WARNING: This review contains some (not all) spoilers for those who have yet to see the film. To those people I say, “What the hell are you waiting for?! Get out and see it already!”
Christopher Nolan concludes his wildly-popular take on Batman with the eagerly anticipated, “The Dark Knight Rises.” As a massive (pls see: “obsessive“) Batman fan, Nolan’s trilogy has reinvigorated my interest and enthusiasm for the Caped Crusader, and in the process has reinvented him in such a way to almost completely erase the disastrous Batman films that preceded them. So, did “TDKR” live up to my expectations? This is my review.
The Dark Knight Returns
One of the great things about Nolan’s take on Batman is his respect for – and inclusion of – so many aspects of the comics, graphic novels and mythos. For long-time readers, each movie in the trilogy is loaded with easter-eggs and nuanced references that make fan-boys squeal (present company included), while at the same time, providing those who have only seen the movies with blockbuster entertainment and action.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is no different and is fraught with references and story arcs taken from such storylines as, “Knightfall,” “No Man’s Land,” and Frank Miller’s sentinel tomes, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One.”
Taking place 8 years after the events of, “The Dark Knight” and the death of Harvey Dent (which plays a prominent role in TDKR), Bruce Wayne – played by Christian Bale – has not donned and cape and cowl since…and The Batman has been villanized by the people of Gotham for his presumed role in Dent’s death. His body is bruised and battered due to the repeated beatings he has taken and he now walks with a cane. Reminiscent of Frank Miller’s, “The Dark Knight Returns“, Wayne is also graying at the temples and perhaps past his prime, becoming a recluse who never leaves Wayne Manor. For all intents and purposes, the Dark Knight has retired and peace has been restored to Gotham City.
“Gotham Must Burn”
However, this is Gotham after all…and there is always a villain that threatens the safety of its citizens. This is where Bane comes in…and where Batman comes back.
NOTE: I highly recommend watching the first two films again before going to see TDKR, as the storylines and events of each play a significant role in the final movie.
Bane was introduced by DC Comics back in 1993 and is a HULKING figure that relies upon the “Venom” serum for his strength. Nolan decided to forego any CGI and instead created a more “realistic” Bane in the form of actor, Tom Hardy.
Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is very good, as he is appropriately imposing and evil…not to mention that he respectably fills the role that you want in a villain, in that you can’t wait for Batman to kick his ass. However, this is not the case during the first meeting between the two…in which Bane breaks Batman’s back (see: “Knightfall“) and essentially establishes the premise for why the Dark Knight must “rise.” Truth be known, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned – and almost depressed – to have seen Batman defeated in the way that he is in the film.
I have mixed feelings about Bane in the film. Mostly, my biggest criticism would be that you can barely understand half of what he says and the electronic “sing songy” nature of the way that he talks and his cadence is…odd. I assume that this was a story device devised by Nolan to be an interesting contrast between his imposing physical nature and the way in which he speaks, but for me it was a bit annoying and off-putting.
Additionally, he almost came across as looking mentally challenged in some scenes, as his eyes would practically cross while he was speaking. There is one scene in particular, as he is addressing the people of Gotham outside of Blackgate Prison, where the combination of his mannerisms, speech and eyes…well, think Jimmy Stewart meets Adam Sandler in “Billy Madison.” Maybe it’s just me…
It is revealed that Bane was once/is a member of the “League of Shadows” (pls see: “Batman Begins“) and has come to complete the work of Ra’s al Ghul…which is the absolute destruction of Gotham City.
Yet again, it is a device created by Wayne Enterprises that is being used to accomplish that end…and, as in “The Dark Knight” with the Joker, Bane puts Gotham’s humanity to the test.
There are moments in the movie – rather dramatic moments – in which you are not sure whether Batman will prevail, at least not alone. Batman is going to need allies and TDKR introduces a couple of new ones, while bringing back all of your favorites.
Alfred: The dutiful and dry-witted butler returns, but in a significantly reduced role. Providing an emotional moment between him and Bruce Wayne near the beginning of the film, we do not see Alfred again until the end. However, it is during those moments that a few important story points are established as it relates to whether Bruce can ever stop being Batman and whether he would ever be able to have a “normal” life…the latter being a strong wish of Alfred’s. Alfred continues to be Bruce’s moral and emotional center.
Commissioner Gordon: Gary Oldman delivers another incredible portrayal of Batman’s biggest and most important ally, in what is probably the best casting choice in all three of the movies. Gordon is coping with the knowledge of what really happened with Harvey Dent and has been wrestling with the truth for the last 8 years, while also understanding the need to prop Dent up as a symbol for what is good about Gotham. It is Gordon who first encounters Bane and is almost killed in the process. I can’t say enough about Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, he is absolutely perfect in the role and I am as emotionally attached to him, as I am in Batman…and Batman will need the Commissioner now, more than ever.
Selina Kyle: No, she is not Catwoman in this movie! She is not surrounded by cats. She does not meow. She does not die and get licked by magic cats (I’m looking at you, Pfeiffer). She does not have a costume with a tail or claws. In fact, the only allusion to Catwoman is in the visor that she wears, when flipped back they look like “cat ears”…pretty clever actually. She is simply cat-burglar, Selina Kyle, played by actress Anne Hathaway. I like what Nolan did with Kyle’s character in the movie and there are more than a few callbacks to Frank Miller’s, “Batman: Year One” here. Hathaway’s portrayal is quite good and she is very believable in the role, however she could have dialed back the amount of cutesy, coy & flirty comments. Although that is the nature of Kyle in the comics, not to mention the dynamic between she and Batman, there were a few times where it was just too much and did not fit the situation. But Hathaway is very believable as a sexy, kick-ass chick who is as self-centered as her character in the comics…she is a bad girl with a good side. Also, I would have preferred that her hair was a bit shorter in the film, to better match most depictions of Selina in the comics.
John Blake: Played by actor Joseph Gordon Levitt, GCPD cop John Blake figures prominently in TDKR as one of Batman’s most important new allies and – without spoiling too much – also has one of the biggest and best reveals in the movie…one that had me and a number of other moviegoers applauding. 😉 Blake is an idealist who shares something in common with Bruce Wayne, in that they are both orphans. I am really impressed by Levitt, as he has turned in a number of great performances in recent movies and TDKR is no exception.
Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman. Enough said. Freeman returns as Fox and is as incredible as always. If there is anyone who wants the Batman to return, it is Fox…because if he doesn’t, who else is going to play with all of the wonderful toys that he builds?! 🙂
The Dark Knight Rises…and Delivers
There is only one way to describe “The Dark Knight Rises“: EPIC. There are so many sweeping layers to the film, and despite clocking in at 2 hours 45 minutes, I never once felt like the film let up or slowed down as I did during, “The Dark Knight.” Hans Zimmer’s score is also magnificent and is practically a character in the film unto itself. There are so many things addressed in the film, including: Batman as a symbol, hero or anti-hero? Whether Bruce can ever separate the man from the mask. Gotham’s ability to rise on its own and what sacrifices Bruce/Batman is willing to make to save Gotham.
Nolan is also the first Director to make a Batman film in which Gotham is shown during the day, a device that it cleverly used to denote changes in the city. And, to my recollection, he is also the first to show Batman outside of Gotham, an aspect of and perspective that is also used in TDKR.
I attempted to keep the spoilers to a minimum – which was very tough – as there is so much that was revealed and could be discussed (especially in juxtaposition to the comics, graphic novels & previous movies)…perhaps that is just the squealing fan-boy in me. But Nolan, as always, treats the material with respect and incorporates some of the best elements from the different Batman storylines over the years. Well known characters from the comics are brought in (Talia, anyone?), new vehicles are introduced (seriously, how badass is The Bat?!) and a new avenue was left open for this particular Batman Universe to potentially continue beyond Nolan’s conclusion.
Nolan did tie everything up in a neat little bow, therefore you won’t be left with a cliffhanger or an obvious opening to a 4th film. In my opinion, Nolan concluded / closed this Batman story arc and any future films will have to be an entirely new story and approach. Some people may hate the ending, others (myself included) will be satisfied and pleased with how it ended. I felt that it made sense (dammit, I wish I could say more on it) and was actually 1 of the 2 ways that I felt it could have gone to properly end the story. Personally, knowing that this was the final film, I wouldn’t want to leave the theater with a cliffhanger and the nagging feeling that there was still more of the story to tell.
If there were an opening, the only obvious choice would be for someone to finally be brave enough to take on Miller’s, “The Dark Knight Returns“…an undertaking made considerably easier thanks to Nolan’s Batman and the universe he created…because it never could have been done with the trash that was the Batman movies (sans Burton’s version) prior to Nolan taking the helm.
Even though I am not a fan of Bale’s over-the-top Batman voice (dial it down a notch, McGruff), he is now THE Batman for a generation of fans. His performances are consistently stellar and his ability to capture the complexity of Bruce Wayne is the best so far (IMO). Although he is not my ideal Bruce Wayne (in terms of appearance), he IS Bruce Wayne…and, as a fan of the IP, I would like to thank him for helping to create Batman’s resurgence in popularity with fans both old and new.
Nolan really created something special and I couldn’t be happier with how he concluded it over 7 years later.
Go see this film. Now. I’ll wait…
Still experiencing a boner that has lasted longer than 4 hours and may require medical attention,
By: Dana Sciandra