Overall Grade: A-
The Dark Knight Rises
Review By: Ryan Hamelin
I feel like it’s easiest to get a few things out of the way upfront. I will do everything in my power not to spoil anything in this film that is not already shown in the marketing materials presented thus far. I will not sugar-coat my discussion of the merits of the film, as it does have its share of problems, and would have said problems with or without the afterglow that comes along with its recent viewing. I am, and always have been, a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work, and if you believe that to be a stance that may cloud my judgment of the movie, you are more than entitled to think my observations biased. The thoughts I offer are my own, as they have always been, and I wish only to comment on what may well be one of the highest grossing films of the year, and as such, its most divisive.
To start, I’d like you to think back on the film trilogies you grew up with. Come up with as many as you can. Now look at the third film in each respective trilogy and ask yourself, “Is this film the best of the franchise?” I think you may be surprised by the result. Third entries have long been the bane of cinematic storytelling, as the drive to get both larger and more emotional with each successive outing puts pressure in all the wrong places and spreads what was once a solid foundation far too thin. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of a director walking away before they finish their tale, or the passage of time taking its toll on the legacy of the prior incarnations. I’d make the argument that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is probably the best example of an ultimately satisfying and fulfilling third chapter in a series, even if it can’t hold a candle to the greatness of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Dark Knight Rises is, in many ways, Nolan’s Last Crusade. As with that film, we pick up many years after the prior outing, (though with Temple of Doom technically a prequel, it makes it less of an obvious comparison) and our hero has seemingly laid down arms for good. The world is stable, crisis averted, and though there’s not much of a world left for our protagonist to live in, he’s managed to save it for the rest of us. The unraveling of that world is a slow burn, but unlike with The Dark Knight, the pressure doesn’t coalesce immediately, or, for some viewers, even at all. Where The Joker had a much more personal grip on the lives of the citizens of Gotham, Bane, our latest big baddie, seems to treat the city as one big ant hill. His designs are greater than that, and as we learn exactly what they
entail, we realize that one man, even one that is galvanized into coming out of retirement by a seductive jewel thief and a charismatic police officer, will not be enough to turn the tide.
This is where The Dark Knight Rises oversteps its ambition. In The Dark Knight, it was about the pursuit of control, and The Joker managing to undermine our hero’s grasp on the situation at every turn… until Batman could eventually come out on top. With Bane, there’s never any doubt that Wayne is in over his head, and the lack of hope, on Wayne’s part and the part of the audience, makes much of the film play out like the darkest of operatic tragedies. Wayne doesn’t have the fire to do what is necessary, and we lose faith in him as swiftly as the people of Gotham. Nolan breaks down our trust in him so thoroughly that by the time the third act rolls around there’s a morbid calm over the proceedings. Instead of the livewire tension and energy of The Dark Knight, a film I found myself literally on the edge of my seat while watching, the pacing of The Dark Knight Rises leaves much to be desired, and earns it the “bloated” moniker we’ve been hearing in all the negative press. At 2 hours and 44 minutes, this is certainly not a brisk movie, and ultimately the time isn’t used as well as it could have been.
From everything that you’ve read so far, you might be wondering why I gave the film such a high grade. I’ll let you in on the secret. It’s the ensemble. Nolan has built a franchise that excels through its talent to the left and right of center, and with Rises, he’s got the greatest pieces his chessboard has ever seen. The real surprise, and a highlight of the whole series, is Anne Hathaway’s Selena Kyle. She is phenomenal in the role, and probably my favorite incarnation of Catwoman ever put to film. She’s so good, you wish they’d drop several of the competing storylines and make it all about the relationship between her and Bruce Wayne, the kind of arc that, if given enough screen-time, would have been the glue to bind the film together. As it stands, she’s easily the highlight of the film, and without her presence we would miss out on much of the energy and levity necessary to get through the dryer patches.
Joseph Gordon Levitt, meanwhile, gets to really show his metal. I think Nolan probably felt bad for him after his sidelined turn in Inception, and the part of John Blake really gives him something to grab onto. He might have the most compelling arc in the whole film, and his scenes with Gary Oldman are exceptionally strong. Marion Cotillard adds a lot of dimensionality to Miranda Tate, a
part that wouldn’t have been compelling if given to a lesser actress. She is the comforting shoulder to Wayne in times of crisis, and her growth, along with the friendship they share, makes his journey back into the light work on an emotional level. Matthew Modine
is relegated to a bit of a one-note part, but he has fun with it, adding some grey to the ranks of the Gotham PD, a group that has supposedly been cleansed of corruption in the intervening years. What can be said about Morgan Freeman
that hasn’t been said already? His Lucius Fox is still the most likable guy in the room, and he still gets all the best one-liners.
This is a huge movie, one of the biggest in recent memory, and unlike a Transformers film, all of the storylines exist for a compelling reason and drive towards clear objectives. The fight sequences are visceral and well staged, allowing us to clearly see the entirety of what is taking place. The action has come a long way since Batman Begins, and the climax really demonstrates a growing understanding of what popcorn filmmaking can deliver for its audience. Comparisons will be made to the finale in The Avengers, but I feel like those will be unfair, as this is a much more grounded universe and doesn’t have the luxury of superpowers or alien invasions to add to the spectacle. The real world is the canvas on which Nolan paints his tale, and despite the overly contemporary establishing shots (the still under construction Freedom Tower being the worst offender) we believe in Gotham as a real place, full of real people, and its peril works because of that belief.
This is the kind of grand finale you always hoped you would see, and while it doesn’t do what previous entries have managed and exceed your expectations, you should be pleasantly surprised that it rises to them with aplomb. Taking its rightful place at the top of the heap for franchise finales, Nolan has demonstrated once again that a good story, told well, is all you need to build compelling cinema, and while this may not be his masterpiece, it’s certainly his most ambitious. Am I disappointed by The Dark Knight Rises? I would say no. Did it blow me away like his past films have? To that, I would also say no. The fact remains, however, that a solid Christopher Nolan movie is still better than 95% of what we get the rest of the time, and you’d be crazy not to try and see this one as soon as possible. Avoid spoilers at all costs, as the last half hour may be the best part of the entire trilogy. For those looking to debate the possible connections to Occupy Wall Street and other protests that came into existence after the script
for this film was already written, find me in person and I’d love the chance to discuss it at length.
Despite his tarnished reputation after the events of The Dark Knight, in which he took the rap for Dent’s crimes, Batman feels compelled to intervene to assist the city and its police force which is struggling to cope with Bane’s plans to destroy the city.