Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Friday, July 20, 2012


What do you get when you cross _______ with _______? The Dark Knight Rises.

Spoilers after the jump.

[In times of tragedy like the situation on Colorado, you can always help by donating blood with your local Red Cross.]

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.
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15 comments:

  1. Everything about this movie is just so darn epic, that I honestly couldn’t wait to just stand up, cheer my head off, and show my love for the epic trilogy that Christopher Nolan has made for me, and made for me with total love and care. Great way to say bye-bye to everybody’s favorite Bat. Nice review.

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  2. Thanks Dan. Taken as a whole I agree Nolan's trilogy is quite an accomplishment. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but good superhero trilogies seem to be tough -- the Christopher Reeve Superman movies are good, but only the first two; ditto just the first one or two Michael Keaton Batman movies really stand, only the first two X-Men movies really stand, only the first two Toby Maguire Spider-Man movies really stand, and so on. But Nolan knocks it out of the park -- or at least does it on his second and third Batman movies, such that they pull Batman Begins along with them (Begins plays a big role in Rises, but I don't have much love for Begins on its own).

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  3. "Death... by exile!" might be the funniest black humor line I've heard all year. I didn't expect Cillian Murphy to be back, but I'll be damned if he didn't steal the movie in those two scenes. I really love the frayed shoulder on his suit; it's one of the touches that shows just how long they've been in this situation.

    Strangely, the second act film felt a little like the first act of "Iron Man", what with a dangerous piece of advanced energy technology, a Middle Eastern prison, a wise old mentor, and a daring escape.

    That aside, I loved the movie. It's near impossible to compare it to "The Avengers". While "The Avengers" is essentially a comic book played out on the screen, "TDKR" is something far more complex that goes beyond its roots. It's like comparing "The Searchers" and "Some Like It Hot" to decide which is the best movie of all time.

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  4. Great review!

    I agree with you that this was not the best movie in the trilogy, but still was an fitting end to the trilogy.

    Check out my review .

    Cheers!

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  5. First, my condolences to all who lost their loved ones. This is very sad.

    The movie was really awesome! It was more of an action packed lockbuster movie than the previous two, but still has it deep pshycological themes. There was never a dull moment for me.

    It was great to see Batman face a physically more stronger opponent and to see Bane actually brake the Bat really made me experience the impact Knightfall had again as a story arc.
    Tom Hardy did an excellent portrayal of the character. Bane is not as dark and menacing as in Knightfall, but more compared to Secret Six by Simone. In the end, the only thing that disappointed me was that Bane was again the bodyguard and not the mastermind behind all this. But to include Talia, the trilogy does come full circle.

    Anne Hathaway really surprised me and it was great to see her play Selina.

    CE, I don't think the Daggett aspect comes to nothing. His character was created indeed as a pawn to use his resources for the bombs and to think of him as a threat to get to weapons department. But the main goal was to make Talia a board member so that she had access to the reactor device. And also to bankrupt the company his father build, was to break the soul of Batman.

    The title of the movie isn't only about Bruce that rises, twice indeed. Bruce wanted to create a symbol, a mask that anyone can wear. In the end he may not have a legion of followers, but he did inspire someone else to take over the cowl. And so the Dark Knight rises and the symbol will be continued.

    In the end it's great to see Bruce finally happy and to see Alfred has his wish become reality. And isn't it great to see him with Selina to spent his life with :)

    By the way CE, what didn't you like about Begins?

    Well, for me it was an epic experience and it was the best movie this year and an excellent conclusion to the trilogy. Can't wait to see it again next week :D!

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  6. I can't had much further analysis to a great review and interesting comments. It wasn't a perfect film but a pretty perfect Batman trilogy. It was short of definitive, but that leaves lots to do in the reboot :)

    I also was expecting the inspiration of a Batman Inc. type group of trained individuals, or a rising of the city by citizens turning their flashlights into bat-signals or something. Like the end of Sinestro corps war with the green light bulbs. Now that I think about it Gotham: 'The City without Fear' would have been a great conclusion to the trilogy. But that may have been too cheesy!

    Blake is now living below an orphanage, which made me think of the last page of Dark Knight Returns, he could hire new agents from it to create a new league of shadows used for good.

    Although I'd prefer a reboot for the film series I'd quite like to see a comic continuation of the series, to follow John Blake and see some more villains re-imagined in Nolan's world. What does anyone else think?

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  7. 'Can't wait to see it. well, to be exact, yes I can wait a bit. I'm waiting for the crowd to calm down a bit and see it in a theater a bit less crowded in a week or two~

    Sounds great!
    Sounds fair. The kind of review I was expecting for this movie to be precise.
    The bit of "Lonely Place of Dying" is a surprise though~

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  8. From what I understand, Glint, DC has pretty much ruled out any comics based in the Nolanverse, but damned if I don't want to see them do a digital comic a la Smallville Season Eleven starring John Blake. How long until a writer sneaks a John Blake mention into a comic? You know it'll happen ...

    For me, Danny, Batman Begins is the lesser of the three movies. In comparison to Dark Knight, fairly or unfairly, Begins is a smaller movie with much less scope -- Begins is the origin, essentially, and then the Ra's al Ghul conflict, whereas Dark Knight has Batman overseas and the Joker and the attack on the mayor and Gordon's apparent death and and creation of Two-Face, and on and on. Also in comparison to Dark Knight's Joker, I find Begins's Scarecrow a poor shadow of what could have been.

    There's some wooden performances in Begins, I don't have to tell you that. And also, while I understand that Nolan is going for a very detailed look at how Batman might come to be, some of the procedural stuff is very, very slow -- Bale and Freeman zooming around in the Batmobile is good for a laugh the first time, but on the second and third viewings the plot has slowed to a crawl.

    Batman Begins is a fine movie, better in its realism and lack of CGI than Amazing Spider-Man or something (and some parts, like when Ra's surprises Bruce in the manor, are very affecting), but for me it's "just a movie," whereas Dark Knight and Rises are epics.

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  9. I think you could probably even say it has some elements of dark knight returns, in that an older more weary and battered bruce wayne comes out of retirement as batman to help the people of Gotham when their need is greatest.

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  10. True CE about Begins. But maybe it's because it's an origin story, the movie is smaller in scope. But it was good to see a refreshing and more serious take on a Batman film when it was released!

    Anyway, I really wonder what DC's plans are to create a more cohesive universe like Marvel is doing. I've read somewhere that they want do a Wonder Woman cameo in Man of Steel. Don't know about this, but it's time for some Justice League :)

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  11. Marvel is trouncing DC in the movie department, the work-of-art Dark Knight Trilogy notwithstanding. You wouldn't think it would be so difficult, and in part I think it's a problem with us fans, or DC fans -- it's so much easier to cameo Thor in the Captain America movie than to insult the precious darkness of our Batman movies with a Superman mention (I kid, but hey, even the first Maguire Spider-Man movie, for gosh sakes, could mention Superman, that's how much more chill the Marvel side is than us). DC does have to get their acts in gear movie-wise, and that probably means some letting go on the fan side, too.

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  12. CE,
    I'm not convinced solo Batman is want most fans want, or that DC have their fingers on the pulse of want fans want that well. I mean lots of fans bang the drum for justice league and Dan DiDio had to be told by fans not to kill Dick Grayson for example!

    They didn't know what to do after the run of bad - Batman & Robin, Steel, Catwoman - so they put all their faith in Nolan and he kept Batman unable to launch in a DCU of films.

    That's even if DC wanted that shared universe. Only last year DC was talking about how it was separate film worlds for each superhero when promoting Green Lantern, rather than creating a cinematic universe. That could have been due to fan pressure, but it never came across as more than hoping to emulate Nolan's success and underestimating Marvel.

    ...
    I didn't know DC had said that about Nolan comics, it's good of them to respect his ending rather than go for the money it would bring in.

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  13. Yeah, we're too demanding :)

    I always thought the scene in Green Lantern where that heli crashed
    was a nice opportunity for Bruce Wayne to make a cameo. Or maybe Olly Queen would fit better.

    But if DC doesn't use MoS as a starting point, we won't be seeing a JL movie in the next 5, 6 years. While Marvel is expanding their universe during the next 2 years with follow ups and a brand new Guardians of the Galaxy that ties in to Avengers 2!
    Why DC, whyyyy :(

    Well, at least we have the DC Animated Universe....

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  14. Loved, loved, loved this movie to death. Perfect ending for the trilogy, and a fantastic achievement by Christopher Nolan and co.

    I really didn't expect the plot to borrow so much from No Man's Land, but it all made sense and made the movie more epic than a straight Knightfall adaptation would have been.

    The one little thing that bothered me about it is that they didn't even try to address the Joker. I get that they wanted to be respectful to the late, great Heath Ledger, but a throwaway mention of the character's fate would have been nice.

    And I must say I almost shed tears of joy when Miranda stuck that knife in Batman and revealed herself as Talia Al Ghul. Thank God I kept away from all spoilers. I understand that a lot of fans prefer her as a conflicted love interest, but as a fan of Morrison's Batman run, I can't get enought of evil Talia.

    And I totally didn't notice the similarities between Batman's time in the prison and Iron Man's origin until Doug pointed them out. That movie might have subconsciously influenced the Nolan brothers and David Goyer.

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  15. Just one more thing I forgot to mention: I didn't like the "death by exile" bit because it was shamelessly stolen from the classic "death by chi-chi" joke.

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