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Movie review: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ a fitting conclusion to Batman saga?

To say that fan expectations were high for “The Dark Knight Rises” is a little bit of an understatement. We’ve waited about four years to see the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a series that has been well-received by audiences and critics alike, and has set a new standard for superhero films.

I purposefully avoided reading many reviews before going to see “The Dark Knight Rises,” so I could walk into the theater with a clean slate. After watching the movie yesterday, I started reading through reviews and blog entries about the film, and I must confess, I was somewhat surprised to discover there’s been a bit of a backlash against the film by some fans. While some didn’t seem to think this film was as good as 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” I personally thought “The Dark Knight Rises” was a powerful, gritty and emotionally moving film, and I believe it is a fitting conclusion to Nolan’s Batman saga.

“The Dark Knight Rises” picks up eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight.” Although Gotham law enforcement has cleaned up the city streets and reduced the crime rate, all is not as well as it seems. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, retreating to his mansion in a self-imposed exile after letting Batman take the fall for crimes committed by Harvey Dent/Two-Face. He’s convinced that if the public knew the truth about Dent, who is regarded as a hero, it would destroy all the good Dent had accomplished before he turned evil.

Yet when an underground terrorist movement threatens the peace Gotham has finally achieved, Bruce is torn between his desire to help his beloved city and his belief that bringing back the “Batman” would only cause more harm. He ultimately decides he can hide in the shadows no longer and suits up as Batman once again in order to face Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist who ends up taking the entire city of Gotham hostage by threatening to detonate a bomb.

Bruce must battle demons from his past as well a new set of enemies, which include the wily Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and a gang of thugs Bane has released from prison. Bruce comes to realize Batman may be the only one who can save Gotham, but will he be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to redeem his city from darkness?

“The Dark Knight” was a tough act to follow, but I thought Christopher Nolan ended his series very well. There are some nice action set pieces, particularly the final battle in the streets of Gotham and a heart-pounding plane hijacking that occurs in the first few minutes of the film. Christian Bale turns in another solid performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and there also are strong performances by Michael Caine as the butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. The two newcomers who stand out the most are Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake.

I know that initially Christopher Nolan received quite a bit of flak for casting Hathaway as Catwoman, and fans weren’t convinced she could pull off the role. While I must confess I was also a little doubtful, my fears proved to be unfounded. Hathaway is great as Catwoman, creating a strong, complex character who’s good at working both sides of the conflict but must ultimately choose what cause she’s going to fight for.

I also really liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake and thought his character was a nice addition to the series. Blake is one of the few people of Gotham who still believe that Batman is a hero, and he’s not afraid to put his life on the line to help Batman protect the city.

Although some fans have commented they didn’t think Bane was as strong a villain as the Joker, I’m not sure if it’s quite fair to compare the two characters. The Joker in “The Dark Knight” was a very unique character and a very special performance by Heath Ledger. One could argue he’s almost the main character of the film, even more so than Batman himself. I thought Tom Hardy did what he needed to in order to make Bane fit in with the overarching narrative of “The Dark Knight Rises.” While “The Dark Knight” is meant to be all about the Joker, Bane is only a piece in a larger puzzle (a fact that’s made more clear through a very interesting plot twist towards the end of the film). It can be tough to act behind a mask and make a role your own, but I think Tom Hardy did this.

I’ve also heard some fans say they wish Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have been “out of commission” for a large portion of the film. While he does spend more time recovering from his wounds than fighting, I thought this plot point gave Nolan a chance to showcase how the other characters would go about fighting crime when they didn’t have Batman to rely on. This plot point also sets up what I thought was one of the most powerful scenes in the film: the moment where Bruce finally gets back the will to fight. Bane has thrown him into a prison pit that’s supposed to be impossible to escape, and though Bane has broken Batman both physically and emotionally, Bruce overcomes his despair and climbs out of the pit and returns to save Gotham one last time. Bruce climbing up out of that pit is a great metaphor for how Batman and Gotham are ready to rise from the ashes of defeat.

If I really wanted to, I probably could sit down and pick out some weaknesses in the film. I could talk about how it would have been nice to maybe have some more scenes with Batman and Catwoman together (Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway had great chemistry), and how maybe the film’s “Occupy” theme was a little too overt (it perhaps anchored the film too much in “our” reality instead of the fictional reality of Gotham). But in the end, none of this took away from the overall impact of the film for me.

A couple friends and I were talking about Nolan’s Batman movies the other day, and we found that we actually all liked “Batman Begins” more than “The Dark Knight” (we also joked that we’re probably the only people on the planet who feel this way). ;) Although “The Dark Knight” is a powerful film that earned the late Heath Ledger a much-deserved Oscar, I think that overall, I ended up enjoying “Batman Begins” more as a film. It wasn’t that “The Dark Knight” was too dark; it was more like there was too much of an absence of light. It needed a greater sense of “hope,” I think, a feeling that despite the trials Gotham went through, the city’s redemption wasn’t an impossible dream. This sense of hope was something I thought “The Dark Knight Rises” did have. Anyway, like I said, I know I’m probably in the minority on this one, but those are just some of my thoughts.

I think this is turning out to be the longest movie review I’ve ever written, so I’ll just wrap things up with this: While I do respect the opinions of fans who wanted something different from the film, I walked out of the theater feeling very satisfied. I thought the ending was perfect — it brought the story full circle, and while it left the door open for another director to continue on with the story, it also brought enough closure to the saga that the trilogy can now stand on its own. Well done, Christopher Nolan — it’s been a good ride.

* * *

Also, I’d like to offer my condolences to the friends and family members of the victims who were killed during the tragic shooting at a midnight screening of this film at a Colorado movie theater. This event was supposed to be a fun, exciting time for fans, and instead it turned into a horrific nightmare. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones.

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10 responses

  1. Mel

    Good review. I loved the movie as well. I disagree that Dark Knight is all about the Joker however. I think it is about The Joker & also about the rise & fall of Harvey Dent/Two face. What I really love about this trilogy is how each movie dictates the theme of the next. And also the relationships between hero & villains (2 per film), Bruce & his friends, Batman & his allies, Bruce & his money, Bruce & his fear (love the fact that in the first he has to fight his fear in the 2nd he has to face it & in this one he has to embrace it), Batman & his image (His image from the 1st creates the copycats & the super-villains in the 2nd & destroying it creates the “victory” that is the “bane” of his existence in the 3rd) An intense psychological story that is one of the best trilogies in film history. There will be college course. There will be books written, Endless debate & discussion. Songs (okay maybe not songs) but I believe people who expected something else (expected The Avengers maybe expected Dark Knight 2 maybe) & were disappointed will re-watch and realize how amazing it is.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:04 pm

  2. Nicely put! That’s a great analysis of the themes in Nolan’s trilogy. I also hope people who went to see TDKR and walked away feeling disappointed will give it a second go, because it truly is a powerful, epic film.

    July 25, 2012 at 12:40 am

  3. Hope is for weaklings! Ha. I like the difference between dark and the total absence of light. Nice observation….

    July 25, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    • LOL, that’s ok. ;) I thought “The Dark Knight” was a very well-made movie, just not quite my cup of tea.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      • Well-made indeed but that’s Nolan; it’s the script and gloom that deadens…

        July 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm

  4. Normally I like all of Nolan’s stuff, but “The Dark Knight” went just a bit too dark for me. I’m curious to see where Nolan goes post-Batman.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    • Mel

      I hope he and his brother tackle Daredevil. I think they could do an amazing job bringing Daredevil back from the mess with Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner. More like what Frank Miller did with it back in the 80’s. I haven’t heard any rumors but I may start one.

      You know what I heard, I heard Christopher & Jonathan Nolan were thinking about doing Daredevil.

      Really? That’s awesome.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:17 am

      • That WOULD be awesome! :) I think the Nolans could do a lot with that story. Keep on spreading that rumor. ;)

        August 2, 2012 at 12:57 am

  5. Good review. I thought the movie was slightly overhyped and could have never lived up to the expectations put upon it after The Dark Knight. However, its still a good movie nonethless. The action was on point and Hathaway brought the goods. Its the plot holes that bugged me. I talked about them on my own review. Still, all in all, a decent ending to a great series.

    Cheers!

    August 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    • Thanks! I’ll have to check out your review, as well.

      August 21, 2012 at 1:05 am

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