“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal… you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend”
-Ra’s al Ghul
The Dark Knight Rises is the end of director Christopher Nolan‘s grand trilogy that began with Bruce Wayne’s journey into darkness as he learned the difference between fighting for vengeance and fighting for justice. He took down the city’s biggest crime lord while simultaneously raising the bar for what it takes to commit crime in Gotham. The Dark Knight brought Wayne’s character to the next level as he faced off with the Joker, a man who really didn’t want anything but Gotham’s corruption and destruction. Batman had to look inward and see how far he would have to go to stop monsters like the Joker. The end of The Dark Knight left our hero broken as he had to make some painful compromises that would cost the city and all the characters involved to see that the Joker’s reign of terror was not successful. In many ways The Dark Knight Rises presents the end of Bruce Wayne’s journey as Batman as he finally comes to understand exactly what it will take to save to dark and corrupt city of Gotham. Is this the conclusion fans have been waiting for, or does this film destined to live in the shadow of its outstanding predecessors?
The Dark Knight Rises is set eight years after the fall of Harvey Dent and the Joker’s attack on Gotham. Batman has taken the blame for Dent’s crimes as Two-Face which driven a crippled Bruce Wayne(Christian Bale) to give up the cowl and become a hermit by locking himself inside Wayne Manor with his only friend being his ever loyal butler Alfred(Michael Caine). The cover up for Dent’s crimes has apparently worked as organized crime has been all but destroyed(by an act known as The Dent Act) leaving Commissioner Jim Gordon(Gary Oldman) feeling hollow and purposeless as he reflects on the lie of Harvey Dent. Eventually Bruce is brought back into the game by a cat burglar(*cough*Catwoman *cough*) named Selina Kyle(Anne Hathaway) who breaks into his mansion and steals his mother’s pearl necklace and Bruce’s finger prints. As Bruce begins to resurface as Batman; so does a terrorist known as Bane(Tom Hardy) who begins an attack on Gotham’s economy that escalates into a much bigger scheme. Bruce’s return as Batman reunites him with his tech provider Mr. Fox(Morgan Freeman), a member of the board of executives of Wayne Enterprises Miranda Tate(Marion Cotillard), and young policeman named John Blake(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that is supportive of Batman despite his supposed crimes. Batman must overcome his physical as well as emotional afflictions so that he can become the hero Gotham needs to stop Bane’s relentless attack on Gotham.
The structure of The Dark Knight Rises is less like it’s predecessors and more like an epic as it starts off very slow, but builds to a climatic finale that is filled with a massive battle, huge emotional payoff, and an ending that could not have better suited this series. Like its predecessors the film is layered with many different subplots as well as intricate themes of economics, class warfare, and pain. Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan have constructed this story that is well crafted and very thought out as it manages to balance most of its characters and subplots so that nothing is lost in the mix. This is a very lengthy movie with a run time of 164 minutes. Rises utilizes nearly every second of this long run time by giving each of the characters a story to tell or an arc to fulfill. There is a lot going on in this movie that could easily could have been fleshed out into an entire second film had everything been fully explored which leads to the film film feeling a bit truncated. The movie is certainly not hurt by the abundance of ideas, but few of them are as explored as the ideas found in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. The slow start of the film may turn some viewers off, but I found that the slower first half gave the movie a chance to set up for all of the payoff found in the second half. The ending of the film(which I will obviously not spoil) is one that is filled with payoff that actually brought me to tears. While there will be a never ending debate as to which of the three films is the best; I believe that the fact that there is an argument at all is enough to prove that Nolan has crafted one of if not the greatest film trilogies ever made. This movie does not fall into the same traps that so many conclusions do which makes this movie a cut above most finales. The storytelling in this film may be exceptional, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are few minor flaws. As I mentioned; this movie is bursting at the seems with ideas and content, and unfortunately things get a bit confusing from time to time because so much is happening so fast. After a second viewing I was able to keep these confusions straight, but in my initial viewing I did run into a few moments where I had to recount what was going on and fill in the holes myself. The other thing that gave me a bit of trouble was Bane’s voice. After getting into the movie, the voice was easy enough to follow, but initially I found it nearly impossible to understand. Overall these minor gripes pail in comparison to the strengths of this movie.
The cast for the movie is excellent. Bale turns in his best performance yet as a Bruce Wayne filled with pain who has to reconcile his grief of the death of his parents/Rachel with his mission to save Gotham. He truly does bring his Oscar winning game to the role that made him famous. The other returners Caine, Freeman, and Oldman all fulfill their respective roles as Alfred, Fox, and Commissioner Gordon. Cain especially turns in a very moving performance by conveying all of the pain he has held in as he has seen young Wayne grow up only to become a washed up millionaire without any real drive or purpose in life. Caine may not get an Oscar nomination, but he certainly deserves one. The newcomers include Hardy, Hathaway, Levitt, and Cotillard who all do incredibly well. While none of them quite match up to Ledger’s legendary performance as the Joker, they are nothing short of outstanding. Tom Hardy gives us a villain that is very different from the Joker because he is very brutish and very calculating. Bane is certainly no Joker, and he intends not to be. Hardy may have a muffled voice, but the way he uses his eyes to convey his emotions it really different from what we’ve seen before. Anne Hathaway lights up nearly every scene she is in by having a devious attitude with a playful persona. She may be the best performance of the movie as I found myself hoping she would get more screen time every time she was missing from a scene. Levitt plays a fairly simple supporting character, but plays it well. John Blake is very much a reflection of a younger Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon who were hopeful about their fight against the mob. Levitt brings a certain youthful vibe to the character that certainly pushes the way Wayne thinks about his own personal journey. Cotillard has a small role here, but she certainly makes the best of it. She plays a very smart member of Wayne Enterprises who wishes to bring renewable energy to the whole city. Each of these characters has their own arcs, and it is these arcs that push Bruce Wayne as Batman to realize what he will really have to do to save the soul of Gotham; which is to become more than a man, but a symbol for people to rally behind; not fear or despise. The characters in this film are incredibly well acted and written, and you could not have asked for a better cast to end the tale of Batman.
Christopher Nolan (and to some extent his brother Jonathan) is the mastermind behind this entire trilogy, and he has kept these movies really consistent in quality by delivering probably the best origin story superhero movies have seen and then proceeded to in some ways top it by delivering a very dark and intense sequel with one of the best portrayals of any iconic villain seen on film. What is really nice is that none of these movies really aim for the same goals as they are all fulfilling different agendas which has kept the Dark Knight and Rises from falling into the deadly sequel-itis trap that so many trilogies fall into leading them to being stale. Nolan brings the goods in this movie by delivering a film with an epic scope and some massive set pieces that fit seamlessly into the story he is trying to tell. This movie is executed with a sophistication that most superhero movie lack. Nolan’s use of practical effects over CGI, darker tone, and massive scope set this film apart from other movies in this genre. Cinematography from Nolan’s regular collaborator Wally Pfister is as spectacular as ever as the movie captures various overview shots of the city, the dark and dirty streets of Gotham, and some huge action set pieces. Nolan brings the intricate and layered script, huge scope and spectacle, and character driven plot all into a movie that fires on all cylinders all the way to the end.
Overall The Dark Knight Rises may be one of the best endings any trilogy can hope to achieve as it lays all of its cards on the table in a gamble that pays off in spades. The movie is a dark, epic, and emotional ending to this exceptional film trilogy. I highly recommend this movie to any film goer looking for a movie this summer that is deeper than your average blockbuster movie. The movie is certainly a treat for the mind as much as it is for the heart. Bat-fans and mainstream film goers will all find something to like. Is this better than the legendary Dark Knight? That is a question that will be hotly debated for years to come, but I believe that the debate itself is proof that this series is consistently exceptional.
The story unfolds more like an epic and slowly builds to an epic finale filled with a climatic battle, a twist of sorts, and some incredible emotional payoff. The story is very layered and intricate which forces the audience to pay very close attention. The story is also layered with various themes and ideas which will certainly leave the audience walking away with something from the movie. There are a few minor plot hiccups along the way and the film does feel a bit condensed and truncated at times, but these minor complaints hardly damage this very well constructed film.
The entire cast turn in great performances with the absolute standouts being Hathaway, Caine, and Bale. While none of the performances are as mesmerizing or intense as Ledger’s Joker, they all still do remarkable jobs at the roles in front of them. Nearly every lead in this movie has an arc, and the film does a decent enough job balancing all of these stories while still keeping the spotlight on Bruce Wayne. The film may have intense action sequences and a massive scope, but the most successful (and vital) part of the movie is the character interaction especially between Bruce and Alfred. Ensemble casts do not get better than this.
Christopher Nolan perfects his art of Bat-film making by raising the stakes and widening the picture(which becomes absolutely massive). He manages to bring his script, the ensemble cast, and the epic set pieces together to make a movie that is exceptional on its own, but also works incredibly well as the end of his trilogy. His choice of practical effects over CGI gives the film a sense of realism that is missing from many movies made in the modern era.
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 10
This is an intelligent arthouse epic in the the disguise of a summer blockbuster. Rises may have all of the bells and whistles of a summer blockbuster, but it has a depth, complexity, and sophistication that is almost unheard of in the realm of blockbusters. The movie works as a piece of entertainment, but it is so much more underneath its blockbuster status as it has an incredibly moving character story, a tale of class warfare, pain, and self forgiveness, and lastly has a characterization that is far more realistic than what film goers have come to expect. This movie is not perfect, but it is a cut above modern blockbusters and entertainment. There will be a never ending debate as to which of the three movies in the trilogy is the best, but Rises is the only one that manages to deliver the ending this series so richly deserves(not the one it needs).