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Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Director Christopher Nolan’s challenge in making his third Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” was simple enough – how do you top the untoppable?

It’s a question that hovers over Rises like a shadow in the twilight. Success breeds its own set of challenges, and the challenge for Nolan, who directed what many consider to be the definitive film of the decade, the masterwork of its genre, and the greatest visceral cinematic experience in years, was to somehow finish his story in a third film and meet expectations.

Rises is not “The Dark Knight,” though some of the movements Nolan has given the franchise over the course of three films were distinctly from “The Dark Knight,” including the course laid in the third movie. Which is fine and good, and it works well. Surprisingly though, Rises pays more deference to the first “Batman Begins,” which creates its own sort of trouble. When wrapping something up, the tendency to get cyclical comes into play, and it does with Nolan, though it leaves the feeling things may be  wrapped up too nicely.

Which is a small criticism for a good movie. Rises is certainly that, and it certainly takes grander and bolder steps in ways than  “The Dark Knight.” The terrorism allegory that existed throughout “The Dark Knight” lifted the movie into the realm of the political, but Rises is easily the most political “superhero movie” (though the term superhero doesn’t quite fit with Nolan’s flicks) ever made. If the security and surveillance dilemma, the question of moral authority, the absoluteness of warfare against terrorism and Michael Caine’s “we burned the forest” speech didn’t spur the indignation of those on the left side of the debate in the war on terrorism, Rises certainly will.

Villain Bane is a mercenary, but a different kind. His main”outward” goal it return Gotham city to “the people,” by means of eliminating the police department, all the rich folk and basic authority for some nuclear-fueled anarchy. He has the wealthy dragged into the streets from their swanky hotels, their mansions robbed and ransacked, and put on trial. All under a populist mantra straight from the Occupy movement. It’s hard to watch Cillian Murphy (The Sandman) holding court and not think of the sidewalk justice at its worst. It’s a story out of Orwell, Koestler or Milosz.

But before Bane undoes civil society, we get treated to Batman, which is an old and degenerative Batman (Christian Bale). He’s hobbled after years of street fights, walks with a cane, and has been out of the public spotlight for years, seemingly accepting of a hobbit life and no normalcy. That changes when he hosts a fundraiser in the name of the late Harvey Dent, and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) makes her first appearance. In a film series full of heavies, it’s hard to imagine the petite Hathaway as imposing. It’s a hard buy, one anyone short of Gina Carrano would fail at, though Hatahaway gives the best performance of her career. She’s terrific, and fits the narrative well. She shows her face, Batman spurs into action, and the plot begins to move, though slowly. The movie, like Nolan’s last film “Inception” develops as you go along.

Back is Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, who maintains his important role in the series and is the biggest human link between Batman and the audience. Give the man an Oscar. Michael Caine returns as the fatherly Alfred, though he’s about had enough with his middle-aged ward.

Another welcome addition is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as a young, orphaned, but brilliant beat cop who captures Gordon’s eye. Gordon-Levitt, in a film full of beaten up and weary characters, becomes the moral, upbeat center of the movie in an important role.

There’s also the assorted veteran actors that Nolan always employs. There was Rutger Hauer in Begins, Eric Roberts and Michael Jai White in “The Dark Knight,” Tom Berenger in “Inception” and many other welcome and familiar faces, the most noticeable in Rises being Matthew Modine as a top-notch but bureaucratically cowardly cop.

So how does this Bat rank? I’d give it a strong third. “The Dark Knight” was a definitive cinematic experience. “Batman Begins” was very good, though it was obvious it was written in part as a Batman version of the first “Spider-Man” movie. But the focus on Christian Bale and his performance, as well as Oldman and Liam Neeson, lift Begins to No. 2 in my opinion. I liked Rises enough, but it didn’t render emotionally as much as the first two. Rises suffered from overdoses of exposition at times, not to mention the fact it was wrapped a bit too tightly for my taste.

Still, it’s worth a look and perhaps the best comic book three-quell ever made.


13 comments to Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

  • JimmyC

    Nerdy nitpicking (nerdpicking?) moment: Cillian Murphy plays the Scarecrow, not the Sandman. Although, now that you mention it, if they ever do a film adaptation of the Sandman comics, Murphy would be a great choice for the role.

    I agree with your review, JohnFN. The film starts out a bit too awkward and talky as it finds its feet, and the first big confrontation between Batman and Bane is a bit of a letdown. But the second half of the film, from when Bane reveals his master plan on, is probably the best 60+ minutes of pure cinema that Nolan has made so far. The storytelling, acting, writing, and pacing are all absolutely top-notch, and the scenes depicting Bane’s class warfare revolution in Gotham are the most haunting to come out of Hollywood all year.

    • Kit

      First, I’d disagree about the first confrontation between Batman and Bane. I felt it was quite creepy.

      I agree about the rest. The scenes of Bane’s “revolution” are truly disturbing and haunting. Probably more disturbing than any of the Joker’s “experiments”.
      And the last 60 minutes were awesome. From (SPOILER) Bruce Wayne climbing out of the pit to the battle in the streets between the cops and the criminals to the final scene of the movie.

      And Scarecrow’s cameo is in a way, symbolic. He is holding trials in “the People’s Court”, to get “justice” for the poorest of Gotham when, in the first movie, his gas attack hit the poorest part of Gotham, the Narrows.

  • Though I like your takes, still rank this one second in the trilogy, based mainly on the last 60+ JimmyC mentioned, plus the middle finger to the poplulist French/Russian Revolutions and Occupy movement.

    Also wondering what’s gone on with the water in Ohio to make Anne Hathaway’s IMDb-listed 5’8″ height qualify her as petite. 😉

  • I thought it was very satisfying.

    I saw it again on VOD the other day and it held up well… lots of things to discover on multiple viewings. I see it as operatic and like Wagner’s operas the themes are so dense that exposition is required and there’s no way around it.

    Expecting a “Batman” movie creates disappointment when action lags. The exposition and talkiness are important and the movie would have to be either four movies or be a breezy trilogy akin to Rush Hour in which case.

    I think the movies — all three — fit the “Dark Knight” theme just as Tim Burton’s first two fit the “Batman” theme — similar themes of course on some level. Nolan is a straight up genius and visionary story teller.

  • Penelope27

    I liked it, would rank it 2nd in the trilogy. But I have to admit, my jaw about hit the floor when I saw Patrick Leahy on “the board” AND speaking in favor of Bruce Wayne. Why that person was not charged for treason for what he did to those CIA agents is beyond me – and then to reward that cretin with a cameo in a popular franchise was just sickening….but I liked the story overall, especially the speech Bane gives about hope with despair and how that allowed him to control the populace not just inside the perimeter but outside also…

  • Matt Helm

    I agree that it ranks 2nd in the trilogy, but that doesn’t say much compared to the other two. The first one was the best of the lot, but the others were disappointments for the most part. It’s not the talkiness that ruins Nolan’s flicks, it’s not understanding or defining the character/material, to begin with. He did have a good grasp in Begins on the origin story, but the writing and storytelling for the others is just bad. The biggest problem with Rises is that we’re supposed to believe that Batman went into retirement after a brief career of crusading because of the events of Returns. This doesn’t mesh with the character’s obsession and determination with crime fighting. It lifts that scenario from Frank Miller’s “Return of the Dark Knight” comic, yet never gives him credit. Anyway, Nolan basically emasculates Batman in the last two films, stripping him of his detective and scientist skills, that Burton incorporated into his movies. Bane in this movie was just bad. You never get any justification for him whipping Bat’s butt. In the comic he whipped his butt because he could become freaking huge. But in the movie, the whooping just doesn’t deliver the price of the movie ticket. Then there’s the lagging second act that only justifies giving time for people to use the restrooms. Catwoman? What possible need for her in the movie, other than saving him later on? She didn’t contribute anything else to the movie. That’s the other end of the emasculation … her sole build-up was to rescue him, when Batman shouldn’t need to be rescued (especially after the second act of his finding his balls again). If her scenes were cut from the movie, she wouldn’t be missed at all. The only good things I can say is the Occupy/Communist message, and that the last act was pretty good. I’m still waiting for a definitive Batman movie to be made … one that isn’t just a good Batman movie, but a good movie overall.

    • JimmyC

      “Catwoman? What possible need for her in the movie, other than saving him later on? She didn’t contribute anything else to the movie.”

      Incorrect, Matt. Catwoman’s character arc embodies Nolan’s theme about the folly of class warfare. She starts out the film filled with bitterness about the rich and under the belief that her class envy justifies taking whatever she wants- to the point where she’s even willing to kick a crippled man’s cane out from under him if it means closing the income gap a bit. But as she starts to see the inherent goodness in Bruce Wayne, and as she sees the horror of Bane’s class warfare unfold, she realizes just how wrong she was. Remember the scene where she watches as a group of anarchists take over a rich family’s house for themselves? Her best friend is delighted to see the wealth being redistributed among “the people”, but Catwoman herself is clearly disgusted by the whole thing.

      • and she delivers Batman to Bane as well.

        I argued against your “Batman isn’t a detective” complaint a few months ago. I completely disagree with that view, but then that’s why movies are fun. :-)

    • Kit

      I’m afraid, Mr. Matt Helm, that when it comes to the incredible awesomeness that is the Dark Knight Trilogy we shall forever be locked in disagreement.

  • -fritz-

    I think that all three movies were pretty good! Not in the Cecil B. DeMille sense, but good.

  • Personally I was underwhelmed by the movie. I think all the hype did it in for me. I can’t quite put a finger on it though.

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