Our Second Review of The Dark Knight Rises

Justin of our Phoenix office has given us his review of the latest Batman movie. NW VS SW in our Batman reviews yet both have high praise for the film.

There is a reason the term ‘edge of your seat’ is a cliché. Great filmmaking – no, something deeper than that – great storytelling has made this reaction a reality for ages. Yet, at this point most people do not consider it literal but instead just a tagline for thrilling experiences in general. You know you have found a truly great piece of entertainment when you see those around you react to the story on screen by literally making this cliché play out physically. The classics are known to so because they can overwhelm the defenses of the audience. They can make you suspend your disbelief regardless of how analytical or skeptical you are. “The Dark Knight Rises”, the final installment in the much praised rebooted Batman film franchise by Christopher Nolan, accomplishes this throughout. And while the finale for the franchise has some notable flaws it ends up soaring, perhaps even higher, than its predecessors. With this conclusion Nolan has solidified the new Batman trilogy as one of the greatest in filmmaking history. It will now, without a doubt, mingle with the legends – like the original “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings”.

It has been eight years since the conclusion of “The Dark Knight” and the hunt for Batman by the police (for the killing of Harvey Dent) has sent him into retirement. The “Harvey Dent Act”, a piece of legislation passed to assist law enforcement in cracking down on Gotham crime has made the city into a relatively peaceful place. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), having given up the cape and cowl, has become a recluse in his own home – hobbling around due to past scars and injuries sustained in his crime fighting days. The Recession has hit the city hard but there are those who maintain their wealth. A new cat burglar – better known as Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) preys on the rich while a new terrorist in town, Bane (Tom Hardy), rallies the poor and oppressed to threaten Gotham. Other major characters interweave throughout the narrative, like the returning Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morrigan Freeman), and Commissioner Gordon (Garry Oldman), as well as newcomers Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

The only issue that lies in the film is in its first act. In fact, the premise itself proves to be quite problematic because it is almost sacrificed to the film’s pacing. Much like its predecessor, this movie moves along at a speedy pace from the start. Yet “The Dark Knight” handled its crescendo into its quick pacing in a bit more even matter. It has been eight years since the conclusion of the previous film’s events, yet what has happened between then and now is not a point of focus. What is problematic about this is that what we learn about the state of affairs in Gotham is only in passing, hidden in mere snippets of dialogue between various characters.

It is understandable due to the fact that the film handles so many plots and characters that it needs to get things going quickly. If the first act was perfect, the film would be over three hours long. But at the same time, the immersion into Gotham requires much more slow-paced exposition than what is here. The first two films eased into it, letting us know exactly what Gotham is like in the time period of the respected films. In the case of “The Dark Knight”, we got ample time to discover exactly how Batman has changed the state of Gotham. As said, in this film we only hear about the changes in small moments of dialogue. We are not shown, but instead told. John Blake, who ends up having one of the most compelling stories in the franchise, has a fairly wobbly introduction because his backstory is nestled between major plot movements.

Some early moments are difficult to believe, so much so that it is actually somewhat jarring. And some of the more powerful moments lose their triumph because of it. Yet, even the problematic nature of the first act is completely overwhelmed by a great second and absolutely perfect final act. Once the film’s plot picks up pace and maintains its speedy pacing, then all previous issues evaporate. The action is amazing, but no one should expect less from Christopher Nolan. Unfortunately there is nothing quite as memorable as some of the action set pieces in Nolan’s “Inception”, but overall every major set piece does its job. Bane’s destruction of Gotham is some of the most harrowing imagery I have seen in film in a long time. Even moments as simple as the knock-down-drag-out between Batman and Bane proves to be more than just a usual film fist fight. Bane’s brutality and ruthlessness plays out on screen unlike any other brawl I have seen on screen in a long time. Likewise, Batman’s Bat Wing-like vehicle (called “The Bat” in this film) is amazing to watch.

Most people would want to know how Bane stacks up to Ledger’s Joker. The latter is not even mention in the movie (out of respect to Ledger) and the film does not necessarily need to anyway. Ledger’s performance was so powerful that you cannot help but hear his voice, his quotes, play out in your mind as you watch the action on screen. He may not be in the film, but his presence is still felt. Tom Hardy’s Bane is similar, but different in key ways. Like Ledger’s Joker, Bane is a troublemaker who seems to be in complete control of the situation. He anticipates everything, and his plans play out exactly as he wants them to. He brings a city to its knees, like the Joker, but his goals are different. He wants to inflict pain. He wants to destroy. He is not as interested in making points, not as interested in having fun as the Joker. But, he is more than willing to take Batman out of the picture. Speaking of which, he proves to be a physical threat to Batman that the Joker could not be. At the end of the day though, Bane does not steal the show as much as Ledger’s Joker.

Some might be disappointed in the fact that Bane does not command as much of the film as the Joker, but it actually benefits from this in a great way. This film ends up being about the grand theme bought up in the first film. “Why do we fall down?” Bruce’s father asks, before adding “So we can pick ourselves back up”. The Joker will go down as one of the medium’s greatest villains ever. Yet, in doing so he detracted from Bruce’s, and Batman’s, own personal story. In this final film, Bruce’s story soars. Christian Bale commands much more of a presence this time around, and it centers on his pain, his fall, his rise and his triumph. There are moments that are hard not to audibly cheer for him, hard not to visibly sympathize for him. The film becomes about the overarching plot, and more importantly, the character arcs for the people who really matter most in the trilogy and less about an amazing and compelling villain and his threat to those characters.

The final act raises the stakes beyond what has ever been seen before, and still handles itself in a way that does not break your disbelief. It is in the final act that I actually saw people at the edge of their seats, people so enthralled with the moments on screen that they clapped during triumph and gasped during despair. The final act does the most important job of all in a nearly flawless matter – conclude the series. The ending is fantastic, and a truly fitting end to what will go down as one of the legendary film trilogies of our time.

4.5/5 stars