THE LEGEND ENDS reads the tagline on every poster or trailer you’ve seen for The Dark Knight Rises, from famed director Christopher Nolan, who delivers with this film, the end to his stunning trilogy. And what a legend it has been. It all started in 2005 with Batman Begins, and continued with the acclaimed The Dark Knight. A film so good that it led to this one being the movie I’ve anticipated more than any other movie in my lifetime. And naturally so, with my favorite director at the helm, a wide-ranging cast of brilliant actors, and the fact this is the sequel to none other than The Dark Knight, I mean… how couldn’t you be excited? Therefore, I was first online to get tickets to the midnight showing, as I do for one movie every year, and I just got out, writing this at 3:11 AM, with every moment from the film still flooding my mind. With so much hype and anticipation, does The Dark Knight Rises manage to deliver? I’d say yes, yes it does.
The Dark Knight Rises concludes the story of Bruce Wayne, who’s hung up the cape and cowl after, as Batman, he took the blame for the murders committed by Harvey Dent. Now, eight years later, Wayne is a recluse, holed up in his mansion. But when a mysterious villain Bane strolls into town to terrorize Gotham, the Batman must rise again.
The cast of The Dark Knight Rises is headed by, of course, Batman, played by Christian Bale.
If you read my recent review of The Dark Knight, you’d know I wasn’t a fan of the fact that Batman was kind of boring in the film, being constantly overshadowed the eccentric villain, The Joker, who is not referenced once during this film. I understand why, of course, but it felt odd, almost like a disconnect or a continuity error in Gotham. But now, it can finally be said: this is Batman’s movie. Not the villain’s. But Batman’s. And Bale takes advantage of this oppurtunity and acts the hell out of both Bruce Wayne and The Caped Crusader, pulling out all the stops to deliver a tour de force final performance in the role, which is one of Bale’s best yet. And, finally, he fixed the voice! He really makes you care for Batman, and finally makes The Dark Knight the emotional hub of the series, a duty which had fallen upon Alfred in the last installments. But as Batman returns, there also must be a reason. That reason is the new baddie in town: Bane. But let’s face it, Bane isn’t really fighting the Batman in this film, no. Actor Tom Hardy is fighting the legacy that came before. It’s hard not to think of Heath Ledger as The Joker when you think of Batman movie villains. Ledger defined his role and gave one of the best performances of all time. Bane pales in comparison. Bane is comic-booky, and while Hardy’s expressions are good, they aren’t enough to make Bane a villain that will resonate and terrify, simply because Bane isn’t grounded in any reality or emotion. Nolan strains for some emotion for Bane near the end, but it isn’t really enough to make up for the fact that Bane simply isn’t a very good villain. Sure, he does some physical stuff well, but physicality doesn’t make the villain. There needs to be some menace from the attitude and demeanor. Those are things that are hard to get a read on with Bane simply because: a.) He’s masked. and b.) He’s nearly impossible to understand. This is a complaint you’ve heard before, I’m sure, and while the voice is substantially better than it was in the prologue, it still is by no means good. It’s muffled, odd, and most of all, it feels really, really dubbed over. It wouldn’t have been hard to fix (I mean, Darth Vader’s voice was dubbed over) but Bane’s dialogue (which is mostly terrifying sentences proclaiming doom) just sounds and feels really unnatural. That’s the only problem I have with the cast (and one of the few I have for the film, for that matter) as everybody else knocks it out of the park for this final go at The Dark Knight Legend. Michael Caine is still amazing as the lovable butler Alfred, delivering some of the most gut-wrenching and emotional moments in the film, and of the year so far. Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman are both good as always in their respective roles, even if the latter’s is minimized substantially in comparison to the last installment. With a new film comes new faces as well though, and I’d say they make up some of the most interesting characters. Marion Cotillard is good as Miranda Tate, and Anne Hathway walks away with every scene she’s in. She’s expressive, playful, and pretty damn cool as Catwoman. My favorite character in the film though, and the best addition to the franchise in my opinion, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake. Levitt’s character infuses some great heart into the story, and it’s great to watch his character unfold and become more complex on screen. Levitt’s a good actor, and he handles every moment in this film very well, making a big splash with a role relatively minor in the scope of such a large-scale epic.
While The Dark Knight is a morally complex crime thriller, this film is a flat-out epic. The Dark Knight had the brains. But this is a war movie. That means, generally, the story is a bit simpler, and leaves more room for Nolan to deliver jaw-dropping moments. That said, there’s a lot of plotting in the first half of this film, and while it is all entertaining, it does take some unexpected turns. Actually, The Dark Knight Rises is a very different movie than I thought it would be, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film’s depiction of a war-ridden, almost post-apocalyptic Gotham is a tonal shift from the more grounded-in-reality predecessor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that this one is inferior. But it’s definitely the most comic-booky. That also means however, it also delivers on an epic scope, spine-tingling moments, and some large scale fun.
There’s a lot of great scenes in this film’s first half, where the exposition is heavy and the action is little. However, the action scenes that are present in the first half are pretty damn amazing. And the exposition is dramatic, often witty, and really, really smart. But that’s something we’ve come to expect from Nolan. Scenes like the first re-appearance of Batman after eight years are moments that are sure to infuse goosebumps and elicit applause from the audience. Another scene, a fight scene in the sewers, is a brilliant fist fight that will sure be talked about while audience members walk out of the theater. Along with that and an epic battle on the steps of city hall which will at one moment send chills down your spine, combined with the awesome flying of Batman’s aerial vehicle, The Bat, the action in this film is better than the other two combined. Then there’s the second half. While the first half is full of great scenes, the second half is one big brilliant scene. It’s storytelling in epic proportions, and the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. As awe-inspiring as it is inspiring, the final hour of this film has some incredible, rousing moments that no one who leaves the theater will soon forget. It’s an epic, all-out battle of Gotham in which the brillaint cinematography, great score that we’ve come to expect from Hans Zimmer, and stunning imagery all come into play for one last time. Beyond that, there’s also some great twists and turns during the film, including one that had the audience gasp, and rightfully so. It all builds to a fantastic and perfect final ten minutes that ends the trilogy the way it should be ended.
Overall, it doesn’t take a genius to see that, filmmaking wise, The Dark Knight is a better movie. It also benefitted from a better villain that nobody could ever, ever beat. That said, that doesn’t stop The Dark Knight Rises from the being spectacular ending from Nolan that we deserved, and is almost tied for being my favorite of the series. That doesn’t stop this from being an epic war movie that wraps up the trilogy perfectly. That doesn’t stop the fact that there’s a moment in this film where I was almost in tears. And finally, that doesn’t stop The Dark Knight Rises from being the best film of th year so far. Before the final battle of this film, in a scene showed in the trailers, Catwoman says to Batman, “You don’t have to do this. You’ve given them everything,” to which Batman replies, “Not everything. Not yet.” Well, Nolan finally has given us everything, crafting what will go down as one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
FINAL GRADE: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9.5/10 stars)
FINAL SAY: While the villain may not be as stellar as The Joker, The Dark Knight Risesis an epic, well-acted, and spectacular ending to The Dark Knight Trilogy. It’s a rousing, inspiring, and rare third film that really, really works.