The Dark Knight Rises tells you everything you need to know about it with its title. This isn’t The Dark Knight, a film that succeeded in evolving super hero movies into credible, award-worthy cinema. This is a movie that aspires simply to live up to the expectations that the followup to that landmark film was guaranteed to have and provide a satisfying finish to this trilogy. It’s not the Batman movie we deserve, but maybe it’s the one we need right now.
It’s been eight years since Harvey “Two-Face” Dent died and Batman (Christian Bale) took the fall. In that time, Gotham’s seen a radical decline in crime, thanks to the Harvey Dent Act, which greatly expanded military authority and enabled Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) to finally clean up the streets. Bruce Wayne has been reduced to a crippled recluse, forcing himself into solitude after retiring from his vigilante ways, to the dismay of his butler, Alfred (Michael Caine) and the determinant to his company, run by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).
But The Dark Knight Rises attention is largely focused on new characters. A young patrolman played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably the best part of the movie, in part because he seems to be one of the few people who’s not constantly in a bad mood. There’s also a cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) who adds some fun and is a great juxtaposition to the damsels in distress from the last two movies. On the other end of the spectrum is Marion Cotillard, a rich lady who has taken it upon herself to save Bruce Wayne, or at least his company. Of course, there’s also a terrifying masked man called Bane (Tom Hardy) who is the most credible threat to Gotham yet: a man who can at least match Batman physically and mentally, with an underground army to do his bidding.
I think this is a satisfying conclusion to The Dark Knight trilogy, which is I guess what we’re calling it. The movie is heavily focused on the themes that drove the first two movies; the power of fear, the nature of sacrifice, the difference a man can make versus a symbol; that sort of stuff. That thing that Harvey Dent said in the last movie, about dying a hero or living long enough to see yourself become a villain? That’s important to this one. And by the end of The Dark Knight Rises, Chris Nolan has gone so far, I think a reboot is the only plausible direction for the franchise going forward.
And that’s OK. Christian Bale is a good Batman, but he’s never been the best part of these movies. He’s gotten better in the role, and though he never quite figured out a good Batman voice, here it’s at its least distracting. The one member of the cast I’d really miss is Michael Caine’s Alfred, as much as I like to joke that Gary Oldman is the real core of the franchise. If Christopher Nolan wants this to be a trilogy and actually stay a trilogy, none of this fourth-movie-a-few-years-later bullshit, I’m cool with that, and happy with all three of these movies.
The Nolan films have always taken some liberties with the franchise, my least favorite of which being the character Rachel Dawes, who does come up in this movie in a way that surely will leave her with even less fans. Here, he takes Batman in a direction I didn’t like, and I never feel like he makes anything satisfying out of it. What made the Knightfall story cool in the Batman comics, after Bane broke the Bat, was watching what happened when other characters stepped up into the Batman role. With no eligible candidates to take the cape and cowl in The Dark Knight Rises, instead we get a Bruce Wayne arc with an interesting beginning, a somewhat boring middle, and an ending that I’m not a fan of… And to say any more would be a spoiler. It’s true to Nolan’s Batman, but not the Batman I grew up reading and watching.
It’s been said that The Avengers is a great comic book movie, while The Dark Knight is a great comic book film. The implication being, I guess, that the Batman movies deserve to be talked about on serious terms, while the Marvel movies are simply popcorny, turn-your-brain-off action. I’m not sure I buy into either assertion, but The Dark Knight Rises certainly is a lot darker. It’s story has a vaguely ripped-from-the-headlines appeal, cashing in heavily on post-9/11 and Occupy Wall Street feelings. But it’s far from satire, and miles away from believable. Especially when you have action sequences like the ones on display here.
The events of The Dark Knight Rises have to be described as epic, made even more spectacular by Nolan’s dedication to do as much practically as possible. Scenes of massive explosions, huge crowds battling and tons of wanton destruction are a lot to take in, and hardly make sense, but make for fine entertainment. The Dark Knight Rises is running time is closer to three hours than two, but it’s paced very well, carrying swiftly through a surprisingly sprawling story.
I just can’t shake that this is the least “Batman” Batman movie I could have imagined. Christian Bale spends most of his time hiding only behind an ugly beard, and when he finally goes out as the caped crusader, it’s generally underwhelming. Now, sure, I’ve been up for a really long time and I haven’t really had anyone to talk with or even edit the review for me, but right now, I feel disappointed. I just think too many decisions this movie made were wrong. It’s executed very well, I think JGL and Anne Hathaway were great, but right now, with no one to talk me down and thoughts of the tragedy in Colorado filling my head, I’m gonna say The Dark Knight Rises left me only mildly pleased.