There are NO MAJOR SPOILERS here in this review. As with all reviews, there is always going to be some discussion of the film and some details will be discussed. So if you are wanting to remain completely in the dark about the film, come back and visit my review after seeing the film. Thank you.
To borrow a line from a fellow crime-fighting comic hero, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and there is no question that the power is clearly in the hands of director Christopher Nolan. After rebooting the caped crusader with Batman Begins and then following up with the mega-hit The Dark Knight, Nolan and company have Bat fans foaming at the mouth salivating for his final entry in the planned trilogy. With Warner Bros. fully supporting him creatively and financially backing whatever the cost may be to realize that vision, Nolan has the power to do what he wants while also having the responsibility adorned to him from trusting fans. Like the cinematic crime-fighter, can Nolan rise to the high expectations that studios, critics, and fans have placed on him?
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events that changed Gotham completely in the last film. Batman has gone missing and billionaire Bruce Wayne has turned into a Howard Hughes recluse that only inhabits a small section of his newly rebuilt mansion. Coinciding with a theft in Wayne Manor by an elusive cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) is the emergence of a new evil in Gotham who wears a metal mask and wants to free Gotham from the corrupt shackles that have enslaved Gotham since the lies hiding the truth about Harvey Dent. All the while Bruce Wayne finds himself in a financial collapse with his family name company. Thus, Bruce Wayne and Batman both have to – as stated to his pal and confidant Luicius Fox – get back in the game to save Gotham from financial and destructive ruin from the hands of the madman Bane.
While Nolan’s more superior film in his trilogy, The Dark Knight, focused on an awe-inspiring and hypnotic performance by Heath Ledger as the iconic villain The Joker in a hideous and yet brightly colored make-up style, this new film centers more on the journey of our hero. Less attention is spent getting into the psychotic heads of the anarchic baddies and more spent analyzing the many facets of the enigmatic Bruce Wayne. There is of course the billionaire playboy and the vengeful creature of the night, but you also have a scared boy who has flashbacks of falling in a pit of his own fears and a wayward young man looking to “become more than just a man” as Liam Neeson explained in Batman Begins. More than either of the two previous films, Christian Bale is forced to confront these many layers to the character and he does it with great strength and passion. His performance is finally an equal match to the high-caliber surrounding players that Nolan has centered around the actor for three films now. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman all have their stand-out scenes but not nearly as many as they all did in The Dark Knight. It’s actually quite a shame to see Michael Caine’s father like Alfred completely missing from the second half of the film as he delivers a few Oscar worthy speeches in the first hour of the film. The lack of scenes between Bruce Wayne and his supporting team only highlights the theme of a man feeling isolated and having to rise up on his own.
Though it is without a doubt Batman and Bruce Wayne’s story, it’s quite ironic that the cat burglar steals the show. Right from her first scene where she impersonates a maid to snatch a strand of pearls (and maybe something more) from the reclusive and aged Bruce Wayne, Anne Hathaway ignites the screen with a confident swagger that recalls classic screen sirens and femme fatales from the silver-age of cinema. Her direct and coy vocal infection is accented all the more by her hip moving saunter. Fans of the Batman series will completely forget Michelle Pfeiffer’s breathy, dominatrix themed Catwoman from Batman Returns. There is no question that Hathaway is the true Selina Kyle. Where Hathaway uses more subtlety to create a realistic character, Tom Hardy has created Bane using a ridiculous vocal delivery that sounds like Sean Connery attempting to sound like the Greek god Zeus. There’s no question that the character and the sound of his voice has been the bane of the film’s existence since the prologue first premiered before IMAX screenings of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Critics and fanboys alike criticized the first non-coherent ramblings of the character. Nolan brushed off the criticism and stated that he was happy with Hardy’s performance and that he had no intentions of changing the voice. It seems that in order to compensate for the inaudible and muffled dialogue at times, Nolan and his team of audio engineers have turned up the character’s voice to a level that is almost laughable. Some moments are still hard to hear due to echoing or background noise, but the main problem seems to have been mostly fixed even if a new problem has now suddenly emerged. Outside of his eyes and his physical presence, Hardy has just his voice to create a threatening character. Yet, it’s hard to create an intimidating villain when each of your lines sounds as if your voice is cracking like a boy going through puberty and you are speaking your lines into a broken Darth Vader voice box.
Christopher and Jonathan Nolan with the help of David Goyer have constructed an epic-scale story that feels heavy in all the right and wrong ways. A dark and ominous tone lingers over the entire proceedings beginning with the opening shot of the bat symbol emerging in the cracks of broken ice. This shouldn’t be anything new considering the previous films have all been viewed as allegories for the way America has existed in a post 9-11 world. Rises continues this trend by incorporating elements of the economical unfairness that the 99% have protested against in the past year across the US. Harvey Dent’s true self and murderous rampage has been cover-upped by corrupt politicians and officials to create a false peace across Gotham that even the trustworthy Commissioner Gordon has gone along with. This sense of a city without hope is felt even more as the first third of the film finds Batman in hiding. Hans Zimmer’s perfect score sets a backdrop to the dark storyline with somber piano notes and intense violin arrangements. These feelings of dread felt by the music and combined with visions of a corrupt city living under the control of lies is something that many people can relate to in our modern times, but it’s also something we have come to expect with Nolan after three Batman films already. One of the bright spots in Batman Begins is seeing what happened to Bruce after his parents died and before he became Batman. With The Dark Knight, it was seeing what this unpredictable madman is going to do next and how Batman was going to stop him. In The Dark Knight Rises, you don’t really have anything as unpredictable or as interesting as the magic trick Joker does when we first met him. When Batman finally faces Bane for the first time an hour and twenty minutes into the movie, you already have a feeling what is going to happen. It’s completely expected even if it’s one of the greatest executed scenes in the whole Nolan Batman trilogy. Much like the interrogation scene between Batman and The Joker in The Dark Knight, Bane and Batman’s first encounter in the film is extremely intense and incredibly iconic. How the scene plays out is all the more chilling with the lack of music during the majority of it.
At 164 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t necessarily seem long but just overly bloated. Like I said . . . very heavy. Aside from the nipples on the Bat suit, one of the faults that many people point to with Batman and Robin is that there’s too many villains. You have a similar issue here in terms of characters and plot devices. Outside of all of the preexisting characters we’ve come to know from the previous films plus the addition of two new villains, you have a new idealistic cop on the force (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Wayne Enterprise associate and possible love interest (Marion Cottillard), a scientist that has created a nuclear device, a young roommate living with Selina Kyle, a Deputy (Matthew Modine) trying to take the power of the police from Gordon, and a new face trying to take control of Wayne Enterprises. Needless to say, there’s a lot of these characters that aren’t as fully explored as much as they should have (given the already lengthy film, it is understandable) leaving viewers either confused or speculating about what exactly happened to them or how they came to be in this story. Nolan has incorporated several story arcs that could have been left out altogether. Their inclusion seems only to create a more sizable final piece to his Batman trilogy. The last half tries to tie together many of these stories into one intricate knot that Batman has to free Gotham from. What the writers have created though is an overly inflated structure that just builds and builds and builds on top of itself, and so when you get to the final epic battle you can’t help but wonder if so many of the preceding building blocks were even necessary.
It’s been known for some time now that this will be Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film. The underlying tone he has setup from the beginning of the series can finally be felt in its entirety by the finale of this dark and very political film. Without a doubt it is a summer film and no blockbuster would be complete without a number of explosions and chase-sequences. The Dark Knight Rises has all that and probably too much more in its utility belt of tricks. Most Batman fans will cry for more and more when it comes to stories and characters in this universe and might not even notice that some of these stories forced the writers to never explain the reasoning behind Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and her skin-tight suit and tech specs or that the “city under siege” film that Rises turns into would have better been explored as its own entirely different film. What many will notice though is the ending Nolan has for his Dark Knight storyline. It will no doubt spark numerous conversations that will keep fans debating its pros and cons during the years until Warner Bros. picks up the pieces that Christopher Nolan has been so skillfully working with for the past seven plus years. In the minds of many, Nolan has truly become a legend in his own right much like the hero he has raised up out of the comic book pages.