The Dark Knight Rises is a significant entry as a comic book film. Not only does it conclude arguably one of the greatest trilogies of all time, up there with The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather, Toy Story & the original Star Wars trilogy, but it also is the least comic book like film and at the date of release the longest in the genre. Yes, there’s Batman, the caped crusader running around, flying his batwing, and chasing henchmen on his supped-up bat cycle around Gotham saving the city from immanent destruction but the Gotham this version of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives in is hyper realistic – imitating society on a level that feels too close for comfort.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, neither Bruce Wayne nor the Batman have been seen. Crime is at an all-time low, The Dent act cleaned up the streets sending 1000 criminals to be housed at Blackgate prison, Gotham is experiencing peace at last. And while there aren’t any lunatics and maniacs in clown paint wreaking havoc across town, The Dark Knight Rises plays out like a soap opera in its first half. Billionaires John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) are clawing their way to gain control over Wayne Enterprises, a masked man is destroying the Stock Exchange while planning to level the city with a nuclear bomb. Gotham needs its watchful protector now more than ever. Bruce Wayne just needs to fix his body first.
Yet again Christopher Nolan gambles with an ambitious story set against the backdrop of reality and delivers on it. What better villain to go up against the Batman than Bane (Tom Hardy), a brute force villain the size of a freight train with the speed of a jungle cat. Batman has met his match and it breaks him, literally, Bane breaks Batman physically and spiritually. Tom Hardy’s Bane also has a mask, there’s no serum pumping through his veins to make his muscles bigger, but this mask alleviates the pain. It also makes it difficult to understand what he’s saying most of the time. Remember the original trailer? The dialogue was unintelligible, glad they made the necessary tweaks.
Bane’s plan though complex is quite simple – destroying Gotham, resetting the establishment. Exactly what Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) set out to accomplish in Batman Begins. The plan includes bankrupting Wayne Enterprises so Miranda Tate will take over, trapping all of Gotham’s finest underground, blowing up a football stadium and unleashing a bomb that would kill millions. Beyond finishing what Ra’s started, Bane is not motivated by luxuries – he’s stiff and lifeless but dangerous and a powerful enemy.
Christian Bale might be the best actor to play the duality of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Batman has always been the real identity while Bruce Wayne is the mask. As Bruce, Bale plays the role as isolating and cold with slight hints at the bachelor side of his personality. No matter how much time passes, Bruce will never forgive himself for Rachel’s death. It destroys him to the point that his most trusted ally and friend Alfred (Michael Caine) leaves Wayne Manner and his employment. Alfred leaving causes a significant rift in Bruce’s life. For one, who’s going to answer the door? In a film about Batman saving Gotham, Alfred has a point – I find myself agreeing with his actions more so than seeing the effect it causes Bruce.
With all its simplicity, Nolan’s story like the previous 2 is convoluted. Not once does the ambitious story get out of hand where we as the audience can’t follow along. This isn’t Memento or Inception. Nolan’s strong script provides much of the groundwork necessary for a film of this scale to accomplish. Nolan sets up almost too much exposition, lacing the narrative with melodrama and a sense of melancholy. Figuring out who’s planning what, who is backstabbing whom may get lost in the translation, but the ship never wavers, the script is tightly wound. Its only till Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) knocks down the first domino that sets the events in motion – stealing Bruce’s fingerprints for her own selfish gain that leads to Bane bankrupting Wayne Enterprises.
I don’t mind Hathaways Catwoman. I prefer Pfeiffer’s version but Hathaway plays the role equally seductive and mysterious, unpredictable and sweet tapping into Batman and Catwoman’s complicated relationship just enough to satisfy the tease.
Overall, the Dark Knight trilogy features the most compelling Batman story ever translated from page to screen. The first two installments have been technical masterpieces in every aspect, but The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t have nearly the same level of mastery. It’s still a brilliant film that wraps up Nolan’s vision in a perfect bow, his plan has been executed flawlessly but I can’t get over some of the sound mixing. Somewhere between Inception and TDKR, the shot exclusively for IMAX makes the sound distorted. Bales Batman voice has become a parody – losing the grit from Begins, now sounding like Batman has smoked 5 packs a day for 10 years.
Given the tragically heartbreaking death of Heath Ledger, Nolan makes the most of his conclusion. Who knows what the story would have been if the Joker was the main villain? We’re lucky we got the finale at all given Nolan’s hesitancy to make it. While some characters are used as easter eggs like Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) (I like his performance and wish there was a fourth film to continue his story post TDKR) others like Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) are deconstructed – almost stripped of their armor and made out to be human, willing to sacrifice himself for the truth.
The criticisms I have are mere nitpicks- The Dark Knight Rises is still a thought-provoking experience with the same technical quality of the previous two films. The Dark Knight is just the better film, featuring a better ratio of Bruce Wayne and Batman on screen. Hans Zimmer’s score continues to be the standout creating a complete sound dense in tone while Wally Pfister’s cinematography frames the world as a Shakespearean tragedy. Bale is easily the quintessential Bruce Wayne/Batman. No hate toward Keaton but the modern, gritty, tragic take edges Bale out.
Written By: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Music By: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Wally Pfister
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
Release Date: July 20, 2012
Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%
My Score: 4 out of 5
Based On: Batman created by Bob Kane & Bill Finger