Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review

Studio: WarnerBros. Pictures
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway,
Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard,
Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine,
and Liam Neeson

My Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars Rating: 87% 78 out of 100 9.0 out of 10 Stars 
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense
sequences of violence and action,
some sensuality and language.

(★★★★½ out of 5 Stars)The Dark Knight opened four years ago in 2008, the film epitome of the early 2000’s. The highest grossing movie of the year, it was welcomed to a rapturous critical and audience acclaim- never had Hollywood been so agreeable in its stance. It welcomed top prize nominations at the Director’s Guild, Producer’s Guild and Writer’s Guild, even at the BAFTAs and Golden Globes. Heath Ledger’s virtuoso performance as the Joker swept the year’s circuit, bittersweet in the fact that he didn’t live to enjoy the pinnacle of his career. He didn’t live to see himself win the Oscar- only the second actor to do so posthumously- or to see the movie itself get snubbed for Best Picture.

Putting aside Heath Ledger’s fantastic performance, I felt it was only one of several cogs that meshed together to reach the perfection that the movie did. No one could deny it was Ledger’s movie, but backseat, it was really Nolan’s. Christopher Nolan, who led the movie to transcend the comic book movie genre and create a thrilling, sophisticated, morally complex and intelligent movie- that just happened to be led by a guy in tights. I didn’t really care for the genre before The Dark Knight came along- and that tells you what a great movie it is. That I suspended my biases of the genre to recognize it as a dark and richly drawn crime saga.

It was Nolan who created this backdrop, his reinvention of the characters vivid and the movie increasing in its brilliance the further it progressed. He made Joker into a monster who sought to reveal the world’s true colors- but he failed when neither the prisoners or the civilians blew up each other’s boats. He of course succeeded in his deformation of the White Knight, Harvey Dent. So, Ledger may have gotten his Oscar but Nolan was left barren, no nods for Best Picture, Best Director, or even Adapted Screenplay. To be fair, the Academy Governors were so upset about the mistake that they widened the field to 10 the next year. When Nolan released Inception, however, it was too left in the dust in major categories.

This isn’t the place for an attack on the Academy, however (for that see here:, here:, or here:

The Dark Knight redefined a genre and garnered a respect never before seen for the genre. With these expectations- and the complete lack of Heath Ledger or the Joker- does The Dark Knight Rises, the final movie in the series, live up?

The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight- to recap, The Joker turned Harvey Dent into Two-Face, who promptly kills five people, nearly kills Commissioner Gordon’s son and then kills himself.  Policemen surrounded the seen, the only known people there Commissioner Gordon, his family, Two-Face and the Batman. Harvey Dent is dead- who’s going to take the blame? Batman fulfilled his final duty by taking the blame- because that’s what Gotham needed him to be, the Dark Knight over Harvey’s legal stand against organized crime.

Only, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), a.k.a. Batman, hasn’t moved on. He lives as a Hermit inside of his mansion, his only confidant Alfred (Michael Caine). Age hasn’t been kind to Wayne, finding himself crippled with the lost use of his right leg.  He doesn’t allow anyone to see him, not even philanthropist and Wayne board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who expresses interest to meet with him and discuss the new energy source that Bruce has created. Alfred tells Bruce that he needs to get a life and that Batman is behind him.

Meanwhile, Bane (Tom Hardy) is slowly taking over Gotham in all the ways Joker didn’t. While Joker started from the bottom of Gotham, the villains and the mob, Bane starts at the top. He infiltrates the board at Wayne Industries and the stock exchange reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street. Bane’s takeover is enough to reawaken the Batman, but there are several problems- Bane is physically superior to the aging Batman, and there’s still the fact that the police still think that Batman killed Harvey Dent.  When Batman tries to stop Bane’s invasion of the Gotham Stock Exchange, the police’s attention is diverted from Bane to Batman. Bane, obviously, escapes.

Bruce Wayne tries to integrate himself back into society after learning about the falling standards of Wayne Industry- the company is making no profits so the charities that it supports runs out of money. He goes bankrupt and loses all his money, but not before electing Miranda Tate as head of the board and giving her access to the new power source he and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) developed. With the help of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), an expert cat burglar with a record trying to get a clean slate, he tracks down Bane- and is immediately broken by him. As he slowly rehabilitates in Bane’s prison, Bane takes over Gotham and has turned Bruce Wayne’s energy source into a time bomb. The rich fall and what’s left of the police, idealistic young John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Commissioner Gordon try to stop the bomb before it destroys Gotham.

The opening scene of the film is spectacular, although not comparable to the brilliance of Joker’s prologue in The Dark Knight. The next one-third of the film is pretty slow. I didn’t really buy the whole Batman waiting eight years to come back thing. The eight years wasn’t necessary. In theory, the idea of an aging Batman sounds intriguing, as the entire trilogy is based on realism that other comic-book movies lack. I can see why Nolan would want to wait eight years, as to distance the Joker from the series as much as possible, but then it just takes too long to get the movie on track back from there. The whole energy source turned time bomb plot was a little hard to swallow.

The entire film feels a bit sloppy, perhaps because Nolan’s trying to fit everything he possibly can into his last Batman film and tries to please fans as much as possible- that’s where his error lies. Also, the complete lack of Joker- in fact, he’s not mentioned once- is in respect to Ledger’s memory, but it comes off like Nolan’s ignoring him. I mean, the guy terrorized and Gotham. He blew up a hospital, screwed over the mob, and nearly detonated two ships full of people- shouldn’t that have some lasting impact? In its sloppiness, the film lacks the self-assuredness of The Dark Knight as well. The film paced along with extreme suspense and a constant flow of moral complexity throughout its intricately woven plot.

That’s not to say Rises doesn’t present some big ideas. It presents issues of class unrest, fulfillment, and terrorism- but the film doesn’t tackle its big issues with the ferocity that its predecessor it is. While Joker’s reign made us feel the pure terror we did from 9/11 I didn’t feel the relevancy here; Nolan didn’t present an argument that made me like Bane more than I did Batman- which is what he succeeded in doing with Joker.

Sure, Bane’s brilliant. Schematic brilliant, not Joker’s raving crackpot mind. But what’s the fun in that? At first it’s cool to have a villain that can rival Batman, but it gets old. Tom Hardy is great in the role, but his character doesn’t give him much to really work with- his transformation and role dedication is admirable in that sense.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle was my favorite part of the movie- in my eyes, she beats Michelle Pfeiffer as the character, hands down. She’s sensuous and mysterious, sure- but she brings a complexity to the character integral to the story. She’s vulnerable and morally conflicted, not sure whether she should run away when she can or do the right thing. Her stage presence is magnificent, and she assimilates herself into the character as much as Heath Ledger did.

Christian Bale gives his best performance in the title role yet, his Marlon Brando-esque incarnation of the character haunting. He’s most mesmerizing in his rehabilitation, his character’s very essence shining through his usual charisma in a powerful and refined performance.

Marion Cotillard’s character was the one I bought the least. The part she played in the end felt kind of week, and it deviated too much from her Mal in Inception.

Visually, the film is an undeniable craft experience. The cinematography lacks the darkness of the last film but is crisp, Gotham palpable in its dulled tones and uses of certain colors that catch the viewer’s eye. Each scene is flawlessly framed, snow in the middle of battle and the deep desert sun all skillfully handled. So many things in the film could’ve looked cheesy but are as visionary as Nolan’s direction itself, once again a startling par above other action-movie directors and emerging as something the trilogy has never been recognized as. Deep, black –as-night film noir.

That’s not to say that this is a bad ending to the series. It’s great, in fact. The first portion of the film may feel like a letdown, but the second act engrossed me, especially when Batman enters the pit. The final third of the film is spectacular and makes up for any missteps the first part made. The last few minutes especially pay tribute to the original characters and the ones Nolan developed himself in the series. It is truly and emotional masterpiece, delivered gracefully with Nolan’s deft hands.

Not nearly the work of genius its predecessor was, The Dark Knight Rises is still an epic in its own right- dark and dazzling, skillful in its emotional heft and a virtuoso work of humanity. The film wraps up the series on a high note, assuring Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as a cinematic experience for the ages. 

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