Next up on my husband Aaron and I’s Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project is the final Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” This is actually the first Nolan film I reviewed as a blogger, back in 2012. I remember the hype being really high for this movie, and some fans didn’t feel it lived up to its highly-praised predecessor, “The Dark Knight.” What were our thoughts after watching this film again several years after its release? Warning: Spoilers abound!
I’ve talked about this on my blog before, but I actually think “The Dark Knight Rises” is a better film than “The Dark Knight.” I know this isn’t the most popular opinion 😉 but to me “The Dark Knight Rises” feels like a more emotionally satisfying film.
Nolan’s final Batman movie finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living as a recluse after he allows Batman to become the scapegoat for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s crimes. However, the threat of a new terrorist called Bane (Tom Hardy) motivates him to put on the Bat suit again…only to be utterly broken by Bane and tossed into Bane’s prison pit. He has to find the strength both to climb out of the pit and return to Gotham to save the city one last time.
One of the main criticisms I’ve heard about “The Dark Knight Rises” is that Bane isn’t as dynamic a villain as the Joker. Yes, sometimes Bane’s voice effect is a little annoying and would have been better if they’d made it sound less garbled. Still, I think Bane was the right choice for this film, especially as we later learn that he is actually working for Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the main villain from “Batman Begins.” This really brings The Dark Knight trilogy full circle and highlights the film’s themes of battling your demons and not allowing yourself to be held captive to the past.
I also really liked some of the new side characters introduced in this film. Although I was definitely skeptical when I heard Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman, I thought she did a fantastic job, and she and Bale had great chemistry. She’s a worthy adversary and later ally for Batman. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another strong addition to the franchise, playing a young police officer named John Blake (we later learn his full legal name is Robin John Blake). Part of me still wants to see a spin-off film with Gordon-Levitt taking on Batman’s mission (perhaps as the character Nightwing?), but perhaps it’s better that the franchise concluded with a more open ending, especially as the DC Cinematic Universe is moving in a different direction.
“The Dark Knight Rises” isn’t a flawless film. It runs a little too long and the script could have been tightened more. It’s not as gritty or realistic as “The Dark Knight” and includes some last-minute saves and that often-seen plot device, a ticking time bomb. However, I love how film critic Richard Roeper sums up the film; he calls it “a majestic, gorgeous, brutal, and richly satisfying epic” — and I completely agree.
“The Dark Knight Rises” shows that there is light, and there is hope beyond the darkness. It also has one of my very favorite moments ever in a superhero film, when Batman finally finds the strength to face his fears and climb up out of Bane’s prison pit. It’s such a powerful moment, highlighted by wonderful music from Hans Zimmer. It’s a great metaphor for finding victory over the struggles that hold you back.
I also love the ending of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and I think it’s a great conclusion to the franchise. I love the joy on Commissioner Gordon’s face as he discovers the repaired Bat signal and realizes Batman is still alive. I love how Bruce Wayne reveals the Bat cave to John Blake, inviting him to become Gotham’s next vigilante. And last but not least, I love how Alfred looks across the café in Florence and sees that Bruce is still alive, starting a new life with Selina Kyle. Alfred and Bruce don’t speak to each other, and they don’t have to. A smile and a nod is enough.
“The Dark Knight Rises” was always going to be a tough movie to pull off. Following in the footsteps of the much-lauded “The Dark Knight” is not an enviable task. The Joker was a villain performance for the ages and whoever stepped into the role of Bane would inevitably be compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker. “The Dark Knight” had a tightly woven story full of twists and turns that kept focus. It had powerful story climaxes that kept themselves realistic. Hollywood is always committed to one upping itself with sequels and there wasn’t a lot of room to raise the stakes while keeping the story grounded here. “The Dark Knight Rises” almost made it. It’s an excellent movie, but it shot a little too high.
What did “The Dark Knight Rises” do right? A lot. For starters, I appreciated the nod to the fact that a person can’t be a superhero for long without doing incredible damage to their body (Wayne has virtually no cartilage left, a scarred kidney, skull contusions, etc). Top that off with a timely moment of levity where the doctor says that, given his condition, he can’t recommend Mr. Wayne go heli-skiing.
Another thing they did well, that I noticed more this time, was the incorporation of the “rise” chant used by the prisoners when someone attempts the climb. In all the moments of peril where it’s do-or-die, the chant starts small and keeps growing, adding tension and providing a recurrent theme that heroes have to rise. The pit overall was a great symbol, as well as a great plot point. The metaphors associated with it are endless.
I liked how they kept the same visual design for all the machines Batman uses (bike, car, and plane-helicopter thing). The Bat Plane is interesting, powerful and used just enough without overstepping and making it a crutch or a gimmick. The story of a villain driven by a powerful ideology who manages to make a totalitarian state within a state is interesting (and a deliberate nod to the “No Man’s Land” storyline in the comics).
Speaking of villain, we have to give Bane his own section here. Bane is not only good, but an upgrade from the comic book version of himself. In the comics, he’s all the things he is in the movie, smart, strong, patient, etc. But in “The Dark Knight Rises” another dimension is added. He’s a passionate, charismatic ideologue. Though it’s never given a name, he’s more or less an anarcho-communist (with some Soviet style court theaters thrown in). This gives Nolan an avenue to explore how easily destructive men with violent ideologies can sway people to their side by covering their brutality with shibboleths like “giving back to the people.” Tom Hardy took the lead and ran with it. Though he didn’t have a Heath Ledger-esque performance, I don’t think he could have, given the material he had to work with. Tom Hardy did as well as he could have, and maybe a bit more.
Where did “The Dark Knight Rises” fall short? Mostly, it tried to raise the stakes a little too high. When you start introducing nuclear bombs as the villain’s plot, the ending is more or less foretold (a last second save) because failure would mean, well, the nuclear bomb goes off. This is the problem I have with Superman and such movies. The stakes are so high that anything other than total victory means the total annihilation of humanity or, in this case, Gotham City and everyone in it. If the Joker won, there was still room to come back. If Bane wins, there’s nowhere to go back to. I’d have preferred if they kept it all the same but removed the bomb. Have him find another way to keep government forces off the island and build the tension where the heroic charge of the police is the last real chance to stop him. An all or nothing gambit.
Also the ending doesn’t make much sense. If he wasn’t in the Bat Plane when carrying the bomb, why do they keep showing him in a cockpit as it flies away? Where was he? Is this just imagined? Also, I realize the city wasn’t vaporized but isn’t nuclear fallout a thing? Don’t we have some video games about that? I also realize that Alfred said in his fantasy that he and Bruce don’t talk at the cafe, but really? Just talk. Jeez.
I won’t put Catwoman in the good or bad category. I don’t love her. But I don’t dislike her. They didn’t give her a ridiculously skimpy outfit *coughHalleyBerryCatwowancough.* So that’s nice. She helps the plot along enough to justify her existence and usually has a three-dimensional personality, which is also nice. I still think she distracted from the plot just a little too much and the movie could’ve been well served by being a bit shorter.
TL;DR: It’s a good movie that sets its sights a bit higher than it should. I like it, even with its length.