Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Editor’s Notes: For an additional perspective on The Dark Knight Rises, check out Jason’s review. The following review contains a few minor plot points that could be considered spoilers. Please read further at your own risk if you have not seen the film.
Before getting any further into this review, one thing needs to be said: The Dark Knight Rises is not at as good as The Dark Knight. Phew, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to reviewing the film at hand, shall we? The Dark Knight Rises represents a somewhat unprecedented move in the genre; a finale to a trilogy that truly is the end. There will be no more Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale as Batman ever again. The story is complete. No spinoffs or further sequels with other characters. With that in mind, director Christopher Nolan set out to craft a truly great sendoff for Batman, and ending worthy of being the epic conclusion to the legend of the Dark Knight. And for the most part, Nolan and his team deliver in spades, with a few minor bumps along the road.
The Dark Knight Rises represents a somewhat unprecedented move in the genre; a finale to a trilogy that truly is the end.
Taking place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham is experiencing a relative peacetime. Harvey Dent’s death has galvanized the citizens of Gotham to give way to the Dent Act, which has effectively eliminated organized crime in the city. But it’s all been founded on a lie that Jim Gordon and Batman started to protect the people from further despair at the hands of the Joker and what Harvey Dent really did, and what he really became. What at first seemed like a heroic act of self-sacrifice for Batman is now eating away at both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon; they’re rotting inside, and the corrosion is becoming increasingly visible on both men, especially Bruce. This corrosion is at the center of what The Dark Knight Rises is truly about. How can Gotham have been truly saved if what saved it was the kind of injustice that Batman set out to stop in the first place?
Enter Bane, a ruthless new villain hell-bent on destroying Gotham in order to fulfill the will of Ra’s al Ghul. Bane was once a member of the League of Shadows, the same organization that trained Bruce in the events of Batman Begins, but was excommunicated for, well, being a monster. At first this might seem like a pot-meet-kettle scenario, but Bane is revealed to be a far more brutal and extreme form of evil than Ra’s al Ghul. Whereas Ra’s preferred to destroy Gotham from within, and leave room for rebirth, Bane has only one goal in mind: the death of Bruce Wayne and the complete and utter annihilation of Gotham. He won’t rest until the city is nothing but a pile of rubble and ashes.
From there we’re treated to one of the most simultaneously grandiose and intimate action films in the last decade, bringing what is arguably one of the finest trilogies in cinema to a stunning conclusion. The film explores both a Bruce Wayne and a Gotham City that are rotting from the inside. A victory founded on a lie is no victory at all, and Bane is out to prove to everyone that Ra’s al Ghul was right; Gotham is beyond saving if this is the only way it can be forced into some kind of action against corruption. In fact, this argument is the heart of the entire trilogy. Can Gotham truly be saved if it can’t even be on the city’s own terms? Batman was never meant to be a one-man savior. His presence was meant to inspire the people of Gotham to rise up out of the darkness on their own, but if it took a lie to get them there, is it even worth it in the first place? These questions eat away at Bruce’s soul, even as his city burns before his very eyes later on in the film. Right before donning the cape and the cowl again, Bruce asks Alfred if he’s afraid that if he goes back out there, he’ll fail. Alfred simply replies: “No. I’m afraid that you want to.” Given the way his first physical confrontation with Bane turns out, it’s entirely possible that he does.
Hardy pulls off and extremely hard feat here, having most of his face covered for the entire film, acting entirely with his eyes and body language. It’s an extraordinary feat that he’s able to pull off such a physically intimidating and and yet expressive role with such limitations.
Leading a stellar cast, Christian Bale has never been better as Bruce Wayne. In the first film, we see a man trying to find his own way in the world; idealistic and somewhat naïve, but not without a sense of discipline. The second film saw Bruce invigorated with purpose and focus, only to be brought down to his knees psychologically. The final chapter sees Bruce completely broken, both in the spiritual and the physical sense, and it’s stunning to watch him bring a character he has completely owned for the last decade full circle. Joining him are series regulars Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman as Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox, respectively. Both bring their A-game to two characters that have served as father figures of sorts to Bruce over the years in one way or another, with the years since the events of The Dark Knight showing on their faces, Gary Oldman in particular. But in terms of father figures, none come close to Alfred, who has cared for Bruce since he was born, and refuses to watch him get himself killed. Michael Caine brings such a humanity and surge of emotion to the role that even Bale can’t help but be brought to tears in their scenes together. Joining the veterans are newcomers Joseph Gordon-Levitt as beat cop John Blake, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, and Tom Hardy as Bane. Each newcomer brings everything they’ve got to their roles. Cotillard is lovely in an otherwise underwritten femme fatale role, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings humanity and grace to his role as the idealistic young man that re-awakens Bruce Wayne’s passion for justice. Hardy pulls off and extremely hard feat here, having most of his face covered for the entire film, acting entirely with his eyes and body language. It’s an extraordinary feat that he’s able to pull off such a physically intimidating and and yet expressive role with such limitations. But really, Anne Hathaway is a revelation here as Catwoman. A femme fatale who never gets into super-villain sex-object histrionics, she makes the role her own as sexy without being just fodder for the fantasies of the viewer. There’s a confidence to her that can’t be replaced, and Hathaway is more than up for the physicality of it.
Beautifully crafted, the film stands as a visual testament to true auteurism in a genre that usually calls for anonymous direction. Between Nolan’s stunning direction, Wally Pfister’s gorgeous cinematography and Nathan Crowley’s awe-inspiring production design, it’s a spectacle of sheer craftsmanship. The film isn’t perfect, however. There’s some clunky and downright odd editing choices, particularly in the middle of the film, that create a bit of tonal whiplash. It also, frankly isn’t much of a standalone film. Much like The Bourne Ultimatum and The Return of the King, the film simply does not exist in a vacuum. This is the conclusion to the trilogy, and the desire to bring everything full circle works when taken as a finale, but not necessarily as it’s own film. Sure, you’ll get a complete story out of it, but it is in no way self-contained, and that hurts the film when taken as a singular entity.
Despite these issues, however, the film serves as a satisfying and pitch-perfect conclusion to the story of Batman. It may not be perfect, but the sheer emotional resonance of this stunning finale is enough to place the saga in the pantheon of great cinematic journeys.