The Dark Knight Rises – Review and Discussion

Film: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Charles Roven

Written by: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Running Time: 164 minutes

Rating: PG-13

Before I begin, I would like to send my condolences to the families and friends of the victims in the horrific movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

After much anticipation, I can finally review The Dark Knight Rises. What necessary lead-ins do we need to state here? This is the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, pitting the Dark Knight against a new foe, Bane (Tom Hardy). Of course, as is the case with Nolan’s superbly crafted films, there is more to it than just that. So let’s get to it!

It’s been eight years since the events we saw in The Dark Knight, where Harvey Dent’s heinous crimes were covered up with Batman taking the fall. Commissioner Jim Gordon (the great Gary Oldman) is bogged down with guilt over his role in the cover-up, but doesn’t feel ready to break Gotham’s spirits with the sad truth. Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, has become a complete recluse, also becoming somewhat crippled in the years since he donned the bat-suit, mask, and cape.

Inevitably, it soon becomes evident that Bruce is going to have to come out of retirement. The intimidating Bane arrives in Gotham with plans to instill brief anarchy in Gotham — giving the city back to the people, in his mind — before destroying at a la the aims of the infamous League of Shadows. Deft cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway in one of her best roles) becomes involved in this plot and in the life of Bruce Wayne, giving her a complicated and critical role in the way things ultimately play out. With all this going on, it is obviously time for Batman to return, but how will he handle these new challenges?

Nolan makes this film with the idea of a solid conclusion in mind, noting that films must differ from comics in this sense:

Without getting into specifics, the key thing that makes the third film an great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story. And in viewing it as the finishing of a story rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story . . . I’m very excited about the end of the film, the conclusion, and what we’ve done with the characters. My brother has come up with some pretty exciting stuff. Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful.” (collider.com)

This approach plays a large role in how the film progresses, as seemingly more time is devoted to action sequences. That being said, Nolan does not forget about the importance of the deep exposition that has made his films so psychologically engrossing. Much of the movie’s first hour is spent on set-up — but never at the expense of excitement. At a monstrous 164 minutes, Nolan and company give themselves enough time to infuse elements that make everyone happy while still crafting The Dark Knight Rises predominantly as an action movie.

While a handful of themes and motifs manifested themselves, the two big ones I took away were the ideas of guilt and purpose. The motif of guilt was most evident in Commissioner Gordon, who — despite having Gotham’s best interests at heart — clearly struggles emotionally over how he has covered up the truth behind  Harvey Dent’s death. In a way, the emergence of Bane is almost a good thing for Gordon; (MINOR SPOILER COMING) Bane reveals the truth about what happened with Dent, Gordon, and Batman, and this revelation combined with the huge threat Bane poses to the city both lift a weight off Gordon and give him renewed purpose to fight for Gotham.

The idea of purpose also applied quite clearly to Bruce Wayne. Having unofficially retired as Batman, Bruce is back to the state of zero identity that we saw in the very beginning of Batman Begins. This time, however, he is physically hindered — he walks with a cane — and largely apathetic toward almost everything. Without Batman, he has no purpose, and cannot find himself. Only when these new threats emerge does he regain a sense of purpose (although it is somewhat of a struggle early on). Bruce’s identity struggle and eventual return as Batman both upset his caring butler, Alfred (Michael Caine in another dignified performance), who just wants to see Bruce live a happier, simpler, less dangerous, and ultimately more fulfilling life. Seeing the strain in their relationship play out on screen was one of the film’s more emotional aspects.

The motif of fear, which was established strongly in Batman Begins, also came back to play a significant if not huge role in the story, as it was key in Bruce/Batman rediscovering his power and drive. We once again see that when harnessed correctly, fear can be a powerful agent that can actually be used for righteous endeavors.

While these themes were certainly present, I felt that they were not as strong and integral a part of the film as the ideas in The Dark Knight were. I do not want to compare the films too much, but The Dark Knight sparked much more thought in me and I felt that its deep ideas were more central to the film. To be fair, though, with The Dark Knight Rises being the third and final film in the series, core themes had already been established and the film had to place more of a focus on ending the series satisfactorily from a plot standpoint, which it certainly did.

Nolan once again weaves a complex plot with many important characters. He brings in a few members of his Inception cast — young star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Marion Cotillard — to add to the series’ already star-studded list of actors. Gordon-Levitt plays young detective John Blake, an earnest police officer whose idealist views have not yet been affected by the rigor of crime-fighting in Gotham. Watching his character become more defined as Gotham became more threatened was a very entertaining part of the film, and Gordon-Levitt conveyed the earnestness of the character very naturally.

Tom Hardy plays the menacing Bane, an intimidating villain who challenges Batman both physically and mentally. While not as captivating a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker (an unfair standard to hold Hardy’s Bane against), Hardy nevertheless gives us another compelling character who often steals scenes when present. Hardy has been appearing in a number of films lately, and while he is becoming a more recognizable name, he still hasn’t catapulted to stardom like he should. Hopefully, his role in this film will help him reach that point.

Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a member of Wayne Enterprises’ executive board. Bruce has the utmost confidence in her, believing that the she can keep the company afloat in the midst of a siege from Bane and his associates. A romance also develops between the two, and ultimately, Cotillard gets the ability to show more depth to the character than we previously would have thought her to have.

Am I forgetting someone? Oh yeah, there’s Anne Hathaway as cat burglar Selina Kyle (though never explicitly said, we all know that this character is Catwoman). It was cool to see Hathaway in a more action-based role (as well as in a sexy outfit). Her character was also perhaps the most interesting in the film. I found myself enjoying her scenes the most, and not just because I’m a warm-blooded male. Like the classic comic-book character, it’s hard to define Selina as a hero or a villain. After all, she steals from and takes advantage of numerous people, including a hobbling Bruce Wayne. However, when things take a turn for the worse in Gotham, we see a more sympathetic side of Selina. As Batman remarks when asking for her help (and I’m paraphrasing but this is the gist), “I still believe there’s more to you.”

What also makes this character so great, besides her complexity, is that she draws the interest of Batman but is not a damsel in distress. He does not ever really save her; he merely helps her. And, truth be told, it can be argued that she becomes more of a help to him than vice versa.

With all of these characters, it is undeniably difficult for Nolan to give them all appropriate depth while simultaneously focusing on plot development, but, showing how great an auteur he is, Nolan does an admirable job. Still, though, even with the well thought-out and complex plot, the film’s third act takes more of a turn toward superhero film conventions, as heroic action sequences take centerstage. While certainly entertaining, it felt slightly different from the prior two films in this sense. Of course, much of the reason for this route can be attributed to the need for adequate closure in the series, so it’s not as if this really brings the film down to a great extent.

Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying conclusion to the greatest superhero series — and frankly, one of the greatest trilogies — in film history. It might not be as psychologically stimulating as its predecessor, but as I’ve said before, putting it up against that film is unfair. Nolan is a great film-maker who has set an extremely high bar for himself. With The Dark Knight Rises, he might not quite meet that bar, but he certainly comes close enough.

Tommy D’s Score:

 

 

 

 

3.5/4 Tommy Ds

About Tommy D

Clemson and UGA alum with a market research job in LA. And I kind of like movies.

Posted on July 22, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. What a thorough review of one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. What do you mean with this: ” Still, though, even with the well thought-out and complex plot, the film’s third act takes more of a turn toward superhero film conventions, as heroic action sequences take centerstage.”

    • I mean that the latter part of the film is devoted largely to action and the heroes saving the day, somewhat at the expense of deeper messages. I’m not saying it was a bad thing; in fact, it’s even understandable given that this is the final film in the series. But the ending of The Dark Knight had a great balance of action and story, unlike many superhero movies.

  2. Did you enjoy the musical score?

  3. This high on his horse, snotty movie guy totally trashed the movie. Do you find this as absurd as I do? http://dagblog.com/arts-entertainment/dark-knight-rises-14304

    • Ha, if that guy thinks Clint Eastwood films (which, don’t get me wrong, are very good) are the only non-art-house films worth seeing, then he is truly an unenlightened moviegoer.

  4. I forgot to mention this but I liked that Matthew Modine — whose most famous role is that of a character nicknamed “Joker” in Full Metal Jacket — was cast in this film. Not sure if that’s just a coincidence…

  5. This film had me from start to finish and that was just exactly what I wanted, especially from the last installment in this perfect trilogy. It’s going to be a shame not seeing Christopher Nolan doing Batman flicks anymore, but maybe this will allow him to pull off some more original flicks like The Prestige and Inception. Look forward to his future. Good review Tommy.

  1. Pingback: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Offers A Gripping Story, Gutsy Action, and Rich Social Commentary | Home Runs, Apple Pie, and Rock 'n Roll

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