‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Review
A fitting and epic finale that doesn’t top its predecessor but doesn’t need to.
It’s not the easiest of feats to follow up ‘Batman Begins’ and especially ‘The Dark Knight’, which literally redefined the superhero genre by showing how a comic book film can be much more than that – even if you’re the director himself Christopher Nolan. But with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Nolan has provided us with a fitting finale to the franchise that is heavy on ideas, epic and grand in every possible way. Sure, it isn’t as good as its predecessor thanks to an overplotted script. But even then, it’s better than most superhero movies have dared to be.
The plot is set eight years after the events of ‘The Dark Knight’, where Batman has gone into hiding after being branded as a fugitive when he takes blame for the death of Harvey Dent. As crime on the streets of Gotham has drastically reduced, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is in recluse knowing that his city doesn’t need him anymore. But all that changes with the arrival of the intimidating masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) with a terrifying plan to crumble Gotham City to the ground. With the help of a mysterious cat burglar Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who may have an agenda of her own, a rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Commisioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Bruce Wayne has to take up the Batman mantle one last time to save his city from a threat that may be far more powerful than himself.
‘The Dark Knight’, back in 2008, set the standard for superhero films with a gritty and mature treatment of the characters and a script that wasn’t aimed for just children and drew upon real life themes. It also gave us an unforgettable villain in the form of Joker with the late Heath Ledger whose performance still is remembered as one of the greatest support acts on film. With all those expectations and the news that this would be the finale to the story that Christopher Nolan had set out to tell, it was definitely important for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ to stay true to the quality the series has been known for by now. And thankfully, it very much does.
Gotham City in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is even more sweeping in scale this time around and doesn’t just focus on a particular set where the events are happening but is about the whole city under seige. Nolan has always been known to provide epic action sequences and this time around he hasn’t disappointed, shooting more than 70 minutes of the film in true IMAX format which is nothing like I’ve seen before. In the sheer breadth of this, Nolan has managed to top ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and there has never been a superhero movie that has been ambitious enough to tackle a such a scope. The master plan here puts the entire city of Gotham under threat and is chillingly timely to boot. The big baddie this time around is of course the hulking physical villain Bane which is known to be the most intimidating villain that Batman has ever faced. And rightfully so, Bane pushes Batman to his physical and mental limits and there’s an entire journey that Batman goes through to prepare himself to even take on a massive force like Bane.
While Joker felt like more of an unhinged villain that was capable of doing anything at any moment, Bane is more calculated and has a chilling master plan to bring the whole of Gotham City to its knees. He has a view of the world that not everyone shares, but his actions are meticulously planned and become more threatening as they go on. Yet he’s not as memorable of a villain as the Joker, mainly because his character begins to get muddled towards the second half of the film and doesn’t get the best of resolutions as the story somewhat moves away the focus of him to a larger theme. What does work very well this time around is Catwoman, a character that I felt would be needless in the series back when it was announced but Nolan actually crafts a strong and mysterious female anti-hero that challenges Batman but is also someone that he needs in order to succeed. That’s not all in terms of new characters, as rookie cop John Blake is also in the mix this time around as an orphan who is determined to rise higher than other Gotham City cops and save his city alongside Batman. Though one would be unsure of the character at first, he is pivotal in the movie and gets a great resolution by the end of it.
But it’s this penchant to add a lot of new elements to the film is the reason why it’s a weaker film compared to ‘The Dark Knight’. The screenplay is dense and overtly heavy on plot, with a lot of different plot points that return not only from ‘The Dark Knight’ but from way back in ‘Batman Begins’ and lead to some uneven pacing many times throughout the film. It’s like Nolan knew that this would be his last Batman movie and decided to cram in everything that he ever would have thought of doing in a Batman film, leading to a somewhat clunky screenplay that has way too much going on which leads to a film that clocks nearly three hours long. One of those needless characters is the addition of Miranda Tate played by Marion Cotillard, who adds nothing to the film and eventually actually detracts the focus away from Bane. The film could’ve easily been at least twenty minutes shorter had Nolan tried to trim out the fat and tighten up the pacing, but I guess Nolan got lost a little too much into dozens of themes he was trying to wrap up.
But it’s the awe-inspiring memorable moments that make ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ what it is. The Wall Street scene is chilling to watch and so is the football stadium sequence. The much-talked about opening sequence with the plane is a spectacle in IMAX as well. But the movie truly saves the best for last, and the final ten minutes of the film stand as the best moments of the series as they perfectly end the story with revelations that will stun you and actually get an emotional rise out of you. Except for a needless twist with a needless character mentioned above, every single plot point from there on is affecting and the very last shots of the film pack a great punch. Obviously, I’m not going to spoil anything but there are things that fans were hoping for and Nolan cleverly delivers upon them in a way that you have to applaud by the time the credits roll.
Christian Bale has definitely been the best Batman to have graced the screen, and gets the most hefty material to work with here. Not only is he commanding and physical as Batman (except that ridiculous Batman voice which makes a return), he goes to a physical and emotional transformation as Bruce Wayne during the second act of the film. It’s these kind of scenes that Bale excels in and he gets his chance here. Tom Hardy definitely is commanding as Bane and gives an intimidating and calculated aspect to the monster that few other actors could. Anne Hathaway is the biggest surprise of the movie with her interpretation of Catwoman being very impressive and actually justifying its existence. She understands the character and brings depth to her. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was excellent as a determined cop and as always gives a lot of attention to his character who becomes more important as the film goes on. Michael Caine gives the most emotionally affecting performance and has quite a few brilliant dialogue scenes here, while Morgan Freeman is solid as Lucius Fox once again. It’s unfortunate that Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda Tate is so unnecessary and jarring in the film that even her performance ends up getting affected. Gary Oldman and the rest of the cast do justice to their roles to great extent.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a fitting finale to what will forever be known as one of the most iconic trilogies the big-budget Hollywood machine has provided us. It dares to be bigger and darker than what came before it, and while it doesn’t quite reach the heights that it set for itself with the previous film, it doesn’t need to in order to be called a great film. It’s the superhero film of the summer that audiences deserve.