but they are necessary to avoid unwanted confusion. I hated that time, space, and logic were thrown to wayside and a lot of the impact of the film is lost because of it. Nolan’s films are never really about how you got there but more about where you end up and I respect that but a little more thought to the little things would have gone a long way. Even though I liked the film I can’t begrudge anyone who didn’t. We may disagree but I can see how the various plot falls get in the way of seeing Rises as a complete narrative. For a movie that is set in a more “realistic” world, Rises fails to elevate out of the convenient.
Nolan’s direction and style is present throughout TDKR. Nolan again creates his Gotham in a realistic fashion as he changes locations from primarily Chicago to New York and Pittsburg. The Dark Knight Rises foundation is the Gotham of the two previous films and when the story does indeed start to crack, the foundations hold it intact. Nolan keeps the tone close to what we know which enables some of the film’s more daring plot points to pass by with only minor grumblings. Nolan lets Rises run with the speed of TDK and the sentiment of Begins, which gives the film a pace that makes time go by fast. Nolan is a master of mood and TDKR is no different with a first hour of gloomy uneasiness, a second hour of despair, and 45 minutes of pure elation. Nolan through three films has never let his true intentions get away from him. Rises and Begins may be flawed films but they have ambitions beyond the bare bones of the story. Nolan wants to convey Batman as a dark and conflicted hero and he succeeds in consistently doing that for the whole length of this trilogy. Nolan is the type of filmmaker that this character needed and he has succeeded in keeping his own personal Batman mission statement intact for three epic films.
The main core of the cast from the two previous films have come back to finish the series. Christian Bale gives his most intense performance as Bruce Wayne and he carries the picture. He is so good that even with most of the screen time, I felt that he was under used. Maybe it was because to many things were happening but all in all story elements that contained Wayne, like the prison, are never givin enough time to grow. The rest of the returning cast are solid as always and provides the story with much-needed continuity. If there is one character and actor that gets the short shaft here, it would have to be Michael Caine’s Alfred. He just simply leaves way to early on only to appear back at the very end of the film. Alfred here is disrespected and I would have loved to of seen more of Caine’s last turn as Bruce’s “loyal” butler.
What I do love about each of Nolan’s Batman films is the revolving cast. Yea you have your standards but you also have the new cast members that bring fresh blood to the series. The most welcomed of these new additions is Anne Hathaway who is excellent as Selina Kyle. Her Catwoman is very loyal to the source material and she adds another dimension to the series. I never thought that Catwoman could be done in Nolan’s universe but Selina Kyle fits in well in Gotham. Tom Hardy is the new main villain here and his performance is one that works at the eye level. Bane was never supposed to live up to The Joker (Batman’s most legendary foe) and Tom Hardy doesn’t try. His Bane is a dark and evil villain whose physical appearance and actions outweigh the desire for more dimensions. Bane may not be perfect but he is a great reincarnation of one of Batman’s more hooky rogue villains. Marion Cotillard does what she needs to do in almost a filler role. Yea she has the weight of one of the film’s biggest twist but her Miranda Tate never reaches beyond a cheap parlor trick. It is a shame because her character sort of deserved better but she is good enough to mix into all the right story elements. The last notable newbie is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays the cop John Blake. I enjoyed his character even if he is a little forced. At the very end of the film we see John Blake do something that sort of doesn’t fit in the Nolan/Batman universe but it is Levitt’s whole performance that allows that moment to not only work but also shine.
There are a lot of big things that happen in the movie but I want to highlight two of them. The first being the football explosion which is the most horrific event in the franchise. I had seen the trailer footage of it but when Bane finally collapses the home of the Gotham’s Rogues, my heart sank. It is a shocking moment and one that the film capitalizes on. The next is the balls to the walls climax, which is one that Nolan earned. Rises doesn’t hold back and when the fists start flying, you get the feeling that this really is the end. The climax has the scale of this year’s The Avengers while also containing the dramatic weight that The Avengers lacked. Sprawling on for over a half an hour, this is the biggest and best superhero climax of recent memory. Nolan is starting to get the hang of these big action set pieces as TDKR concludes in thrilling fashion.
Then you have the actual ending of the film, which is merely five minutes of montage. It wraps up things nicely but in no way shape or form does it bring closure to Nolan’s Batman series. It just merely ends it. It all starts with a fake death attempt (which I still don’t know how I feel about it) that ends up being a situation that closely resembles what Tony Stark does in The Avengers. Then we have the wrap up of only Bruce Wayne’s and John Blake’s stories. I think where the film leaves them off is a nice touch but I would of liked to have had a more fitting end to Commissioner Gordon’s story. He merely walks off into the sunset as almost a second-hand character. I agree that his shinning moment was in TDK but it would have been nice to see him find closure on his own fight on crime but I digress. TDKR does tie up some loose knots but they don’t shut the door completely on the series. I am sure that there will never be another Nolan/Batman movie but this film leaves things a little too open. Nolan plays things safe for a movie that was marketed as being “the end of a legend”.
So the biggest question that everyone one was wondering was whether or not TDKR would live up to TDK. In truth it falls short. Frankly it’s just not as fun, thrilling, or graceful as it’s predecessor but that doesn’t mean it fails at all. The Dark Knight Rises is clunky and filled with patchy logic but in the end it is all about the result and in that way, Rises succeeds. It is a quick 164 minutes and even comes close to matching some of the thrills of its predecessor. It is amazing to see what Nolan and crew have accomplished in their Bat trilogy. They have made the Batman the biggest superhero in the world and have given him his due on the silver screen. It is sad to see this tale end but I think it was time for it too. Nolan’s Batman isn’t the only Batman and in a couple of years time, Batman and Gotham will need a new filmmaker to start things over. Who ever he may be I hope he knows he has some big shoes to fill. Rises is the completion of a trilogy that has not only changed the Bat forever but has also shattered the expectations of what a superhero film is and what it can be.
Second Viewing Update
I stand by my original review but it gets a lot better on second viewing. It is a hybrid beast of Begins and TDK without the smarts and discipline of TDK. Still flawed and still exhilarating. I would give it an A- now but it walks that line between two grades too closely to commit to anything.