Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Story by: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer
Written by: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
US Release Date: Friday, July 20, 2012
In Short: A grand spectacle of a finale to a near-perfect trilogy.
Recommended: Of course.
BRUCE WAYNE: I’m not afraid. I’m angry.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham is virtually crime-free because of the sacrifices Batman (Christian Bale) made. Bruce Wayne is now living in seclusion and has retired the Batman, while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is on his way out. But all is not as well as it appears, as an international terrorist known simply as Bane (Tom Hardy) is planning something catastrophic for Gotham. But should Batman come out of retirement to save the city once more, or will he meet his match in Bane?
It may sound like a simplistic explanation of what follows, but ruining any of the fun and surprise Christopher Nolan has cooked up for his grand finale is just as simply unfair.
After four years of waiting, the release is finally here and it is just as great as you imagined it possibly could be. Nolan has pulled out all the stops and delivered what is quite likely one of the best finales in recent memory, and even more so, one of the best trilogies in a long time (The Lord of the Rings notwithstanding). Building on what he has given us before, Nolan has crafted a darkly-tinged near-masterpiece filled with more real world allegories than before, and even greater stakes for the Batman. He builds on the foundation of the dystopic nightmare he created in The Dark Knight, and delivers a movie that begs to be seen on the big screen and redefines how we feel about the word “epic”.
I could go on and on about how amazing the story is, how astonishing the level of special effects is (or lack thereof as we have come to expect), how fantastic the booming score is, or how breathtaking the IMAX sequences are, but you can probably guess after all this time how astounding it all is. From the moment we see the Warner Brothers logo until the moment the credits begin, Nolan takes us on one hell of a ride on a roller coaster filled to the brim with emotions and thrills. Seeing his startling vision come to fruition, and in such grand fashion, is simply extraordinary. The 164-minute runtime may scare some people off, but there is not a single moment that goes unused. It zips by without any trouble at all. I personally think it could have been even longer. This impeccable level of storytelling has practically disappeared from mainstream cinema, and the more we can get, the better.
As hyped as I was to see it, I was extremely worried about how Nolan would handle Bane. After Joel Schumacher’s disgusting missteps in Batman & Robin, I was still very skeptical to see him show up in the grand finale. But I should have known better. Save for a few moments late in the film (which may break your opinion of the character), Bane is magnificently portrayed on-screen as the hulking beast he needed to be. He is mysterious at first, but then rather quickly becomes this dark, brooding and brutal terrorist. Where The Joker was callous and unpredictable in his plotting, Bane is very calculating and exact. And much like I assumed, Hardy is stunning in the role. He brings this monster to life with just enough gusto and finesse that he ends up creating another definitive adaptation of a Batman villain. His methods are terrifying, his dialogue even more so (even if it sounds noticeably higher and clearer than it should). No, he is nowhere near as brilliant as Heath Ledger was, but Hardy gives the role his all. And rather staggeringly, he gives a performance that deserves to be compared, as opposed to one that is merely disregarded.
Anne Hathaway, while not nearly as good as Hardy, delivers an excellent performance as Selina Kyle. Rather surprisingly she is not referred to as Catwoman once in the film, but she fills out that suit even better than Michelle Pfeiffer ever did in Batman Returns. She is also one of the few actors in the film who rises above her character being undercut (something I will touch on later), and truly makes something of herself. Most of her development comes from her emotions and facial expressions, and they all say more than you might think. Her indecision about being bad or good, something that has long plagued her comic book likeness, is near-brilliantly portrayed here. Her enigmatic nature is something Hathaway thrives with, allowing the audience to never truly know which side she is playing for. She challenges Batman almost as much as Bane does, albeit significantly less physically. Her addition here was a great one, and one that could have only improved with more dialogue and more for her to do.
As expected, Bale and Oldman are just as great as you have come to expect, and further cement their greatness in their roles. Watching Bale’s struggle as Bruce Wayne to decide to go back into action is simply marvelous. We feel every ache and pain as he strives towards his destiny, and as he has before, Bale delivers the definitive on-screen portrayal of Batman. The anguish and emotion in his face is simply unrivaled, and something he has gotten better and better with as the films have gone on. Rather thankfully, his Batman voice has also significantly improved. Oldman is just as good, and manages to become an even stronger presence here than he was in the previous films. While there is one significant character moment that should have been better developed, Oldman still manages to prove why he is a major player in the franchise, and why Commissioner Gordon was always such as amazing supporting character. As astonishing as it is to think, both are nearly upstaged by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays new recruit John Blake. He is a bit innocent in the role as he starts out, but as the film goes on, he just becomes fiercer and even more determined. He is an ally to Batman and Gordon, and manages to deliver on this lofty expectation in spades. I have loved Gordon-Levitt as an actor ever since he showed up in Rian Johnson’s underrated Brick, and seeing him here in such a challenging role that again, I did not think much of at first, shows that he is on his way to becoming as amazingly diverse an actor as Bale and Oldman have already become.
I think my biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises, and one that concerns me greatly, is how sloppy the editing is in many scenes. This would not be such an issue had Nolan’s track record not been so great, but it is ridiculously noticeable in this film. Wild time lines and major continuity errors aside (Bane leaves the stock exchange during the afternoon with an 8-minute window, but suddenly its night time when Batman shows up?), it just feels very unpolished. Lines are cut short or are missing entirely, whole characters are done away with at random, while huge revelations and character moments pass with almost little-to-no reflection and even less of an effect on the storyline afterwards. I would dare say that someone, perhaps even Nolan himself, tampered with the final product in order to make it shorter and more marketable. It is a shocking notion to believe, especially when looking at the final products of both The Dark Knight and Inception, but there is very little that could explain why so many scenes in this film feel so choppy and off. This does not affect the entire film, but when it does, it is hard to not notice it. I wish we will get a Director’s Cut on Blu-ray, but it is doubtful this will come to pass.
Along the same lines as the sloppy editing, my other issue with the film is that many of the supporting characters feel undercut and underused. Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate is a very important character in the film, but she has barely anything to do within it. She seems more like an omnipresent presence than anything else, and her relationship with Wayne (something hinted at in the trailers) just feels completely out of place and never truly explored as much as it should be. Michael Caine’s Alfred gets to offer a few words of wisdom every so often, but his role here is so small that it is almost criminal that he is gone for so long throughout the film. Alon Aboutboul’s Dr. Pavel, an extremely important character in December’s prologue and mentioned frequently in the viral material leading up to the film’s release, is barely used at all. Had I not known who he was and his importance to the storyline going in, I doubt I would have even noticed he was even in the film. Worse yet, Juno Temple’s Jen (a not so obvious reference to Holly Robinson) is so useless that her dialogue could have been given to just about anyone, and it would not have made any difference.
But of course, I digress. The Dark Knight Rises was never going to be as strong or as good as The Dark Knight, and anyone who even considered it could match its greatness should have their heads examined. Nolan set out to make a follow-up that could stand in that film’s large shadow, and he succeeded. This is a great finale that closes his Batman story arch in such a satisfying way that I cannot truly be upset about all of the film’s faults. It is densely layered with enough material that one viewing is simply not enough, and I imagine it will only get better with time. At the same time, it continues to prove that films based on comic books can be just as serious and taken as just as much a work of art as any critically acclaimed Fall drama. Whether you think it is amazing or overly pretentious, this series is one of the best of the new millennium, and will stand as the barometer for many films and series to come.
Mr. Nolan, you did good, and you gave one Batman fan the series of a lifetime. Now its Warner Brothers’ and DC’s job not to fuck up everything you did. Let’s hope they succeed.
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