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Note: This review contains as few spoilers as possible. I personally think it is safe to read if you have not seen the movie. I do not go too heavily into plot details.
The last four years have seen a multitude of rumors regarding the final installment of the Christopher Nolan’s universally adored Dark Knight Trilogy. I don’t think there was any way whatsoever that the ultimate product in the film series, The Dark Knight Rises, could have ever lived up to the mammoth, Herculean expectations that critics, the internet, and the general public had for this film. The Dark Knight Rises is a noble effort to appease everyone, but it falls just short of greatness, even if it is a stupendous, colossally ambitious endeavor.
Yes, ambitious is probably the correct word to assign to The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan and his team of story-tellers, including his brother Jonathan and long-time Batman collaborator David S. Goyer, throw everything but the kitchen sink into this movie, to borrow an old but appropriate cliché. Their final vision for the Nolan-verse, as it has obnoxiously come to be known, is over-stuffed, wildly entertaining, mildly threatening, and even terrifying in some ways. It is almost useless to even go into detail about the main plot, because The Dark Knight Rises, as a film, transcends what we as moviegoers have come to know or expect from a film plot.
It is eight long years after the events of The Dark Knight. Much like how the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne shocked the rich denizens of Gotham City into action, the death of Harvey Dent shocks the city of Gotham as well, this time into over-zealously prosecuting crime, both of the organized and random variety. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), having long since retired from donning cape and cowl, is a beaten and broken man. The years of abuse his body has taken as the Batman have taken a significant toll on him, both physically and psychologically. Though crime is seemingly at a low in Gotham, the people have once again become complacent. A series of events forces Wayne to take up the mantle as Batman once again, and he’ll need the help of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), and young police detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) if he is to succeed and take down mercenary and criminal leader Bane (Thomas Hardy).
The plot, as mentioned, is so unconventional for this type of movie that it is hard putting it into words. This works entirely in the movie’s favor, because it keeps the audience guessing and helps retain an aura of mystique throughout. This mystique is much welcomed, and as such the film is rarely boring. Unnecessary characters abound in The Dark Knight Rises however, and those such as Gotham police officer Foley (Mathew Modine, in a thankless role), could be completely excised from the film. Even main supporting players, such as Catwoman and Blake, aren’t totally necessary to the plot as a whole, despite a good performance from Gordon-Levitt as Blake. Nolan and crew do their best to shoe-horn in reasons for their existence, but the film doesn’t necessarily need them.
That is perhaps the biggest problem I have with the film. The glut of supporting characters pushes Bruce Wayne/Batman to the side in many ways. One review I read before going to the movie praised the second and third act of the film, but criticized the first for featuring far too little Bruce Wayne/Batman. I can get behind this criticism. It is a complaint I also had about The Dark Knight four years ago. This movie pushes Bane to the side as well, which is regrettable because Tom Hardy is excellent as the villain. Bane is, let’s say, a theatrical character (much in line with Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow and Heath Ledger’s Joker), and Hardy throws himself into the role. The voice, much maligned on the internet after being heard in trailers, seems to have been pitched differently for the final version, and I love it. Simply put, Bane works as a villain.
It’s just unfortunate that Michael Caine (reprising his role, strongly, as Alfred), Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman (back again as Lucius Fox) are side-lined for much of the running time, this again despite a tearful performance from Caine and solid performances from the other two. Each of these actors has been a consistent pleasure in this film series (the casting department really deserves a nod), but none of them, especially Freeman, really gets his due in the finale. Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon does play a far more significant role in the second half of the film, thankfully, and at least Alfred gets some closure.
On a scale of pure spectacle, this movie is almost unmatched by its peers. Nolan and company deliver the goods as far as action, adventure, and special effects are concerned. As a comic book movie, The Dark Knight Rises is nigh magnificent. As the third trilogy in a pretty good (Batman Begins) to genuinely great (The Dark Knight) series of films, The Dark Knight Rises is almost certainly flawed however. I like this movie, and I can’t stress this point enough, but it is a flawed film through and through. The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen, certainly one of the most ambitious movies ever made for a broad summer audience, but it is a flawed affair throughout its bloated running time of two hours and forty-five minutes. I highly recommend this movie, but at the same time I can’t help but feel a certain amount of disappointment in The Dark Knight Rises. I just can’t blame Nolan and crew all that much for my own personal disappointment; they’ve done nearly everything they could do to deliver on the promise and the spectacle. There’s just something missing here, something I can’t quite put my finger on, despite all of that ambition.