Following after the high that was 2008’s “The Dark Knight”, I was beyond stoked to see how Director Christopher Nolen would conclude his masterful series of Batman films. Then I waited, and waited, and it was killing me. Finally, a full five years later in summer of 2012, came “The Dark Knight Rises”, the third and final installment in Christopher Nolen’s trilogy. Now sometimes films just can’t live up to the hype, while others exceed expectations, and as for “The Dark Knight Rises” … I was deeply, and emotionally satisfied with how it all came to a close. Everything came full circle, every plot thread brought to a satisfying conclusion, every character given their proper send off, and I still fondly remember leaving the theater and saying to my friends, this is one of cinemas greatest trilogies. Now there are some who would right this film off as the black sheep of the trilogy, and to a degree and can respect why some would have that opinion. Speaking personally, I still hold “The Dark Knight Rises” in a special place among my top 3 favorite films in Batman’s long running franchise.
Our movie picks up eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight”, in which the once respected district attorney Harvey Dent secretly became a dangerous villain called Two Face, and following his death, Batman took the blame. Now in present day, Gotham City is at a greater state of peace than ever before thanks to all that the late Harvey Dent stood for. The only downside is that while the city prospers, our two hero’s Batman and police Commissioner Gordon are at their lowest points, with this lie eating away at their souls. One of the more sobering moments is a party where everyone is celebrating the memory of Harvey Dent, but all Gordon can do is remember that awful time when Two-Face was holding his family hostage. Bruce Wayne takes it even worse, as he shuts himself out from the world, and refuses to move on with his life after the death of his one love Rachel. Meanwhile, a mysterious new enemy named Bane is secretly scheming under the streets of Gotham, waiting for just the right moment to strike. Then when he makes his move, everything suddenly goes to hell. In short, he does what no foe beforehand ever accomplished, he breaks our hero, takes control of the whole city and transforms Ghatam into his own kingdom of anarchy. Beaten and bruised, Bruce Wayne struggles to find the strength to rise back up as Batman and set an example of real heroism for the people to aspire from as opposed to a false idle like Harvey Dent.
This is a story I’ve always wanted to see in Batman’s universe, a powerful villain actually defeats our hero, rounds up most of the civilians to follow his rule, while a broken hero needs to reform and win back the city he lost. Now in order for a set up like this to work, it really needed to focus more on Bruce Wayne then Batman, and that’s where I feel fans get divided by this film. In truth, Batman probably has less screen time in this film then any of the other movies, but I’m whiling to except it because this really is Bruce Wayne’s story. Christian Bale is back in the role for a third time, and I honestly think this was his best performance, as the character just felt more human than ever before. Seeing him go from such a depressing low point, and then gradually rise up from the ashes was so impactful, it just made me care for him here more then any of the previous films. Also, by limiting Batman’s screen time, it made his actual appearances feel all the more riveting and triumphant. I love the scene when he arrives on the street for the first time after being gone for so many years, and everyone around him is just in aw to see Batman back in action. Perhaps the most impactful moment of all is when Bruce makes his triumphant climb out of Banes underground prison. Seriously, what a perfect visual metaphor of a hero rising out of his own world of darkness and despair. While his time spent in the prison may be challenging for some viewers to sit through, I felt we needed to see him fall multiple times in order for us to really feel the impact of his escape.
Now “The Dark Knight” previously featured one of cinemas most iconic villains, yet Bane managed to escape the shadow of his predecessor and has become a generations favorite comic book villain. In general, while Bane was known by comic book fans, he still wasn’t a very popular villain from Batman’s rouges gallery. All that changed with this film, because now Bane’s become a house hold name. Personally, as far as performances are concerned, I think Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is right up there with the best, like Heath Ledger’s Joker and Danny Devito’s Penguin. He just has this larger than life screen presence, and those burning eyes of his just convey so much.
It’s a very theatrical performance, and Tom Hardy just throws himself out there. There’s something very entertaining about a villain that delivers lengthy evil monologues, and subsequently has no shortage of quotable lines. Putting aside the powerhouse presentation, I also like that Bane is Batman’s metaphorical brother in this film. They both received the same training from the league of shadows, yet it was Bruce who emerged as the best student, while Bane was excommunicated. This gives our hero and villain more of a connection, and I love that Bane is basically picking up from where Ra’s Al Ghul had perished in the first movie as recompense for failing the league of shadows. This actually book ends this trilogy, the same way the Nazi’s did in the Indiana Jones trilogy. Another great detail about this trilogy is how every villain provides a different challenge for our hero. In the first movie the villain was an emotional challenge. Then in the second movie the villain was a psychological challenge. Now here in the third film the villain is a physical challenge. You really feel that Batman has met his match, and it was interesting to see our hero frightened by a stronger and all around superior adversary.
All the hold-over characters from the previous films like Mr. Fox, Alfred and Commissioner Gordon are all back, and it’s really something to saver as it’s the last time we’ll ever see these extraordinary talents in these roles. Just like Bruce Wayne, everyone just feels more human than they were in the last two films. This especially applies to Alfred, who conveys far more emotion and love for Bruce in this film. The interactions between Alfred and Bruce carry so much weight and I love that they’re both still feeling the pain of Rachel’s death, it wasn’t just a one-time loss, and left a massive impact on our hero’s. One of the most pleasant surprises was a new character named Detective Blake, who’s played by the exceptionally talented Joseph Gordon Levitt. He’s a young, hot headed cop who’s made of pure awesome, and is arguably one of the trilogies best breakout characters. He’s smart enough to know Batman’s identity, can keep up with our hero and is just an all-around great guy. He just conveys this sense that he’s one of Gotham’s last truly great cops who’s excellent at his job. Now I’ve been aware of Joseph Gordon Levitt ever sense I grew up with Disney’s “Treasure Planet” and “Angles in the Outfield”, but this is the role that made me a fan of the actor. Now of course there’s a little twist at the end in which he’s revealed to be “Robin”, although we never actually see him in costume. This could have been a very cheesy twist, but it works because the movie got us to care for the individual character well before the added novelty of being Robin.
My favorite character of the movie by far is the new Cat-Woman played by Anne Hathaway. Speaking personally, this is my absolute favorite portrayal of the character by a mile. This Cat-Woman just gets everything right, as she’s not a villain, nor is she a hero, she’s just a wild card who dose whatever is in her interest. Sometimes that means aiding either the hero’s or villains, and that’s how I’ve always felt Cat-Woman should be. I also like that she’s just a small-town cat burglar who just wants to make a new life for herself. She and Batman also have perfect chemistry. Well, their romantic side is just “ok”, but as two vigilantes working together … they’re just a dynamite pair. Whenever there on screen fighting together, infiltrating a bad guy base, or just plain walking together, it’s an absolute thrill. On a side note, I really love how subtle the costume is, as she’s incredibly beautiful to look at without ever coming off as slutty, unlike her two theatrical predecessors. It’s also a nice little touch that her goggles come up above her head and become her cat ears. Now I came from a generation that grew up with Anne Hathaway in Disney movies like “The Princess Diaries” and “Ella Enchanted”, so I couldn’t even imagine her pulling off a great Cat-Woman, but she really did. Every inflection she gives as this character is spot on, she has a lot of energy, and is clearly having a blast with this role. So, while obviously not on Oscar standards, this is still a shining performance in the actress’s carrier.
Now in general, I do love that this films main villain has a connection to the villain of the first movie, as it makes everything come full circle. However, there are some call backs to “Batman Begins” that just didn’t work for me. Case in point is a new female character named Miranda who’s played by Marion Cotillard. She comes off as a potential love interest for Bruce Wayne but is secretly aiding Bane. Worse yet, she’s actually Talia Al Ghul, the doubter of Batman’s late nemesis Ra’s Al Ghoul. Now she has her place in the story, but she also gets in the way of other characters that I prefer. Talia’s relation with Bruce gets in the way of his more interesting relation with Cat-Woman, and Talia’s villain status also undermines Bane, as she’s actually the real mastermind behind everything.
More than anything, I just hatted how poorly the twist reveal was handled. Personally, I think this was a perfect opportunity to see Batman’s detective side and have him figure out her identity beforehand. Then he could have dealt with her, and Bane could resume his proper status as the main villain. In short, Talia Al Ghul just doesn’t leave much of an impression and it’s a lousy way to introduce a character that not too many people outside of Batman fans would know about. This doesn't ruin the movie by any means, it's just something I could have done without. One of the stronger call backs to the first film was Liam Neeson himself reprising his signature role as Ra’s Al Ghul in a short but effective dream sequence. It’s like, even though he’s physically dead, his spirit will still live on through both his child and his student. The weakest call back to the first film, which I think should have been removed all together was Cillian Murphy making a cameo reprising his role as Dr. Crane, but he’s not in his scarecrow costume this time. Honestly, I felt that he was just there to be present, but without adding anything or even bringing closure to his character.
As for director Christopher Nolen, he’s always brought a craft to the look and style of his Batman films, and in “The Dark Knight Rises” he goes above and beyond, giving the film an epic size and scope. My favorite scene of the movie is the attack on the football stadium, which really highlights Christopher Nolen’s mad directing talents. I love how things begin with a great deal of urgency as Detective Blake drives off to warn his fellow officers about Banes trap, then everything goes dead silent, all except for the boy singing the national anthem. The atmosphere and built up tension in this scene leading up to Bane’s explosive attack is just sensational. The action in general is riveting and feels grander then what most Batman movies convey. Just the opening scene in which Bane crashes the plane is a stunning spectacle, and kicks things off on a high note. The car chase in which Batman first reveals himself, and then gets chased by the cops was both exciting and deeply satisfying. The new Bat-Wing was also very cool, but I do wish it had a more Bat-like design. The stand out action set piece (aside from the final battle) is Batman’s first fight with Bane in the sewers. This will go down as one of the greatest action sequences from any superhero movie. It’s so intense, white knuckled, and had me on the edge of my seat. Christopher Nolen was very smart to leave the music track silent during this fight, making the situation feel all the more intense and grounded. Speaking of music, Hans Zimmer returns for a third time and while his score is electrifying as always, he also brings more to this film. I love that Cat-Woman finally has a fitting music theme, and I especially love the "Rise chant", which gets me hyped every time I hear it.
Now let’s finally talk about final battle, which is personally my favorite climax of the entire Batman film franchise. Batman makes his triumphant return to the city and leads Gotham in an all-out war against Bane and his troops. There’s large scale battles wagging in the streets, the Bat wing is flying through the city, lots of explosions, lots of battle vehicles, car chases, and it’s just one big cinematic feast for the eyes. The highlight is when Batman rematches Bane amidst all the fighting. I love how the two are walking through the crowds looking for each other, they finally stare down, exchange their lines and the rematch of the century is on. There’s a great visual call back to their first fight in which Batman stands on top of a flank of stairs and looks down at Bane. In their first dual, this marked the moment in which Batman lost his cool and got carless. Now during this second fight we see him stand on those stairs, he’s calm, collected and we just know he’s got this match in his hand. The only down side in all of this is that Banes death is very rushed, with lots of battle remaining and it just feels disappointing to have such a power house villain get taken out so quickly. What’s worse is that it’s all in favor of making Talia Al Ghul the final threat to the city, which is extremally annoying considering the long line up of superior villains that have come before her. Thankfully, the resolution to this climax is excellent, and closes things on a strong note. Batman flies a nuclear bomb out of the city and presumably dies, saving everyone else in the process. Now the people of Gotham are no longer looking to a false idle like Harvey Dent, they’re respecting the real hero who saved their city, and even dedicate a statue to his honor.
Of course, Batman didn’t really die, he escaped, left the country and has even settled with Cat-Woman. Some may say this happy ending was tacked on, but I found it refreshing to see our hero’s story come to a close on a positive note. The arcing theme of this movie is legacy, we have Batman passing the torch to a young hero, and the city now reflects back on him as the man who not only saved their lives but gave them all hope to aspire from. The villains of the movie are motivated by the legacy of a previous villain and aim to complete what he started. Another theme of the movie is rising to the challenge. As the movie begins, we see Bruce Wayne at the lowest part of his life, and by the end of the film, his life is more fruitful then ever before. Because of this, I excepted the films happy ending. In the end, this film doesn’t launch itself into greatness the same way “The Dark Knight” did, as it has some moments of disbelief, and a few things to nitpick at. Yet, for all its faults, this film is still a personal favorite of mine. The action is great, the characters are more human, the stakes are higher than ever before, there’s an emotional quality to the experience, and it makes for a powerful conclusion to an otherwise stellar trilogy of films.
I give “The Dark Knight Rises” 4 ½ stars out of 5. Next, I’ll be stepping back from the dramatic storytelling, and highlight the colorful hummer of “The Lego Batman Movie”.