Review: 'The Dark Knight Rises' a Solid End to Nolan's Batman Saga
by Jeremy Kirk
July 19, 2012
We always knew there would be a last Christopher Nolan-directed Batman movie. What we hoped and got was for that end to be Nolan's decision, an ending that he saw fit for this version of this character. We wished for a crescendo to all of his Batman films, ending on a solid note that tied the series together. As for ranking, The Dark Knight Rises is lower than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and even ranks rather low on Nolan's impressive filmography. However, it is a reasonable- and massive - finale, and, script issues aside, The Dark Knight Rises is a very fitting way for this saga to end. Until someone reboots it again.
Set a number of years after the events in The Dark Knight, Gotham City is still recovering from the loss of hero District Attorney Harvey Dent and the disappearance of Batman, who is viewed as an enemy to the people of the city. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the Gotham PD make the best of this time of peace, but something nefarious is on the horizon. Bane, a terrorist leader with an army of devoted followers, makes his way to Gotham City. His plan, with the aid of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar, is to bring the city to its knees and make the wealthier members of the community answer for their decadent ways of life.
Meanwhile, as Batman has disappeared, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has locked himself away in his newly reconstructed mansion, only making direct contact with his loyal butler, Alfred. But once the storm begins brewing and he realizes the company his father built might be a target for the unsavory dealings of this new terrorist network, Wayne finds it in himself to bring the Batman back for one, last act of heroism.
Nolan's Batman films have always been devoted to story first. Whether they're about a billionaire playboy facing his fears while trying to do good in the world or about the anarchy that can be caused by one, determined, chaos-loving psychopath, the action and destruction seen in these movies have always had a purpose. This isn't action for action's sake, and it's directors like Christopher Nolan who give a good name to the Hollywood blockbuster, creating epic stories and telling them with style and atmosphere. All of that is on hand with The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan and crew make every effort in tying it back to the previous films—with the notable exception of the Joker, who goes completely unmentioned—and making it feel like the final piece of a much larger whole rather than just another entry into a money-making franchise. Die-hard fans of the trilogy up to this point won't be disappointed. At least, not that much.
The Dark Knight Rises has issues with how massive Nolan and co-writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer—Goyer only receives a "story by" credit here—wanted to make this final entry. Characters come and go, names get thrown about, and dialogue is fired out just as quickly as it ever was in this series. For the first quarter of the film, though, it begins to sink into itself, the gears grinding along without fail but at a slowing pace as you try to keep up with precisely what's going on. To that end, The Dark Knight Rises warrants repeat viewing more so than Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. Unlike Inception, Nolan's last film, the complexities of the story here don't feel as warranted. Neither do the moments of blatant exposition scattered throughout, as if the writers here couldn't figure out a more organic way of delivering information to the character or to us. It's the only time in this series that this becomes a noticeable problem.
However, it isn't too far into the film that Bane's plan is revealed, characters change, and Gotham City itself becomes something of a character that we find ourselves invested in. While the rise, fall, and return of the caped crusader is the narrative drive in Nolan's films, it's surprising to see how much Gotham has changed throughout the series. In Batman Begins, it was a gritty, uncomfortable place to live. The Dark Knight showed it becoming more civilized, a very real metropolis that just happened to have a man dressed as a bat patrolling the streets. Here, the city begins shaking under the weight of Bane's revolution, and it and the entire population become damsels in distress the Dark Knight must fight his way back into saving.
With that comes the action and set pieces, something Nolan is always gifted at constructing and fitting into his story. With The Dark Knight Rises, the director seems to have been given carte blanche, every tool in the film making universe dropped at his feet to incorporate and utilize for creating some truly epic sequences. Batman and Bane square off hand-to-hand, and, as with Nolan's previous Batman films, the fighting isn't his strongest suit. Bane, of course, is a monster, and he's depicted as such. But it's the chase sequences, of which there are many here, and massive explosions scattered throughout—not to mention the central threat Bane plans to use—that give this movie the culminating scope it deserves and needs.
The cast on hand is also what this deserves and needs. Staples of the series like Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman all fit perfectly back into their respective roles. Tom Hardy is exceptional as Bane, having to contend with the strange, breathing apparatus his character has covering most of his face. He does a heavy amount of acting with his eyes, and the proper, British accent he gives to the character is a much needed elegance in the muscly foe. Anne Hathaway is remarkable as the mysterious but sultry Kyle and, ultimately, Catwoman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is spot-on as a Gotham City police officer trying to make his own difference in the city. The always sublime Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a woman who has much more going on than just showing up as Wayne's love interest.
The acting has never been in question with Christopher Nolan's Batman films. Neither has the action or the grand scope he finds a way in bringing to the events he puts his characters through. All of these are on full and top-notch display in The Dark Knight Rises. There are, however, problems with the script, and it's odd noting how well-constructed The Dark Knight was three years after Batman Begins. It's been four years since The Dark Knight, and one can't help but wonder if this extra time didn't give the screenwriters room to add too much to their story. The rest of the film, though, is every bit as skillfully executed as the previous two. With a menacing tone and equally menacing villain, The Dark Knight Rises is just the right note for Nolan's Batman symphony to end on. Thank God he got to end it on the note he wanted.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10