By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 9 out of 10
Christopher Nolan has broken the mold on the big-name epic, switching out special effects and digitally altered masses for hundreds of extras converging upon a single street in Pittsburgh. Movies on an epic scale such as The Dark Knight Rises do not come along often, and even when they do, they are rarely as good as this movie ends up becoming.
The Dark Knight Rises does not quite surpass its predecessor The Dark Knight on an individual scale, but looking at Nolan’s Dark Knight Legend as a whole, The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) is, by far, the best film of the trilogy.
Eight years after the Joker killings in The Dark Knight (TDK), Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a secluded, broken man damaged by the events of the previous film. The Dent Act, based on the lie forged between Wayne and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has kept criminals at bay, but two individuals come into Gotham City, the cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), whose secretive plans come to directly involve her with Wayne. Even more dangerous is the terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy) who has a destructive plan for Gotham.
The most important question entering this review for me was; why is TDKR better than TDK in the grand scheme of the Batman trilogy? The answer is simple but complicated at the same time. TDK operates as its own film in regards to the trilogy; it has almost nothing in common with Batman Begins plot wise, driven by The Joker and his own means of destroying Batman and Gotham at the same time. TDKR takes the plot from Begins and derives completely from the primary story elements that drove the 2005 film. The only thing from TDK that moviegoers need to know is that Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes, but a viewing of Begins is essential before seeing TDKR.
The movie runs for almost three hours, a prolonged and somewhat scary number for people going to see this film. However, unlike other threequels that have stalled in the past (i.e. – Spider-Man 3), there is enough time for the story to flesh itself out. The first 40 minutes moves along at a slow but necessary pace, introducing all of the new character that end up being crucial to the story.
Two characters that were both great additions and prove to be drastically important at the same time help set the foundation for the film early on and help drive the story throughout. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) does well in her role as a Wayne Enterprises employee and love interest of Wayne, while John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the show-stealers, playing a rookie beat cop with a very peculiar past.
Anne Hathaway is the penultimate show-stopper as Kyle. Blowing Michelle Pfeifer’s turn as Catwoman in Batman Returns out of the water (I won’t even include Halle Barry’s performance in 2004’s Catwoman), Hathaway manages to merge sexy, dangerous and deadly into the same performance, continuously keeping audiences guessing with her motives up until the end of the film.
Bane is also a very well played character, as Tom Hardy does all that he can to flesh out a character that is even regarded among the comic book Batman fans as a very shallow villain. Bane’s plan becomes more visible as the film continues, as by the end of the film the complete, brutal plan is shown to completely ensnare and place Gotham in serious danger. Tom Hardy takes the turn as Bane to show the character as a massively physical threat. The character knows how to fight, only further shown in the showdowns with Batman. Fans of the comic books will be very pleased with how the fights between the caped crusader and Bane go as it really is two heavyweights dukeing it out against one another. It’s impossible to match Heath Ledger’s performance of The Joker, no movie villain, especially super hero villain, will ever top the complete insanity that Ledger delivered. Bane is a different kind of monster and proves to push the film along at a well pace. Bane is a slave to his own plan, as the events that he plan for Gotham soon focus on the individuals within the city, with Bane only a facilitator rather than a mastermind.
Now that the new additions are out of the way – we can focus on the staples of the franchise. This is by far the best turn by Christian Bale in the series. For people who love seeing Wayne in full costume they may be disappointed by the lack of Batman, but this movie isn’t about the character of Batman, it’s about Bruce and how he copes with the realization that he isn’t as sharp in the cowl as he used to be. The theme of being able to “Rise” is pertinent in the film, no more so than how Wayne deals with the situations that he is faced with. Watching Bale depict the character that he has been so close within this final installment is truly something to behold.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman have all shown their established acting chops with their characters of Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon respectively. Although there is not much of all three characters in the movie, their roles are crucial to the film and they all play intricate roles in how the plot develops. Alfred’s role in particular puts a major weight on Bruce, as the relationship between the two, so close during the first two films, comes to a breaking point, resulting in one of the best scenes in the film.
Visually, the film is gorgeous. Using many locations during filming, such as Los Angeles, New York City and Pittsburgh, Gotham city is brought to life like never before. Using such famous locations does take you away from the illusion a bit, seeing the Chrysler Building or World Trade Center, which is hard to miss during some of the landscape shots, takes you away from the movie itself. Also, for sports fans, seeing a majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers squad during the Gotham Rouges game will take away from the illusion as well.
Although Nolan has never been a major proponent of using special effects, the few times that they are used in the film are outstanding. The destruction of the football field, shown during the trailers, along with the destruction of the bridges are horrifying due to the realism that they seem to emulate. It is hard pressed to find a visual rival to this film, during my screening I was unable to watch the film in IMAX, but will definitely do so after vehemently stating after the 2008 release of TDK that IMAX was the only way to watch that film.
Plot wise, TDKR is full of twists and turns. A somewhat slow first act leads into a heart-stopping second and third. Although some viewers might be turned off by the first 40 minutes, of which we do not see Batman, they are crucial to make sure that the remaining two hours make sense. There are also many flashbacks during the movie, some of which seem irrelevant during the specific scene but become very important once the ball starts rolling. Fans of the first two films, especially Batman Begins, will find and welcome flashbacks to the original 2005 film. A gargantuan twist near the end of the movie will also bring smiles the faces of Batman Begins fans, as a second, unexpected twist placed during the ending sequence will also send audiences for a loop (I dare not say more).
The ending is flawless. Like Inception, there is room for interpretation, but Nolan was right; this is the end of the Dark Knight legend and it is wrapped up very well. To a massive fan of this franchise, this ending allowed me to close the book on the trilogy in an acceptable manner, putting bookends to one of the best trilogies ever.
The Dark Knight Rises is as good as summer entertainment gets and is easily one of the best films so far this year. Christopher Nolan has created the best trilogy since The Lord of the Rings movies, and easily the best superhero trilogy ever. Bringing the franchise full circle, The Dark Knight Rises ups the stakes for the city of Gotham, the characters in the film, and most importantly, for the central character. The actors are all at the top of their game, the film is gorgeous visually, and most importantly, the movie closes the book on the Batman legend. For fans of the trilogy or the caped crusader, this film requires multiple viewings, and although the jury might still be out on whether or not TDKR matches or surpasses TDK, in regards to its impact on the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is the defining film of Nolan’s attempt at telling the tale of one of the most well-regarded superheroes. The cape and cowl can be hung up with pride, Nolan’s Dark Knight legend is the best superhero tale ever told on film.