– Summary –
Director : Christopher Nolan
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nestor Carbonell, Aiden Gillan, Liam Neeson, Josh Pence, Matthew Modine, Alon Abutbul, Cillian Murphy, Tom Conti, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gormann.
Approx Running Time : 165 Minutes
Synopsis: The conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy has Batman recalled from exile to fight against the terrorist known as Bane, who wants to see Gotham City destroyed.
What we think : Utterly compelling conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a film offering little respite from the darkness and despair accommodated by the previous two outings. Bale actually find the truth to the Bruce Wayne character, while Tom hardy is convincing even under a ¾ face mask – no mean feat – all the while the possible destruction of Gotham reverberates across the screen with every passing minute. A fitting – if lengthy – finale to one of the great trilogies of our time – nay, ever.
It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn.
When Frank Miller presented comic book fans with his seminal work on Batman, entitled The Dark Knight Returns, it became one of the pivotal stories in the character’s long and varied history. The book presented a mid-50’s Bruce Wayne trying to prevent the destruction of Gotham City, and was a 4 issue series that came to frame the character throughout much of the 80’s, a darker, more violent version than we’d seen previously. The story has since gone on to near-legend status amongst comic book geeks, and remains undeniably one of – of not the – greatest Batman comic story ever told. It’s fair to say that Christopher Nolan’s dark, gritty Batman trilogy, comprising of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and now The Dark Knight Rises, will become regarded in years to come as the cinematic equivalent of that iconic comic book series. Nolan’s films present a darker, grittier Batman that we saw in either the 60’s campy variant, or the 80’s/90’s Burton/Schumacher iterations, giving Batman a mythic status afforded only the most iconic of cinematic characters. It was, of course, the magnificent Oscar-winning performance of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, as the maniacal Joker, which cemented Nolan’s vision in the minds of fans and nonfans alike. Nolan’s Batman trilogy forgoes cheeseball one-liners and nipples on the Batsuit in favour of a naturalistic, dirty realism: a realism borne from the revamp of the humble Comic Book Movie and what audiences would accept after efforts like X-Men and Spider-Man allowed filmmakers to get away from the Joel Schumacher-esque trash we’d seen to that point.
The Dark Knight Rises needed to be a success. The previous two films had set the bar almost impossibly high, in particular The Dark Knight, presenting Gotham City and its inhabitants, and the Batman character himself, in such a broad-scope canvas that Nolan really had to up the ante for the concluding chapter. The addition of Bane as the chief villain, a character first seen in the comic books during the epic Knightfall saga (Bane broke the Batman’s back during a lengthy fight sequence) and glimpsed in Schumacher’s awful Batman & Robin, was met with a degree of optimism from fans, perhaps because they realised that Nolan might have a clearer idea on how to use such an iconic creation within the context of his cinematic world. Bane, while different from the Joker, was a character who could truly push Batman to his limits, both mentally and physically, and so would provide perhaps the best possible chance of giving the finale of the trilogy the impetus and tension it would need to succeed over its predecessors.
This review contains spoilers specific to the film. If you wish to preserve the content of the film for your initial viewing, I suggest refraining from reading any further.
It is 8 years since Batman killed Harvey Dent and took the blame for Dent’s actions. Gotham is a seeming utopia of crime-free activity, although a new menace is swiftly coming. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) sill mourns the loss of Rachel Dawes, while his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) frets over how distant and isolated his master has become. Reluctantly hosting a benefit to attract some much needed cash for the struggling Wayne Enterprises, Bruce encounters a sexy jewel thief, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), as well as a female board member of his company, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who seeks to persuade Bruce to reenter society and “move on”. The terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) is advancing his plans for Gotham, which involves stealing a prototype energy generation device and turning it into a giant nuclear weapon, capable of destroying most of downtown Gotham City. With Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) once more providing his “wonderful toys”, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and up-and-coming detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to aide the citizens of the city when things go bad, Batman must return to protecting Gotham against the forces of evil, even if the people he protects despise him for what they think he’s done. But going up against Bane will cost Bruce more than just his journey as Batman, it could cost him his very life.
There’s three questions any reader of this review will undoubtedly be asking right about now. First, is The Dark Knight Rises a great, good, or merely mediocre film? Second, is it better or on par with the infinitely astonishing first sequel, The Dark Knight? And second, does Batman’s growly voice still sound as silly as it did that first time in the cinema? I’d expect only two of those questions are even realistic. Yes, Batman’s voice still has that augmented roar, which made a kind of kooky sense in Batman Begins but went totally over the top in The Dark Knight; here, however, it seems somewhat toned down, as if Nolan took on board your concerns and dialled it back a little. To answer the second question; no, I don’t think this film will stand the test of time and constant re-watching as well as The Dark Knight does, but then this film is different in enough ways where it probably won’t have to. It’s not as instantly jaw-dropping as TDK, no, but it’s great in its own ways. And yes, this film is most assuredly, without doubt, a truly great film experience.
Running nearly 3 hours, The Dark Knight Rises does run quite long, and I think the more times I re-watch this thing, the less likely I am to be as enamoured with some of the middle sections of the story as I was with the start and end. There’s a prolonged period where Batman/Bruce is out of action, consigned to a dank prison where he must escape to return and confront Bane, and there’s also a convoluted effort to get “Catwoman” into the story in any kind of meaningful way that just doesn’t quite work as well as everything else, but on the whole I don’t think you can fault Nolan for giving it his all. A little like Peter Jackson’s multiple endings in Return Of The King, which a decade or so later it’s fair to admit is just directorial avarice to some degree, Christopher Nolan has pulled out all the stops to create a desperate, definitive concluding chapter in this trilogy, while at the same time sowing the seeds of future sequels and franchise ideas.
From a scripting point of view, there’s issues to be had. Some of the characters, particularly the new ones, aren’t as well defined as new additions in previous Batman films: Matthew Modine’s deputy commissioner character is given short thrift as cannon fodder to a degree, a character with little redemptive quality and almost no tangible arc within the context of the film – he’s there as a device to move the plot along, and it’s an obvious device at that. There’s a tenuous link between Officer Blake and a home for orphaned boys, and Bruce Wayne’s own lack of parents, although this isn’t really explored as much as it’s exploited for relatively cheap emotional content, and I found this particular story point a little heavy-handed. Marion Cotillard does a pretty good job as Miranda Tate, an entrepreneur with whom Bruce has a dalliance, but she’s never quite the screen siren the part demanded, which leaves her final fate something of a shock for the sake of shock, instead of a shock because we’re hooked on her as a character. The screenplay for this film sparkles with an energy that’s hard to quantify, although it’s nowhere near as brave as Batman Begins, nor as taut and epic as The Dark Knight. Perhaps it’s the decision to up the ante to such an extraordinary degree, by having the fate of millions of people reduced to a ticking countdown timer (which, as cliched as it is, still remains something of a classic cinematic device) where the film comes unstuck. The stakes are more than the emotional journey the film tries to take us on can withstand.
Easily the least accessible character in the film is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is blessedly never referred to as Catwoman on screen, although her attire and demeanour most certainly suggest a feline grace and obnoxiousness. While Hathaway does a pretty good job as the slinky seductress and snatcher, the role never explores her motivations, nor does it really offer any decent backstory or depth to her as to why she’s involved with Bane, or even in Gotham to begin with. There’s tacit admission within her actions that she’s obviously under Bane’s powerful thrall as an utter madman, but I’d like to have seen more. Inevitable comparisons to Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic portrayal of the character in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns will see Hathaway reduced in stature to somewhere just shy of that interpretation – personally, I think Pfeiffer was playing a caricature, while Hathaway gets to play her as an actual character – while Halle Berry can rightly hang her head in shame. Hathaway gets that this is a “realistic” interpretation of the character, and I think she nails it perfectly. Yet I found the lack of subtext to her, at least her motivations, to be the films’ major disappointment.
Christian Bale saddles up as Batman/Bruce Wayne once more, and while I always enjoy an angst-ridden Bruce Wayne, exactly why he’s still in mourning for Rachel Dawes (played by Katie Holmes in Begins and Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight) some 8 years after her death should have sent faithful manservant Alfred running for the nearest headshrinker. Seriously, 8 years pining away? Bruce is a smart guy, but obviously too stupid to realise that at some point, he should have sought some help. Bale seems to be relishing the role this time out, chewing through the now emotionally empty Bruce Wayne with a certain fervour missing from previous outings; of course, as Batman he really rocks it out. Bruce’s journey from retired hero and has-been, to crippled pauper and back, should have been the main focus of the story – and I guess in a way it is – but the sturm und drang of Bane’s master-plan and the Good Guys’ retaliation does tend to overwhelm the more sensitive moments for our hero, reducing their impact to mere plot pivot point.
There was plenty of concern at the time Bane’s first promotional appearance was released to the public, mainly because his dialogue seemed to be buried beneath that awesome mask and converted into an incomprehensible gabble. Nolan seemed to take this concern on board, ensuring that every syllable of Bane’s dialogue is clear and precise, with an artificiality to it that comes across as a mixture of Dalek and Darth Vader. Bane’s backstory is vastly more prominent here than any previous character outside Batman in the trilogy, even usurping Selina’s, and to be honest, I was actually moved a little by what was revealed. As a character, I always saw Bane as little more than a highly intelligent, incredibly powerful thug, but a thug nonetheless; Hardy’s take on the character seems to be about intelligence first, brute force second (at least, up until the finale), and I found the character an excellent adversary for Batman to face in this concluding chapter. No, Bane’s not as iconic as Heath Ledger’s Joker, and I think had Nolan tried to make it so it would have lessened the film; instead, Hardy plays Bane absolutely straight, with little time for posing and mincing to make his character more… fatuously iconic. Bane is, to coin a phrase heard elsewhere, Batman’s opposite in almost every way. Where Ledger’s Joker was a corkscrew to the temple, Hardy’s Bane is a sledgehammer to the kneecaps.
Secondary characters, such as Alfred and Lucius Fox, return to their roles of Bruce Wayne’s emotional touchstones; they’ve been there the entire journey, and they’ve become almost surrogate father-figures for both Bruce and us as viewers, so to see the pain on Michael Caine’s face as Alfred confronts Bruce about not returning to active service as Batman is a genuinely moving moment for everyone. Morgan Freeman has less time in this film, and one gets the sense that the Nolan’s just ran out of things for him to do compared to all the other players in this behemoth. He still has that twinkle in his eye, it’s just less twinkly than in previous outings. Gary Oldman, together with franchise newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt, are this films’ Everyman characters: resolute, absolutely the moral compass we need, and almost without flaw, they represent the lighter Good that Batman simply isn’t. Oldman does a top job, even if he’s hospital-bound for the first half, while Gordon-Levitt parlays his effective screen presence into a youthful, painfully optimistic and “hot headed” Officer-slash-detective who leaps into the Batman world with both feet. While the secondary characters don’t always have a lot to do, nor do they even have much time to do it, without them, Batman would be lost.
It’s this point where The Dark Knight Rises is perhaps better than The Dark Knight. Here, Batman can’t do it all alone – he needs the police, Commissioner Gordon, and all his allies, to help save the day and rescue Gotham. In The Dark Knight, Batman had a little help from his allies in high battle to thwart the Joker, but this time out, if Gordon, Blake and co don’t get the job done at their end, it won’t matter if Batman succeeds or not. This deconstruction of Batman as the uber-hero, something I think Superman became quite quickly, is what Nolan’s been trying to do since the opening frame of Begins, although I think he succeeds properly here, in this third film. By allowing Bruce to be battered, broken (spot the cameo by Thomas Lennon, as a doctor examining Bruce) and seemingly past playing at being Batman, it prevents the kind of macho-heavy chest beating machismo most hero films like to enjoy in their latter reels, allowing instead for a more believable, last-gasp fight to the death that never once becomes the square-jawed thrash-a-thon these things often do.
What I really enjoyed about The Dark Knight Rises was the way in which Nolan continued to use themes from the previous two film – although, as one of my friends noted as we left the cinema, there was absolutely no mention of The Joker whatsoever, which seemed a bit weird considering the contiguous narrative threads of Ra’s Al Guhl’s legacy from Batman Begins used as a base for much of this films’ plot – and how everything seen in Begins was in some small way a precursor to moments of twist in this film. The few red-herrings within the plot are vintage blindside material from Nolan, who’s used the bait-and-switch technique for several of his films, mainly Inception, The Prestige, and to a degree Memento. While a few more viewings might be in order to really wring the subtlety of this film out a bit more, I was surprised at just how much juice they got from what was, really, a fairly basic plot.
From a production standpoint there’s almost no faulting this film. Every aspect of it, from the cinematographer (Wally Pfister, who should snag an Oscar nom next year, if not the win) to the sound design and editing (brilliant work, lads) is exemplary and near-faultless. Technical decisions, such as how creepy, front-centric and manipulated Bane’s voice is, or how growly Batman’s is, are probably going to be debated for as long as humans walk the Earth, but as a set-piece in widescreen Hollywood movie-making, this film ticks all the boxes. Hans Zimmer has achieved something I never thought would be possible – he’s genuinely bested Danny Elfman for the most iconic Batman theme ever – and his thunderous, pulsating, pounding score to this film will both delight the fans and annoy those who find his work too overbearing. At times, the score literally becomes the film, thumping through the sound-stage much like Batman’s equally awesome Batplane, a plot device which had the same impact as the original Tumbler in Begins, and the Batpod in The Dark Knight. Visual effects are seamless, thanks to Nolan’s keen eye for keeping it real and trying to get as much of the film “in camera” as possible – do you hear that, George Lucas? – and it’s a real pleasure to watch this film unspool.
Expectations aside, The Dark Knight Rises is an amazingly epic film in its own right. As the concluding chapter in the trilogy, there’s times when it seems to be too huge for its own good, thanks largely to the number of character arcs we have to follow to bring this beast in for a landing, and those with a low tolerance for character in place of action will perhaps find themselves twiddling their thumbs here and there. If there’s a weakness to the film overall, it’s a protracted mid-section that could have been tightened a little, as well as some indifference to characters we should care more about, that prevents this film from being a true masterpiece. Rabid fans will probably overlook this to some degree, although I never consider myself to be a rabid fan (just a regular one, thank-you) so I’ve probably earned a bit of wrath from some of you reading this in saying that. Even with a slightly lengthy running time, and even taking into consideration the sheer plethora of primary, secondary and tertiary characters with whom we’re trying to get to know and follow, The Dark Knight Rises is both an exceptional piece of entertainment and a more than resounding success for the Nolan trilogy of Batman.
No, it’s not quite as good as The Dark Knight, a factor I put down to the lack of Heath Ledger’s inclusion here: a factor which cannot be overcome by a feline themed burglar or a Dalek-voiced giant, although that’s not the point – it’s a different film than that, and I believe it will rightly take its place in the fullness of time as a standout moment in comic book movie history. In its own way, The Dark Knight Rises is a legitimately genuine “comic-book film”, in that it shoots for the heavens instead of plumbing the depths; Mr Nolan, as a fan of Batman for decades, I thank you for finally erasing the pain of Batman & Robin and giving us the Dark Knight we deserve.
As you can imagine, everyone has an opinion on this film. Here’s a selection of them (and we’ll add more as we find them):
Dan The Man loved it: “Though it may be very long, The Dark Knight Rises delivers on every spectrum: acting, writing, directing, cinematography, score, etc. It’s exactly what you could want in a summer blockbuster, and superhero movie, but it’s also exactly what you could want in a film that’s saying “adios” to all of its characters that it’s introduced to us for the past 7 years and it’s a legacy that I won’t forget.”
Max at Impassioned Cinema felt it was flawed but great: “Christopher Nolan has been presented with an impossible task. Not only does he have to satisfy leagues of comic book fans, but also the most critical movie aficionados. The Dark Knight Rises succeeds where other superhero movies would certainly falter, but it doesn’t live up to the branding of a cinematic masterpiece.”
My mate and honorary Fernby Films Hall-of-Famer Al K Hall over at The Bar None puts it most succinctly: “The Dark Knight was like three f*cking movies in one and The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t even half a movie. All’s i’m saying is a good movie doesn’t make you want to go back and talk about how good the previous one was.”
Terrence over at The Focused Filmographer loved it: “Ending in fashion that has met with more approval than dismay by fans around the world, The Dark Knight Rises concludes the saga in a way that presents a pleasant source of completion for this movie lover.”
Tom Clift felt it was excellent, but flawed: “The Dark Knight Rises is a grand third act to a cinematic saga that takes place on a scale that can only be described as colossal. But its size, while undoubtedly impressive, is also its greatest undoing: for the first time in Nolan’s astounding filmography (which includes not only the Batman films, but Inception, Memento and The Prestige), scope and spectacle have come at the expense of character, feeling and narrative ingenuity.”
Scott at Front Room Cinema also felt it was flawed: “At the end of the day. The Dark Knight Rises is a good film spoilt only by some minor plot issues and transparency. But there is a lot to enjoy.”
Colin at Nevermind Pop Film had this to say: “Christopher Nolan was up to the arduous task of following up one of the greatest films of recent history, and he didn’t disappoint. He faced questions about casting Anne Hathaway and she turned in one of the most spectacular female characters in comic book film history. In making a third film he had to surpass expectations and avoid the pitfalls of the trilogy letdown.”
Aiden at Cut The Crap loved it: “On its own merits, even if the plot could have benefited from Ockham’s Razor once in a while, The Dark Knight Rises is as satisfying and invigorating as they come. As the final entry in the series, it’s the perfect swan song to one of the greatest trilogies ever put to film. “
Stevee at Cinematic Paradox loved it, flaws and all: “The Dark Knight Rises may be a shade disappointing (and there are a few minor flaws) considering the lead up, but it is still a beyond fantastic film. Christopher Nolan’s ability to make these wonderful spectacles that fill up a cinema is something beyond my comprehension.”
Hillary at Filmoria enjoyed it too: “On the whole, The Dark Knight Rises is the fitting conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy. The second film of the series is still arguably the best, but fans will find plenty to be happy about in this outing, except perhaps the knowledge that this is the end of the line for Nolan and star Christian Bale.”
Craig at The Establishing Shot found he enjoyed it: “So you see – it is the most EPIC of stories hampered by the format of film, it has Epic first quarter, a saggy middle followed by the most Epic of Epic endings in the history of Epicness.”
Mike at The Littlest Picture Show enjoyed it too: “The Dark Knight Rises is a truly epic conclusion to Nolan’s breathtaking trilogy. Apart from a slightly slow beginning, the majority is pacey, slick, thrilling and utterly spectacular.”
Adam Truscott at Live For Films found plenty to dislike, but still enjoyed it anyway: “The film is fatally flawed at times. Huge leaps in logic. You’ll need to switch your brain off at times, and that’s something I didn’t think I’d need to do with a modern Kubrick. In fact, it betrays all of the intelligence that went before it.”
Kofi at Screenrant has this to say: “While Nolan’s Batman finale isn’t perfect, and may not be the greatest installment of the trilogy, it does manage to solidify this three-part tale of the Batman legend as one of the best ever told – in any medium – while also delivering (one of) the best blockbuster movie experiences of the summer.”
Craig at Cinematic Critique thought it was fantastic: “While it just falls short of The Dark Knight’s brilliance, this compelling and jaw-dropping conclusion to the trilogy is a fitting end to Nolan and Bale’s Batman saga.”
Sam at Duke & The Movies thought it was excellent: “With The Dark Knight Rises, the dexterous Christopher Nolan has managed to create a stirring and scintillating epic that captures our immediate attention, challenges our constantly evolving imagination, and questions even the far corners of our vast intellect.”
Ted across at Flixchatter gave the rundown on the good and bad of the film: “Is it better than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight? I can’t say that at the moment, I plan on seeing it a few more times, then maybe I can decide whether it’s better than the previous two films or not. When Nolan said this film will wrap up the trilogy, he meant it. To me it felt like he finally finished his take on the Caped Crusader.”
Ruth at Flixchatter also gave us her opinion!: “…..overall The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying finale to a fantastic [and lucrative] franchise, and it boasts such a WHOA ending to boot!”
Dan at Top 10 Films loved it: “He concludes his “trilogy” with yet another marvellous tale of good versus evil. It leaves the pretenders – from the Spider-Man’s to the Captain America’s – in an ever-increasing black hole of vacuous cinema that seems happier making everything fuzzily 3D than churning out a decent line of dialogue or a character we care about.”
What did you think of The Dark Knight Rises? Did you think it to be awesome, or a complete waste of time? Let us know in the comments below!!!