Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comic Book
Run Time: 2 hours 44 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway
Directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception, The Prestige, Memento)
There are only a few certainties in life, and Christopher Nolan delivering us greatness is quickly becoming one of them. Ever since 1998’s Memento, Nolan has quickly become one of the most exciting visionary directors in Hollywood, and now the hype-machine that is Nolan’s final take on The Caped Crusader culminates in The Dark Knight Rises. It is the third and final chapter of his Batman trilogy, one of the most iconic characters of all time. So how does it live up?
The short answer is that The Dark Knight Rises is a good, if not great, wrap-up to the saga. It is a bold and powerful film that definitely comes full circle in tying together the previous two installments – 2005’s Batman Begins and 2008’s The Dark Knight. It’s just not as good as these films.
This story picks up eight years after where we left off, when Batman escaped into exile and took the blame for many of the crimes committed by Harvey “Two-Face” Dent. In the interim, Gotham City has flourished – what once was a city over-ran with organized crime is now a shining example of community. Batman hasn’t been seen since, and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Alfred (Michael Caine) is still on the payroll, as is Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) as the head of the Wayne Corporation. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is now Commissioner, and we also meet an up-and-coming young cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Masked vigilantes have become increasingly popular during this time too, I guess, and in this film we are introduced to Salina Kyle – Catwoman – played by Anne Hathaway. The impending doom and main villain of The Dark Knight Rises is the massive and menacing Bane (an unrecognizable Tom Hardy), who plans to – guess? – take over Gotham City.
I was a jumble of emotions watching The Dark Knight Rises, as the film was as disappointing as it was impressive. Nolan’s fierce storytelling matched with some seriously strong performances has kept this series inspired, and well worth investing in for the 8+ hours required to get through the entire trilogy. But where the first two films seem to unravel naturally - dropping us inside this dark world - this film feels pasted together and uninspired. The plot is at times lazy, and we get several action sequences that seemed pulled from lesser movies. Is Batman really racing to detonate a bomb before the timer goes off? Surely this trilogy is above flimsy scenarios like this.
There is also a great deal of exposition, as many characters can be seen telling us and then re-telling us what is going on with them, and why it is important that they are doing what they’re doing. There is a dumbing-down feel to this one that wasn’t found in the previous films.
Fans of the comic books (like me) know all about Bane and his importance to the Batman mythology, and Nolan pulls the juiciest bits of the character from the pages onto the screen. They did Bane well. There is also some iconic imagery in the film borrowed from Bane’s famous “Knightfall” comic storyline. Anybody who has read “Knightfall” knows what happens, and it is all kinds of awesome how this material is treated.
But unlike previous villains such as The Scarecrow, Ra’s Al Ghul or The Joker, Bane and Catwoman both feel shoe-horned into the action. The non-Nolan Batman films were famous for over-stuffing themselves with baddies, and it was a bit of a let-down to see these characters there with no real purpose other than to make things tough for our hero.
All of that being said, the final act of The Dark Knight Rises truly rewards the audience with several surprises and twists along the way. By this final 20 minutes, Nolan transcends the hokey action sequences from the first two hours of the film and delivers a wonderful and emotional pay-off. There is some symbolism stolen from the first film that makes you think Nolan saw this as a trilogy all along, even if he claims he took one film at a time. It is a brave and daring conclusion that he arrives at, and it is a near master-stroke of story-telling that does all of the characters proud.
There is no question in my mind that Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the definitive Batman story. I couldn’t imagine anybody doing Batman better, although time will surely give us more Bat-movies in years to come that will test that theory.
The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying final chapter to one of the best comic-book trilogies ever put on screen. It is also perhaps the weakest of Nolan’s Batman movies as a whole…which isn’t saying too much since this still puts it above several other comic book films. But the strength of the film’s finale delivers us a very meaningful conclusion, and one that is open to interpretation.
It’s surely going to be one of this year’s biggest blockbusters, even if I felt we deserved a bit more based on the massive expectations attached to it.
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