Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises concludes his Batman series with a wonderful finale as Christian Bales delivers his best performance of the trilogy.

It’s been eight years since the day Harvey Dent died and Batman has yet to show his mask since taking the fall for Dent’s destruction.  Bruce Wayne has become a recluse in his rebuilt mansion, Commissioner Gordon is nearing an unforeseen ousting from his political enemies, and Wayne Enterprises financials are failing.  Gotham has stabilized from the menace of the Joker, but the city is at its most vulnerable since it lost its White Knight in Dent.  Enter Bane, an excommunicated member of the League of Shadows who is looking to follow through with Ra’s A Ghul’s plan to destroy Gotham, unknowingly tempting Batman to re-enter the fray.

Yes there is a lot more to the plot, but you don’t need that to sell you on the film; in fact you might be on line already.  Anne Hathaway plays a shifty “cat” burglar, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a “hot shot” rookie cop, Marion Cotillard has business with Wayne and both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine return as Lucius Fox and Alfred, respectively. If the plot doesn’t get you there, that cast should.

Enough with the info overload; how is the film?  Pretty damn good.  My expectations weren’t one of a Bat-zealot, but I was very excited.  Batman Begins is a bit overrated, while better than all previous Batman films, and The Dark Knight is a near masterpiece that had Heath Ledger to elevate the film above almost all of its shortcomings.  The Dark Knight Rises excels for the first hour and a half or so, matching its predecessor and possibly even surpassing it.  It is when Bane finally makes his big play that the movie loses a bit of steam and the film never fully recovers until its final moments.  This isn’t to say that the film stops being entertaining, far from it, but if this final picture wanted to top The Dark Knight it needed to recover that brilliance it had in the beginning.  There are still many awe inspiring moments to be found in the film’s later half, but it never cohesively gels and feels a bit too disjointed and dare I say, easy?  Nolan pushes the timeline quite a bit in the final act and while this necessary for one of the characters, the story in and around Gotham doesn’t ever work as well as it could.

I will say I did enjoy the twists along the way, (even if a couple of them were hard to avoid beforehand, even if one was as allergic to spoilers and trailers as myself) with one revolving around Bane that really won me over; giving the character the depth he needed.  The fights are Nolan’s most coherent to date, with the big one in the middle bound to go down as one of the best scenes of the year.  The chase scenes don’t ever match The Dark Knight’s impeccable semi/tumbler/Bat-pod sequence but never falter in the slightest, remaining very enjoyable. The first big chase, when Batman reappears for the first time, features the biggest chill of the film for me and Hans Zimmer’s excellent score/Batman theme has never sounded better.

So, the action is good, the aforementioned actors are all as great as we expect them to be and the film works as a whole outside its awkward missed steps, but the film most of all works as a proper conclusion to the series.  Nolan is able to bring the story full circle with some clever links to both films preceding it.  The film’s final moments also do a great job at closing out Bruce Wayne’s arc and if there is anything this film makes clear about this trilogy it is that this has all been more about Bruce Wayne than Batman.

The things I wish that could have been done a bit better, besides the clunky transition mentioned above,  range across a few areas.  The romance in the film is never remotely earned, but thankfully the actors sell it.  The film’s final battle could have been a bit more thrilling/original as well; even with the new “Bat” being prominent in it all.  The action in the film was also almost egregiously “fake” violent as the lack of carnage displayed for all the mayhem that ensues was almost distractingly noticeable.  I know we have to keep the film PG-13, but for all the death, gunshots, and murder in the film seeing them show the aftermath with seemingly no physical consequence or just a dead body lying there (at least pop a squid or something) did distract on more than one occasion; nit-picky, but I thought about this on a handful of occasions.

The best set piece of the film, outside the big fight already mentioned in the middle, is the film’s endlessly inventive opening that some of you might have already seen attached to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.  No scene in the film comes as close to being as creative as the one in the opening moments and I can’t wait to see how they shot it.

Speaking of Ghost Protocol, DKNR’s use of IMAX is great for some excellent picture quality, but Brad Bird’s spy adventure really took advantage of the format far better.  Nolan is most interested in IMAX for its increased A/V presentation, but I never felt like he utilized the added scope you can get like Bird achieved or even himself (Nolan) in TDK.  Bird has set the bar for IMAX in a feature and the TDKR didn’t come close to it if you ask me.

Nolan’s technical achievements with his crew are second to none, as we have come to expect, as every department is delivering A work.  Special effects, stunt teams, score, cinematography, sound, it’s all topnotch.  Nolan also gets great work out of his phenomenal cast, with Bale really stepping up to the plate for the finale.  Bale owns this movie and his presence on screen gets you on the edge of your seat almost to the same extent Ledger was able to in TDK. This movie is about Wayne, whose focus was a bit lost in TDK, and when Batman shows up on the scene it hits unlike any of the other films.  Bale really shines in the scenes set away from Wayne’s usual stomping grounds late in the film, bringing the character to his nexus as he overcomes some incredible physical and emotional odds.  Nolan and his team deserve some props as well as the set and imagery is truly incredible for these moments and evokes Batman Begins perfectly (Batman Begins is the mandatory film to revisit pre-TDKR).  Michael Caine is also quite good in his few scenes where he is asked to carry the film’s emotional weight and his back and forth with Bale is as sharp as ever.  The last standout is Tom Hardy as Bane who nails the physicality easily, but also shows a lot of range behind his mask. I loved the voice of Bane and there was a surprising amount of humor coming through the menace Hardy was throwing up on screen.  Hathaway and Nolan also handle Selina Kyle (Catwoman is never uttered) about as well as one could hope for with Hathaway sexing things up just enough in her suit and a brilliant bit of practicality to give her ears.  The playful back and forth between her and Wayne really works well in the opening half of the film and it’s a shame we didn’t get more of it as the film went on.

The Dark Knight Rises is about as good as a conclusion one could hope for Nolan’s Batman trilogy, leaving the series in just the right place at almost every turn.  They might play a little fast and loose with a couple bits, but the film works nonetheless as Nolan pays off his set ups in spades.  My review isn’t going to change your mind on this one, but as it stands I think TDKR ranks behind The Dark Knight in Nolan’s series.  It’s missing something iconic, TDK had the Joker, to lift it up to the next level, but maybe that will change after subsequent viewings; Nolan’s film’s have always grown the more I see them.

The Dark Knight Rises is a B+

 

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