The Dark Knight Rises ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Directors Ranked: Christopher Nolan

Well, 200 followers in four months. That’s quite the milestone for me. I’ve grown a lot over these few months, developing my reviews from one one paragraph into page long reviews. I owe my success to the people who have followed me since the beginning like Patrick Jensen, Dirk Digler, and CJ Probst. I thought I should choose a special movie to commemorate this event, and it just so happened that my viewing of The Dark Knight Rises happened to line up with that.

So, where do I start? I guess with a date. July 19, 2012.

I was tired. I had been sitting in the theater for over five hours, and The Dark Knight came to a close. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight took the wind right out of me. I honestly wanted to just take a nap or go home. An employee walked in and said they weren’t going to be able to show the movie until forty minutes after The Dark Knight. I groaned in annoyance, but I stayed, because I was about to watch The Dark Knight Rises. I had been waiting for months to finally see the conclusion to one of my favorite trilogies. So, when it was announced that my theater was showing the entire trilogy on Thursday night, I quickly bought tickets. Months of waiting, watching trailers and interviews, reading articles about the director and possible “leaked plot points,” it had all built up to this.

You see, I grew up with Batman. It started with Tim Burton’s Batman released in 1989, a film that I offhandedly watched because we just happened to own it. There are many films that impacted me as a kid, and Batman was one of the biggest. It got me into comic books, the animated series, the old TV show (which I can’t remember if I saw that before the 1989 film or not), and more. If there was ever a fictional character I am an expert on, it’s him. As a kid, DC was really the only comics I read, and Batman was the only hero I cared about. I fell off of comic books a couple of years ago, but most of the superhero materials I read were just Batman graphic novels (The Long Halloween being one of my favorite novels). I guess I read a couple of Spider-Man comics and maybe a few Captain America ones, but I never really cared. Batman was the selling point for me. I still pick up the occasional comic from time to time, but unless it’s something like A History of Violence, American Splendor, or Watchmen, I don’t do it often.

The Dark Knight Rises was the last time I ever properly “fanboyed” out for a movie. I collected every piece of information I could. See when I was younger, I reacted to this movie the way everyone else reacted to the release of The Force Awakens. In 2015, I saw everyone go mad for any information they could get on The Force Awakens. The trailer reactions where people flip their shit over seeing the millennium falcon? That was me with this movie. It was the movie of the year for me, if not the decade. Looking back, it’s almost quaint, considering how I feel when a superhero movie is released now.

Well, let’s get into it...

"You're afraid that if I go back out there I'll fail."
"No. I'm afraid that you want to."

Let’s first talk about the setting. The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the event of the previous installment. We are introduced once again to the city founded upon new ground: the lie of the Dent Act. I never noticed this, but each film has taken a different design choice in the city whether it be through location or color or both. Whenever I think of Batman Begins, I think of the orange polluted haze filling the crime ridden slums. Buildings are tightly packed together, and the city towers over everything. The Dark Knight is more clear on the shooting location, Chicago. The streets feel less claustrophobic and the city is now brighter, reflecting the new sense of hope that the people have in Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight Rises switches its location to New York. We are thrust right into the story, so we never actually see an ordinary crime take place, which mirrors the decreasing crime rate in Gotham thanks to the Dent Act. Most of what we see early on is the New York skyline and rooftops, which makes the city feel empty, like there’s nothing below.

What I think works most about this series is the ever changing tone and feel to each movie. Batman Begins is a borderline horror movie in its execution, often showing grotesque creatures and really showcasing the use of fear to intimidate criminals. The Dark Knight is about life in post-9/11 America, where people have to learn to not give into to terrorism. But The Dark Knight Rises approaches its material in an almost post-apocalyptic way. Bane is the force to be reckoned with, that sends Gotham into a whirlpool of darkness and dismay with his talk of rebellion against the system.

The Dark Knight Rises is an expertly made film, handled with great care to make sure the conclusion is satisfying on all ends. Nolan shows clear dedication for a resolution to each of the characters’ arcs that have been set up throughout the series. The first returning character we see is Jim Gordon, torn apart by guilt but a public symbol of victory against crime. The big returning players are all torn apart by the events of the previous film, but Gordon is probably the best example of this. I had never noticed until this viewing how well rounded Jim Gordon is. His story is the perfect continuation of where we left off. This film is not a pleasant one at times, and Gordon’s guilt over the lie he’s created is almost heartbreaking to watch. I didn’t really enjoy Oldman’s performance in Batman Begins. He was left in the background a lot and really didn’t do anything impressive with the role, but he’s continually gotten better as the series moves along. We are then reintroduced to the character of Batman, a man literally broken by the events of The Dark Knight. I like the idea that Wayne is now a source of conspiracy and rumor, with many people comparing him to a recluse along the lines of Howard Hughes, despite no one having seen him in years. A lot of the complaints I hear about this movie is that there’s not enough Batman, but when following a film like The Dark Knight, I think it’s best to rip away the disguises and identities to get behind the true emotions of the characters. Bane forces Batman to watch the one thing he’s been trying to avoid for years: the destruction of the once great city, Gotham. The time with Batman is now spent watching the agony this character experiences, like watching the President on TV simply disregard the events taking place while lying immobile on a bed.

But despite his short screen time, the most tragic character here is Alred. Throughout this series, Alfred has always given Bruce his best advice and much like Bruce, he made a promise to the Wayne parents a long time ago. The confrontation between Alfred and Bruce is where we really see how truly painful it is for Alfred to tell Bruce what he really thinks, and the confession he has to make in order to do so tears him apart.

"It means your hatred... and it also means losing someone that I have cared for since I first heard his cries echo through this house. But it might also mean saving your life. And that is more important."

The antagonists here do not disappoint. The Dark Knight set a high bar for the series, so it was inevitable that people would be disappointed with Bane. But if Heath Ledger had not given the performance he did, I don’t think Bane would get as much hate. Bane is an unusual choice. Following The Dark Knight, everyone thought the villain would be The Riddler. Rumors circled around like crazy back then. Bane seemed like such an odd choice for the conclusion of the trilogy at first, but I like the addition to the League of Shadows story set up in Batman Begins, and that an event that happened so long ago could come back to haunt Batman now. It’s also finally a villain who has extreme hatred for Batman. Ra's al Ghul’s main goal was to destroy Gotham, and Batman was just a roadblock. The Joker sought to show everyone’s true nature, and the Batman was just a pawn in his game. Bane seeks to not only physically overpower him but also mentally scar him. Hardy is almost unrecognizable here, and yes while he is hidden behind the mask and deep voice, he gets lost in the hatred behind the character. I thoroughly believe Hardy as Bane, and the “twist” (which honestly if you didn’t see this coming then you’re just an idiot) didn’t disappoint me. I like the idea that Batman has been chasing these eccentric and colorful villains, yet real evil could be inside just about anyone. However, when I saw this the first time, the character that stole the movie for me was Anne Hathaway. She is electric in this role, and what a great casting choice for the role, especially after another fantastic performance like Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s an interesting dynamic too. Catwoman just wants to get out, while Batman just wants to get in (phrasing).

The Dark Knight raised the stakes in terms of superhero filmmaking, but Nolan attempts to try new things and experiment with what he can do, so he uses the Batman mythos has a guide to expand the ever growing world of the universe he’s set up. While I don’t think Nolan is the god of cinema that everyone seems to think he is, I’ve never seen a film of his I haven’t liked (even Interstellar, which I hated on first watch, has gotten better and better every viewing). The filmmaking here is impressive, to say the least. While Nolan does give more time to the more dialogue-driven moments, the action sequences do not disappoint. Seeing the IMAX sequences in theaters truly blew me away the first time, and even though it comes nowhere close to the type of impact The Dark Knight had, it’s admirable.

Many people seem to have a problem with the lack of Batman in this (by the way, the difference between Batman in this and in The Dark Knight is about six minutes), but after something like The Dark Knight which was non-stop adrenaline fueled mayhem, do you really need that much? This one is more focused on breaking down the character of Batman, even more so than the previous film. We see his lowest points, not being able to accept a life without the woman he loved. He’s premature when he dons the cape again, and his experiences in the pit allows him to earn the costume. It’s amazing that in this near three hour runtime, I never once get bored. It always keeps my interest. Nolan has improved a lot with shooting action since Batman Begins. The fight scenes are well executed and brutal, they feel real.

I don’t think many of the complaints people have with this movie are warranted. Most of the “problems” can be debunked by just simple inference from the film. The only thing that really bugs me about this movie is the ending. I don’t despise the third act like some people do, but even I have to admit a few things fall apart. I think a few editing changes would make it perfect. As some examples, I’ve edited a few scenes and included them here (click the link to see them):

1. Change #1: Batman’s line to Gordon about his identity is perfect. It’s the perfect conclusion to their arc, but having Gordon say, “Bruce Wayne?” is just a little too much. Here, I’ve switched the clips around to show Gordon reflecting on the type of person he was, in silence.

2. Change #2: I don’t know why Nolan felt the need to include the time of the bomb while Batman is flying away, it basically just creates an avoidable continuity issue. What I’ve done here is completely remove Batman from the scene after the initial explosion. It could be inferred that Batman jumped ship and turned autopilot on before or after the explosion (ala gliding). Showing Batman right before the nuke is just frustrating.

3. Change #3: I’m not the first to suggest this change, but I think switching around the scenes and not showing everything works better. Blake’s conclusion is the end of the movie, with him rising up to supposedly take up the mantle of Batman. I think the order here should be Blake, Gordon (the secondary character of most of the series), and then Alfred (which also acts as Batman’s conclusion). I’ve also removed the shot of Bruce nodding back at Alfred, as it just seems like a studio addition. An ambiguous ending is just more satisfying, for me at least.

But, these tiny nitpicks are like the “Aliens Airlock Scene”. It really doesn’t ruin the overall experience.

"I never wanted you to come back to Gotham. I always knew there was nothing here for you, except pain and tragedy. And I wanted something more for you than that. I still do."

Everyone has that one movie. The movie you love beyond any reasonable measure. The movie that you will defend to grave and beyond. I’ve seen my fair share of movies that I never thought were given the time of day (The Gift, Constantine, Filth, High Rise, etc), but I’ve never defended one as much as The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that meant so much more to me than anything in the past five years. I don’t think I will ever be as happy as I was as when I sat down in that theater to finally see my childhood hero be given the justice of a satisfying conclusion. It’s hard to think, considering we’re so desaturated with superhero films these days, that at one point this was what they used to be. Not cinematic universes or an endless barrage of sequels and remakes. Just a director with a vision. I miss it.

The shadow left by The Dark Knight was large indeed, but this film not only raises the stakes in intriguing ways, it also may be the most satisfying. There’s no question that The Dark Knight is the best film of the series. The impact it had on the filmmaking world is large and there is little chance a superhero film will ever come as close to sheer ambition of Nolan’s dark and gritty take. But, in a way, I think the this one may be my favorite. I’m watching these with new lenses on, so it’s weird that my opinions completely change. The Dark Knight is a masterpiece (and no one will convince me otherwise), but The Dark Knight Rises has the added benefit of working off of already developed characters, so seeing their finale is bittersweet, and it reminds me why I love this series. It’s not set in stone, but for now The Dark Knight Rises is my favorite of the trilogy. Every film in the series works, and The Dark Knight Rises is no exception. I love this movie, it means so much to me, and the chills I got from the first viewing still linger with every subsequent watch.

If you had told me that in four years, there would be a Batman and Superman team-up movie and a Justice League movie the following year, I would’ve had a heart attack. It’s sad to think that a movie based on my childhood favorite comic book team is coming out this year, and I could care less.

I hope you enjoyed this longer form review, and I hope you can understand where I'm coming from. I'd like you hear your opinion on The Dark Knight Rises in the comments. If you have problems, comment and I'll see if I can debunk them. Thanks for 200, guys!


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