Film Review – The Dark Knight Rises
It is with both excitement and reluctance that we reach the end of the road on Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe. Without question, The Dark Knight Rises has been my most anticipated film of the year…but, at the same time, I knew this was the end for this iteration of the Batman franchise. Despite the high level of anticipation heading into this film, I had faith Nolan could deliver, and he rewarded me handsomely for that belief.
It’s amazing to think that less than a decade ago Christopher Nolan was an up-and-coming director riding the success of Memento. With the success of his Batman franchise and subsequent side film projects, he has vaulted himself into the conversation of most influential director currently working. He took comic films from being just commercial successes into a realm of art. What has set his films apart from other comic movies is the scale and realism he brings to the projects. The sweeping landscapes, the deep character arcs, and the pounding scores have helped his films transcend the classification of “comic book movies.”
The new film begins years after the events of The Dark Knight, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) having become a recluse and Batman nothing more than a memory. The arrival of the criminal Bane (Tom Hardy) to Gotham draws him out of retirement. I’ll simply leave it at that, though unless you’ve avoided the internet entirely, you probably already know much more than that anyway. Comparisons between this film and The Dark Knight are inevitable, but it feels a bit like apples and oranges to me. The Dark Knight was at its core a battle between two men over the future of Gotham, and while Bane is the central obstacle to Batman here, Bane’s army of minions provide a much greater challenge than he’s faced in the previous films. The Dark Knight Rises is in essence a hybrid of the first two films in the series, and the scale of the film is amplified accordingly.
The story of Batman at its core has been a morality tale, and The Dark Knight Rises continues that trend. With the arrival of Bane, Bruce Wayne must come to terms with his past as a perceived outlaw for the death of Harvey Dent, and the fallout from his decision to be a crime fighter, in the death of Rachel Dawes. It is only with reluctance that he dons the cowl again, when he realizes the danger that Bane truly poses. Nolan provides a unique perspective on the impact that a life of crime fighting leaves on a person both mentally and physically, as Bruce Wayne must complete the hero’s journey started two films prior in Batman Begins.
The biggest obstacle for this film’s success was the villain. The task of following up Heath Ledger’s Joker was going to be a massive challenge, and Tom Hardy does an admirable job. He looks like an absolute beast as Bane and is a much more intimidating in his presence than the character’s cameo in Batman & Robin. I don’t believe in the long term his character will be as iconic as Ledger’s Joker, but he does seem to be Batman’s greatest adversary. Bane represents what Batman could’ve been if he’d continued on with the League of Shadows in Batman Begins. So, in essence, the trilogy ends with Batman fighting himself, an appropriate place to conclude the series.
If you have the opportunity see the film in a true IMAX theater, it takes full advantage of the format, with 70 minutes of IMAX footage, mostly seen during action scenes. Unlike a lot of 3D used in movies today, this greatly enhances the experience, as it just increases the perceived scale of the battles being fought. Wally Pfister’s cinematography continues to be lush and beautiful, proving yet again that his Oscar for Inception was long overdue. It was also noted at my theater that this is the longest film they have ever shown at their facility, so get comfortable, because the film needs all 164 minutes of its runtime. The scale of the film is incredible…midway through I found myself wondering how they were possibly going to wrap it up.
I’m not going to say the film is perfect, but all of the flaws are fairly minor and pretty subjective. Batman was absent for long stretches of the film; I thought there were a few too many characters introduced; and as awesome as Bane was in the movie, I would’ve liked to see more confrontations with Batman. None of these really take away from film at all, as you can still understand why Nolan made those decisions, and that is something I can accept.
At the end of the day, my qualms are minor and it boils down to the fact this is a Christopher Nolan Batman film, two of my favorite things together. I’m sad to reach the end here, but this has been the most influential trilogy in my life. No offense to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc…but I’ve always been more of a Batman fan. I’m excited to see what the future holds for an unencumbered Nolan, but these films will always hold a special place in my heart.
Also, be sure to check out bonus roundtable discussion of The Dark Knight Rises.