It’s tough to write a review of a comic book franchise that you adore and cherish and not be unbiased. You want to say you loved a movie, no matter how awful it is, for the sole reason of your respect and admiration of its characters, plotline and literary history.
It’s also tough to view a movie like The Dark Knight Rises without shunning comparisons to and expectations of its predecessor The Dark Knight. The 2008 blockbuster was a movie that broke the mold on the originality of the Batman legacy and, absolutely due to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the Joker, set the bar high for successful comic book movies.
This movie isn't The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises will make comic books fans want to cry, applaud and frown all at once. Most will go into the movie knowing it’s the supposed end of director and co-writer Christopher Nolan’s epic trilogy, but almost all will exit the theater wanting something more.
The movie is well written, but the characters don’t really play strong roles. You can’t help but to wonder why some of the roles weren’t expanded upon for the sake of the plotline.
Perhaps it has to do with the villains this time around – Bane and Catwoman, played by Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway. It’s funny – never once is the word "Catwoman" uttered in the entire film.
The Joker is the most popular, most recognizable and most intriguing Batman villain. Ledger did a phenomenal job capturing that in the second film. You want more from Bane and Catwoman. Bane, in my opinion, is a boring Batman villain, whose only claim to fame in the comics is breaking Batman’s back and putting him out of commission for a while.
Hardy and Nolan do their best to try and make Bane an interesting character in the film, but you want him to be more sinister. Gone is his strength-enhancing drug Venom; in its place is a mask that pipes gas into his body for survival. There’s brief mention on the reason for the mask, but more should have been done with it.
Hardy plays the role of Bane much like he played the role of Bronson in the eponymous film – a brute force. It is, at times, difficult to understand Bane’s voice in the film. Maybe that’s why his actions speak louder than his words in The Dark Knight Rises.
The Joker struck fear into his foes through his insanity and desire for anarchy; Bane tries to strike fear through his words and fists.
There are a lot of new characters in this film, whose reasons for existing aren’t fully explained, like The Wire’s Aiden Gillen. At times, you can get lost in trying to figure out what’s going on in the first half of the film. The events are important to the plot, but it drags on too long at some points.
The Dark Knight Rises is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Gotham City is at peace, with more than 1,000 criminals locked away under the Dent Act. Harvey Dent/Two-Face is dead and Batman is the new face of villainy in the city. Sadly, no mention of the Joker anywhere in the film.
Wayne Enterprises has gone downhill. A new face in the form of Miranda Tate, played by French actress Marion Cotillard, comes on board to set the company on a new path as an investor. She plays a brief, and albeit too quick, love interest for Bruce Wayne.
There are some shady dealings going on in the Wayne Enterprises board and that’s where Selina Kyle (AKA Catwoman) comes into play. Here, Hathaway plays the role in a less catty and sexy way than Michelle Pfeiffer did in Batman Returns. She does kick butt once in a while, but it’s unimpressive. You really don’t want to care about this character in the film and seems like filler. Although, Hathaway has probably found her best role to date.
For the past eight years, Bruce Wayne has become somewhat of recluse, along the lines of Howard Hughes or J.D. Salinger. And he’s got a bum leg too, which is never really explained.
When Bane kidnaps a Russian scientist in order to unleash destruction and ruin on Gotham, Bruce Wayne needs to make a choice to continue Batman’s legacy as a failure or reclaim his dedication to the city that hates him. There is indeed a struggle here that the main character has to face and overcome: Does the absence of the fear of death make Batman who he is, or is it the cause of his downfall?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the role of John Blake, a Gotham City cop. He’s perhaps the only character, next to Batman, that you want to care about. He's a cop in a city in the midst of chaos with passion and validity. He breathes new life back into the dark trilogy.
Overall, the movie is dismal and brooding. Humor is nearly non-existent and at times you find yourself waiting for and craving more action. The fight scenes are stuff you’ve seen before, but Christian Bale and Hardy have great chemistry.
The second half is far more interesting than the beginning, with an awesomely climactic ending. I wish the way Bane ended up wasn’t such a letdown. You build a major villain up so much, only to face a consequence that didn’t resonate with you.
All the boring and bad parts that exist in the film are somewhat brightened by the choices Batman makes by the end of the film, for all characters involved. You figure a movie has a good ending when a non-comic book fan like my wife is wiping tears from her eyes during the end credits. Oh, and don’t bother sitting through for an Iron Man or Avengers-esque post-credits scene because there isn’t one; but what Nolan and his brother Jonathan do for the franchise at the end is truly extraordinary. Fanboys will love it, for sure.
Just like The Dark Knight had underlying real-world analogies to terrorism and the government’s response to it, The Dark Knight Rises has some subtle airs of the Occupy Movement and economic instability. It’s what made the essence of the former seem like it really could happen. Poor Gotham City is definitely not a place where you would want to live, in either of the three films.
If you see this film, you might want to shell out the extra gas money and dollars for IMAX. It is truly extraordinary, no doubt to cinematographer Wally Pfister.
The movie does not surpass The Dark Knight in intensity, greatness, action and acclaim. It does, however, bring the trilogy to a decent close and connects all three together, even if the movie itself isn’t climactic as a whole.
Nolan said he is not making any more Batman movies, but I trust in him looking to other characters in this film to carry on the new classic cinema tradition of this franchise. (Anyone but Joel Schumacher, PLEASE!) I, for one, am sad to see it end – for now.
The frustration you may feel afterwards will be more for the realization that this is the end rather than for the I-want-something-more plotline.
If you want to be entertained and see the end of a beloved film series, then by all means plant yourself in a plush seat for 2 hours and 45 minutes. For some, it will rise to meet their expectations. For others, it falls and doesn’t get back up.
Batman is an imperfect hero fighting for good in an imperfect world. He’s a man with many faults. There’s never really a Happily Ever After for him. Nolan and company have emphasized that and brought that to life on screen.
I certainly overlooked the faults and applauded at the end.