I’m not sure yet if it quite holds up to deeper scrutiny, but my in-the-moment response to The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s exactly what you’d want and expect for the concluding chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. You’ve got the spectacle, the angst, the gloom, the thematic grandiosity and the gravity, but there’s also a bit more humor and emotion, a bit more sex appeal and, perhaps for the first time since Nolan took over, Batman himself isn’t upstaged by every other character in the film.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Dark Knight was watching Bruce Wayne walk the moral tightrope of vigilantism. He had the power and the clear cut sense of right and wrong, so why not exercise that power? And exercise it he did. From rendition to a surveillance system that the NSA could only dream about, it’s not for nothing Wayne was compared in some analyses to George W. Bush. In the end though, Wayne realizes that the law as a symbol is more important than order by itself so he agreed at the end of the film to return to the shadows a fugitive while the mantle of hero was placed around the shoulders of fallen District Attorney Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years later with Batman’s whereabouts unknown, Bruce Wayne a recluse, his empire crumbling and the fragile peace of Gotham City about to be shattered by the revelation that it’s based on a lie.

The villain this time is the mysterious Bane (Tom Hardy), who we’re introduced to in a spectacular opening involving a midair hijacking and a kidnapped nuclear scientist. Coming across like The Road Warrior’s Lord Humungous if he was a Mexican wrestler and sounding like Sean Connery crossed with Darth Vader, Bane is one of the creepiest and most ferocious of all Bat-villains. Bent on destruction, he sets his sights on Gotham with a plan to finish the job left incomplete by R’as al Ghul in Batman Begins.

Loosely involved with the businessman who believes he can harness Bane’s power to help him take over Wayne Industries is cat burglar Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. As Kyle, Anne Hathaway is no Michelle Pfeiffer, but she doesn’t try to be and she brings a welcome note of humor and sexiness to the often too-serious and asexual franchise. Though frightening, Bane is a charmless villain, particularly compared to Heath Ledger’s magnificent Joker, and Hathaway goes a long way toward bridging the personality gap. At the same time, she dials back her performance a little bit. She’s an actress who can sometimes come across overeager to impress, but here she’s relaxed and confident, just like her character. It says a lot that the film sags a little during a middle stretch when she’s conspicuously absent.

Though the “just gargled with hot gravel” voice he uses as Batman even to people who know Batman is Bruce Wayne sounds as silly as ever, this might be my favorite Christian Bale Batman performance. He’s not just brooding and not just angsty. Though he starts out the story as a hermit, The Dark Knight Rises is all about reconciling the man and the myth and there’s a real human edge to the character this time around as he slowly finds himself.

Nolan has shown repeatedly that he has an eye and an imagination for pure spectacle and he delivers once again, starting with the previously mentioned hijacking. He still has a frustratingly impressionistic and choppy handling of action sequences, but by this point you have to acknowledge it as an intentional aesthetic rather than as incompetence. It is what it is. I don’t personally care for it, but a lot of people do. Plus, if anything, it feels like there’s more action this time around and it has a little more spatial coherence than normal. Maybe I just knew what to expect and tried harder to make visual sense of it going in. Anyway, impressionistically edited or not, the Bat copter is really cool.

In terms of the plot, some of it in retrospect doesn’t make a lot of sense though in the moment there were no glaring plot holes. I don’t understand why Bane’s plot took 5 months to execute (other than the fact that a lot of stuff had to happen in between) for example, but maybe that’ll be more clear after another viewing.

Thematically, I’m not sure The Dark Knight Rises is quite as satisfying as the previous film’s engaging puzzle box of ideas, but these too might get stronger on repeat viewings. Whereas we were all still preoccupied with terrorism and our national response to it in 2008, this time Nolan turns his eyes toward the country’s class divisions typified by the occupy Wall Street movement. He’s on record as saying part of the film’s inspiration came from A Tale of Two Cities and there’s a very real sense of how, as in Dickens, anger can be subverted and used to a bad end no matter how righteous that anger is to begin with. Bane uses class anger as a shield to justify his campaign as a popular uprising. While the film for a while feels like the nightmares of the 1% come to life with unruly, angry mobs taking over the city, the sacrifices of at least three characters in the end shows Nolan’s sympathies lie not with the powers of individualism and laissez faire capitalism, but in the hearts of decent people doing the right thing regardless of the personal consequences.

With The Dark Knight, I complained that the material and inherent violence really deserved an R-rated treatment. No one agreed with me, but I still think it’s dishonest to justify a comic book movie as being more adult on one hand and saying it should be scrubbed clean for kids on the other. I continue to find consequence free violence to be offensive and tonally it’s at odds with the adult nature of the rest of the film. The same goes for The Dark Knight Rises. It would be a better film if it hadn’t had to be sanitized and shrink-wrapped for pre-teens, but I also understand the economics involved in the decision.

Despite not having to include an origin story, The Dark Knight Rises comes in at a full 30 minutes longer than the already lengthy Batman Begins and 15 minutes longer than The Dark Knight. Nevertheless, it manages to keep you fully engaged. As I said, there are some draggy spots especially when Hathaway isn’t on screen, but it never wears out its welcome. The ending is a little too neat and it reeks of unnecessary fan service, but I have to also admit it was emotionally satisfying and a worthy bow tied on top of what turned out to be a pretty terrific trilogy.

8 Responses to “The Dark Knight Rises (2012)”

  1. totally agree. wonderful review. this is an exceptional performance by bale.

  2. I’ve been critical of him in this role in the past, but he’s much more soulful this time around. He feels… human.

  3. It’s a good movie. My least favorite in the trilogy on first viewing but I enjoyed things about it. Anne Hathaway is tremendous (cool, sexy, funny). I couldn’t take my eyes off her. It’s big and clunky and awkwardly paced though, and Hans Zimmer’s score wouldn’t let up (stop all the pounding “boom boom” noises!). The cast is great and I like the general concept of the film although I’m not really sure what Bane is trying to achieve ultimately. All this revolution talk when the end goal is to just decimate, kill everyone and be done with it? There’s also a major plot twist at the end that really bugged me. ****MINOR SPOILER: it just takes away from everything you learn about Bane. It ruins his sense of myth and mystery*****

    But the big brawl at the end is terrific and there are plenty of suspenseful sequences and impressive large scale action. Hathaway steals the movie. She’s great.

  4. ***SPOILERS PROBABLY**** Yeah, in retrospect I don’t get why the 5 month wait, unless I missed part of the point of Bane’s plot. Also, I knew going in the real identity of Cotillard so I’m not sure if that made the twist less dramatic or less stupid. Either way, it was kind of a non-issue ***END SPOILERS***

    In the moment, I almost liked this one better than TDK, but then I rewatched TDK (for the first time since it was in theaters) and changed my mind. The plot and themes were both tighter and more interesting in TDK.

  5. I still like “Begins” the best. It has the tightest structure and a great balance between action and drama. “TDK” has an unstoppable performance by Heath Ledger and great set-pieces, but the last 30 min is so self-serious and lays the message too thick. “Rises” is a solid action film with some cool ideas and excellent acting, but not quite as memorable as those films. But it’s good. The more it sits with me, the more I like it. Maybe it will improve on 2nd viewing.

    ****TWIST SPOILERS*****
    I was surprised by the twist, but the second it happened, I really got annoyed. The film spends almost 3 hours building up Bane’s backstory/myth/intrigue, which I found really interesting, then in the last 10 minutes reduces him to basically a big thug bodyguard. In the end we know only a couple things about him – he loved her, he protects her – but nothing more. It makes him the least interesting of the villains in the trilogy, and that’s too bad. At least it did for me.
    ***END TWIST SPOILER*****

    Still, it’s a good movie. And kudos to Nolan for crafting a big epic trilogy with smarts and technical brilliance.

  6. That’s a controversial choice Ari, as I’m sure you know. I’ve always liked BB better than its reputation and I rewatched it at the same time I watched TDK and liked it even better than I remember. It’s still 3rd best for me, but it’s solid.

    SPOILERS

    I thought the twist was poorly handled. It happened way too late and up until then Cotillard wasn’t given anything to do. That’s a horrible waste of a magnetic actress. There was a point right before the reveal where I began to think the rumors were wrong and it wasn’t going to happen. By the time it did, it was kind of pointless. And yeah, it diminished Bane.

    END SPOILERS

  7. does BB have a bad reputation? I thought most people agreed it was an inspired origin story. The action is choppy, but it’s still an exciting, dramatic, well-cast film.

    I’m seeing “rises” again next week in IMAX. maybe it improves on 2nd viewing.

  8. Agreed on nearly all points, Craig. This one isn’t as tightly wound or as interesting as TDK. It didn’t inspire the same type of awe that some of the sequences of the last film did. That said, TDKR is a much more human film and its emotions and performances feel more genuine than either of the last two films, and I think that explains some of the thematic and structural messiness. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up in one film and Nolan did a pretty good job doing that.

    ***SPOILERS***

    I agree that the twist felt too abrupt, but I’m not sure it undercuts Bane’s mystique. I think the twist humanized him in a way that wasn’t entirely incongruous with what we thought we knew about the character. I think a few more scenes with Cotillard were needed to add shading to a thin peripheral character who ended up playing an outsized role in the plot.

    *** END SPOILERS ***

    How about that cast, though?

    Nolan certainly knows how to pick them. He finds interesting ways to put his frequent players to use while throwing character actors a bone (Matthew Modine, Ben Meldelsohn, William Devane, even Thomas Lennon from Reno 911 showed up in a funny cameo).

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