The Dark Knight Rises Review
by Daniel Rester
Director Christopher Nolan lifted the Batman films to a whole new level back in 2005 when he gave audiences the dark and serious Batman Begins – which wiped out the bad taste the campy film Batman and Robin (1997) left behind. He then exceeded high expectations in 2008 with his masterful follow-up, The Dark Knight. Now Nolan is capping off his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, with expectations through the roof. The question is, has the director made an installment that can live up to the hype and expectations again?
The short answer to the question above is yes. But viewers should not expect just another Knight. While that film was a near-masterpiece (in my opinion, of course), this film is not. Rises is much different from Knight, though, and should be looked at as its own thing. Viewers who go in more open-minded and less expecting of similarities to Knight are likely to be more pleased by Rises. Just as how Knight had a much different feel than Begins, Rises is its own beast as well.
Rises takes place eight years after the events in Knight. Gotham is now mostly at peace, but Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is still hiding the heavy lie about Harvey Dent and Batman. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has kept his mask and cape hung up and has become a crippled recluse. His company now mostly relies on a woman named Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who wants to use Wayne Enterprises’ resources to help make clean energy. Also in the mix of things are Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cat burglar and a dedicated cop. Everything is shaken with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a brutish man bent on bringing Gotham to its knees. And to say more would spoil plot points…
This third entry in Nolan’s trilogy is more somber and emotional than his previous two entries. The movie is definitely not as “fun” as the others (Knight was equally dark, but it was also more tense and exciting and less bleak), but it remains potent and admirable due to the crafting. Rises really gets across how Wayne is now a broken man, and how he might not know how to be Batman anymore. Because of this, Batman really isn’t in the film that much, and the story instead takes a larger focus on Wayne himself. The film also shows in vivid manners how Batman is really tested physically and how Bane makes Gotham crumble and burn – both financially and with civil uprising. All of this makes the film almost uncomfortably realistic feeling, with a doomsday coldness running through it. But the film remains stunning, and when Batman finally does rise some hope and excitement is restored.
Rises has a much larger scope than its predecessors. Nolan builds a huge canvas for his characters and uses a variety of locations to great effect. One of the most notable places is a unique underground prison, which contains some of the films best scenes – involving Wayne finding himself again. But all of the set pieces are magnificently designed and shot. Nolan really owes a lot to the creative artists who helped build his world, and even more to cinematographer Wally Pfister for capturing it with such brilliancy; Pfister’s cinematography is truly Oscar-worthy. Yes, the film is dreary in its look a lot of the time, but it simultaneously remains epic and jaw-dropping. This is especially true in the second half, when the movie really kicks into gear and provides some sensational action scenes.
The performances are mostly excellent across the board. Let’s start with the returning members. Bale has never been better as Wayne/Batman, expertly exposing the flaws and inner-conflicts of the character. The awkward Batman voice is still there, but Bale remains a strong presence and really holds the viewers’ attention. Oldman expectedly delivers another fine performance as well, also perfectly showing how his character (Gordon) has been shaken over the years by the lie he and Batman created. Morgan Freeman also returns as Lucius Fox, the highly intelligent weapons and armor expert. He is Morgan Freeman, so need I say more? But the person who stands out from the returning cast the most is Michael Caine as Alfred the butler. The actor really knows how to provide a certain warmth and heartache to the character. He is actually not in Rises for very long, but steals every scene he is in and also provides one truly tear-jerking moment.
The newcomers make their marks as well. Cotillard and Hathaway both have adequate chemistry with Bale, but Hathaway has the best female presence. She really stands out in certain scenes as the sexy, cunning Kyle, and provides the film with some great comedic relief at times. Gordon-Levitt also shines as Blake, once again proving to be one of the best young actors working today; his character also comes to play a big part in the story.
So how is the villain? It is impossible for those who have seen Knight not to think of Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as The Joker and try and compare it to Bane. But they shouldn’t compare too closely, as the two are very different and are both terrifying in their own respects. Whereas The Joker was a loose cannon and challenged Batman mentally, Bane really presents himself as the first real physical challenge to Batman. Hardy really bulked up for the role and dominates the screen with just his size. But the actor also does what he can to bring out the intense emotions of the character, which seems very difficult as he is wearing a face mask throughout the film’s entirety. Though the mask robs him of using his mouth to help present his acting skills and the character’s full personality (and makes his voice very strange), Hardy still does a great job at expressing the menace of the character – especially with the use of his eyes.
There is only one performance in the film that really is irksome. That comes from Matthew Modine as Peter Foley, one of the main cops in the film. The character is aggravating in the first place (due to his views), and then Modine plays him without much range. But that is just a small part in a huge cast.
A few other problems besides Modine’s performance stop the film from being completely great. The film is a tad slow in the beginning, but picks up later on and really becomes quick. This pacing issue could be because of Nolan’s direction of certain scenes, some choices in the script (Nolan wrote the screenplay with his brother, Jonathan), or because of the editing by Lee Smith. I mostly lean on the last choice, as some scenes seam to go on while others just cut too soon. Aside from the pacing of the storytelling, there is also some murkiness in some of the plot points (especially in the first half). Those things said, Rises is still a story well told for the most part — with key connections to Batman Begins. Another flaw is found in Hans Zimmer’s music score. The score is fantastic as a whole, but certain pieces of music seem too strong for a few of the scenes – and just makes it seem like Zimmer is trying to outdo himself. The movie is also long, occasionally depressing and underwhelming, and has a questionable, teasing ending (though it is still satisfying in which it completes the stories of certain characters).
Nolan’s finish to his Batman trilogy is still an incredible movie-going experience for the most part. Not many directors have been able to pull off a trilogy so well — by having three solid films that all feel different but also connect together. In my opinion, the comic book film crown and throne still belongs to Knight, but Rises still settles in next to some of the best of best when it comes to these types of movies. And Nolan doesn’t make these types of movies like anyone else. This comic book film trilogy is really something to behold, with Rises working as an honorable, epic ending to it. With Nolan exiting after this trilogy, Batman will likely never be put to film in the same way again.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars.