What do you get when you cross _______ with _______? The Dark Knight Rises.
Spoilers after the jump.
What do you get when you cross Knightfall with No Man's Land? The Dark Knight Rises. Plus a little Batman: Legacy and Lonely Place of Dying thrown in there for good measure.
The Dark Knight Rises is enjoyable, certainly a better value for your money than Amazing Spider-Man. It is better than Batman Begins, to be sure (Begins begs to be re-shot in the more expansive style of director Christopher Nolan and company's latter two movies), though it does not rival the magnificence that remains the second movie, Dark Knight.
Rises saves most of its surprises for the end of the movie, but perhaps its biggest, right off, is that Rises takes place eight years after the end of Dark Knight. Nolan already does something different than what we find day-to-day in the comics -- a one-year jump is one thing, but an eight-year jump underlies the seriousness of the emotional toll that Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes's deaths took on Bruce Wayne. I had thought Batman would continue to operate, hunted by the police, not that he would retire entirely.
Christian Bale's Bruce is seemingly at his most broken at the beginning of the movie; even after the villain Bane breaks Batman's back (as comics fans knew was inevitable), Bruce's injuries are never so dramatic as the movie's reclusive Bruce Wayne in the beginning, walking with a limp and a cane. "Catwoman" Selina Kyle's theft of Martha Wayne's pearls (and Bruce's fingerprints) gets Bruce's detective juices flowing, and just in time, too -- Commissioner Gordon quite accidentally stumbles upon Bane's plans to wreak havoc on Gotham, and from there the movie is off to the races again.
The almost-jovial voice and demeanor Tom Hardy adopts for Bane is significantly different from how I understood Bane in the comics, though it's right for Nolan's presentation of Bane as a pseudo-populist hero. Bane is at times like a carnival barker, brash and charming and maybe a bit too much like Heath Ledger's Joker, though he turns into "comics Bane" when it counts, with a swift but resounding crack of Batman's back. My twin disappointments were that Nolan never had Batman rip off Bane's mask (quite especially since he teased the gore underneath) and that this Bane did not use Venom -- a CGI "Hulked-out" Bane would not be right for Nolan's Batman universe, but I had been expecting some greater revelation as to Bane's abilities in the end (though we certainly get a dizzying reveal of Bane's origins as the movie closes).
Anne Hathaway is a pleasant surprise here. She is not an actress that I thought would make a convincing Catwoman, but from her first moments when she transforms from meek maid to sassy thief, it's clear she has Catwoman's necessary range (Hathaway gets points, too, for a bar scene where she turns a terrified scream on and off on demand). Nolan's Catwoman costume is expertly understated, and I could have even done without the scene in which Selina attends a masquerade in a cat costume (and Hathaway and Bale chat it up for too long, when in Dark Knight Ledger was already mowing down mobsters); the quick mention of "cat burgling" and Hathaway's goggles-on-her-head-as-ears would have been enough. Either way, Nolan gets points for not making "Catwoman" a thing in the movie, simply dropping enough crumbs to suggest a semblance thereof.
With Bane in the picture, fans knew a Knightfall-esque injury to Batman's back was inevitable. Nolan takes Knightfall and drops it between the pages of Batman: No Man's Land, to an extent (cue those recent new No Man's Land collection releases). Batman comes out of his eight-year retirement, Bane breaks his back, Gotham is cut off from the world a la No Man's Land, and then Batman has to fight his way back to health to save his city. The eight-year retirement here, matter of fact, doesn't serve a whole lot of purpose -- Batman could have been active, Bane could have broken him, Gotham is isolated, Batman comes back; there's an extent to which the Dark Knight rises twice in this movie, maybe once more than was necessary.
To see No Man's Land on the big screen, however (and somewhat unexpectedly) is a big thrill. Nolan takes good liberties -- first, that all of Gotham's bridges are not blown up so much as the government has to forcibly keep the people of Gotham in their city ostensibly for their protection, leading to a wonderfully paranoid scene between Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake and some nervous military in the end. Second, Nolan traps all Gothamites on the island, not just the crazy or indigent that couldn't escape as in the comics, and this leads to even greater craziness -- more populist vigilantism, as well as the best cameo of the movie from Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow in a judge's seat.
I like Rises and also Dark Knight because they're long and involved; by the end, so much as transpired that Nolan's movie seems, indeed, like multiple issues of a long comic book arc. Rises drags a bit toward the end of the first act in the storyline involving Daggett, a Wayne Enterprises business rival who believes he's hired Bane to steal Wayne's fortune but -- switcheroo! -- Bane has other plans and the Daggett aspect ultimately comes to nothing. Nolan also has a long expanse in the movie where both Batman and Commissioner Gordon are injured, and Blake but moreover some unnamed cops drive the action for a while, and Dark Knight Rises begins to become a movie not about the Dark Knight at all.
Dark Knight Rises rewards patient moviegoers, however, with reveal after reveal in the end -- Liam Neeson's Ra's Al Ghul's cameo appearance, Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate as Talia, and John Blake as Robin. Empire Strikes Back and Dark Knight's cliffhangers are better than Return of the Jedi's Ewoks and Rises's "fan candy," but said fans will at least leave the theater with a smile on their faces.
Finally, Nolan uses his fiat as movie director rather than comic book writer to do what many probably wish they could -- kill Batman (of sorts). Batman, Grant Morrison has told us of late, doesn't ever give up, and the pervading idea of Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is that Bruce would stop being Batman when Gotham was safe or the idea of Batman was enough for Gotham to protect itself. This does not manifest here, at least not satisfactorily -- Gotham is affected by the revelation of Harvey Dent's crimes, rather than rising above Dent's crimes and continuing on their just path anyway; and Batman hasn't inspired a legion of followers, only Gordon and Blake and a couple others.
And yet the idea that Batman should retire and Robin should take over (without the crazy Knightfall Azrael ugliness), and that Bruce Wayne should live out his life in Paris with Selina Kyle, are both novel concepts. In the "Elseworlds" that is Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, I can't much begrudge Batman a happy ending.
In contrast to Rises, Dark Knight was epic and gripping, with a conflict central to Batman and definitive performances from Heath Ledger as the Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Two-Face. Dark Knight Rises is less on-the-nose (Bane's jovality may still be the problem) and a little slower, but it is also epic, faithful to the comics, and again, a darn sight better than Amazing Spider-Man. Fans of the trilogy may not be completely blown away, but I don't think they'll be disappointed, either.
Postscript: It feels terribly uncomfortable posting this review of Dark Knight Rises while knowing at the same time people lost their lives last night at a midnight showing just the same as I attended. The tragedy, ultimately, has nothing to do with Batman or Dark Knight Rises, just the real and random evil that unfortunately exists in the world. I decided to post the review because to not do so, and not to comment on the movie as planned, would be to let those bad things win. Again, everyone can always help wherever you are by giving blood with the Red Cross.