REVIEW: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (2012)

'The Dark Knight Rises' Review (2012) Christian Bale

Grade: A

Christopher Nolan continues to plumb the psychological depths of the Batman universe with The Dark Knight Rises, the final installment in his critically acclaimed franchise. Following Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), two films that perfectly encapsulate American post-9/11 angst, The Dark Knight Rises turns the focus on the guilt that our characters face after the events of the previous films. The caped protector of Gotham City is gone while the now reclusive Bruce Wayne remains literally hobbled by the weight of his city’s sins, only to Rise as the Dark Knight when the balance of power is once again threatened. Forces that symbolize proletariat anarchy clash with forces that symbolize bourgeois wealth while Batman remains philosophically somewhere in the middle.

What makes Nolan’s Batman series the greatest superhero franchise of all-time is not just his ability to add a layer of psychological depth or mirror current socio-political climate. Nolan’s operatic saga offers big-budget filmmaking at its finest with memorable set pieces, realistic depictions of violence, and fully fleshed out characters. Director of Photography Wally Pfister has the audacity to hold the camera still for extended action scenes that employ so much cinematic imagination that every sense of the viewer is aroused. The Dark Knight Rises is loud and tightly structured with heart-stopping action that will undoubtedly captivate even the staunchest of superhero skeptics.

The film picks up eight years after the fall of Harvey Dent in a Gotham that reveres the late District Attorney and loathes the vigilante Batman who they believe destroyed him. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) remains secluded in his expansive manor while his corporation crumbles under financial strain. Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) struggles with knowing the truth about Dent, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) attempts to keep the Wayne Corporation afloat, and family butler Alfred (Michael Caine) wants Bruce to abandon the notion of Batman and settle down to safety. Meanwhile several new characters want Mr. Wayne to come out of retirement for various reasons. Entrepreneur Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is interested in Wayne’s fusion energy project, cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) seeks information on the billionaire for a mysterious employer, police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is Batman’s biggest fan and hopes he defends the city once again, and Deputy Police Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine) wants Batman gone altogether. Most ominous is the masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy) and his army of mercenaries who seek to restore Gotham to the people in the most violent way possible.

This library of characters seems like a daunting list, but Nolan masterfully intertwines each narrative with remarkable economy, giving us just enough of each to be fully satisfying. The scene-within-a-scene trickery of his previous effort, Inception, was a nice warm-up for the complex narrative threads in The Dark Knight Rises as Nolan takes us from one part of the world to another in the span of minutes. The expository scenes create such momentum that only builds throughout, making every cut to a different character feel like it comes at exactly right moment. With a running time of 164 minutes, the movie does not feel a second longer than necessary.

Nolan addresses the deadlocked partisanship that overwhelms the United States by presenting different situations that represent both Conservative and Liberal nightmares. Bane is like Occupy Wall Street gone wild as his army literally pulls the one percent from their homes and dumps them on the street. The Gotham that results, however, is equally unjust with a recognizable character acting as judge, jury, and executioner to any party that opposes the ways of the new society. Batman can only put the world right by taking down the forces on separate extremes and allowing the system to operate somewhere in the middle.

'The Dark Knight Rises' Review (2012) Bane, Tom HardyFitting with the film’s theme of balance is Nolan’s ability to contrast enormous action set pieces with more intimate moments of conflict. A one-on-one fist fight between Batman and Bane that occurs halfway through the film reflects their confrontation in the film’s climax amidst hundreds of police officers and mercenaries. A dramatic scene between Alfred and Bruce feels like it has equally high stakes as the massive takeover of Gotham by Bane and his army. Despite the expansive conflict and political symbolism in the movie, the story is ultimately a personal one for Bruce Wayne and the various supporting characters.

Each of the actors is certainly up to this task. Unlike The Dark Knight where Heath Ledger stole every other scene, there is no single performance here that dominates. Michael Caine’s desperation will most tug at the heart strings, but he is not in enough of the movie to own it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway are superb additions with the former adding a completely fascinating subplot and the latter providing some of the film’s only light moments. Gary Oldman proves his versatility once again and Christian Bale remains the most interesting actor to have ever played Batman. Matthew Modine redeems himself in a performance that at first seems like a deflating cliché. Tom Hardy is a little harder to critique because of the physical restrictions of the performance. His dialogue was clearly added in post-production and makes him sound a little bit like the voice of God.

'The Dark Knight Rises' Review (2012) Joseph Gordon LevittHans Zimmer, whose name has now become synonymous with deep, loud music, provides the score that never ceases during the film’s running time. There are a few brief moments of silence, wherein you may find yourself holding your breath until the brass once again lets out a relieving boom. Zimmer’s score would only work for a movie like The Dark Knight Rises as it only serves to enhance the spectacle on screen.

There are a few minor flaws in Nolan’s movie, like the addition of a flying Batmobile that detracts from the realism by defying gravity a bit too effortlessly. However, when the film reaches its delightfully open-ended conclusion, one cannot help but feel winded by the entire experience. This is what people are referring to when they use the term “movie magic” as Nolan’s sweeping series could only work as a piece of cinema. This is the type of movie experience that brings the audience together and makes one of the finest arguments for big Hollywood blockbusters that modern film may ever see.

Bottom Line: Go see The Dark Knight Rises for the spectacle and stick around for the substance.

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  • Somebody help me. I am 12 hours away from watching this movie and I think I have officially gotten my hopes up. That can’t be good for meeting expectations.

    • Jose

      Well, were your expectations exceeded? It happened to me, and I ended up loving it (although I definitely agree with Austin below me about the intro, I was ready to give up in the movie until after Batman appears, totally worth it).

  • Eric M

    “His dialogue was clearly added in post-production and makes him sound a little bit like the voice of God.”

    Oh no… Bane’s then-uninterpretable voice within the first trailer was magnet for criticism; when the second trailer came out with the obvious over-dub, I was hoping this was something that would be taken care of before the film’s release.

  • it has the perfect amount of substance and action.

  • I loved the movie but I felt like the first act could have been more defined. I felt lost and subsequently, a little disinterested. Once Bane became more prevalent in the story is when I started enjoying it more. By the end of it all, it came to a rising crescendo.

  • Very good movie. Not quite as good as The Dark Knight, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. Bane turned out to be a much better villain than I expected, even if he doesn’t meet the quality and intensity achieved by Heath Ledger (which in all fairness I didn’t expect to happen). The only two problems I had with it was that (1) at certain times it felt very fast with too much happening at once, although that’s hardly a flaw, and (2) the twist at the end was completely unnessecary.

  • Eric M

    Bound to get some heat for this, but my reaction couldn’t be more mixed. Instead of getting a movie about the consequences of Batman’s actions in The Dark Knight, we get an often-cliche comic book finale. Nolan successfully builds Bane as an unstoppable machine, matched only by Batman when he is finally able to escape imprisonment. But wait! Bane’s backstory is actually a lie, so it’s now appropriate to blow him to pieces in order for Catwoman to throw out a line of comic relief.

    Everything that made me fall in love with The Dark Knight is missing here. Gone are the days where citizens of Gotham turn against Batman in fear, only to show their true character when handed the detonator to another ferry. Did Bane actually start an uprising in Gotham? The “big” reveal of Dent’s false-legacy is only shown to cause riots in the prisons, but they would have sided with Bane anyways. I simply saw a city under military control, rather than turmoil stemming from everything put into place during the previous films. Other than the police officers, the citizens don’t offer any further reason why they should be spared from the League of Shadows.

    Granted this is Christopher Nolan, and visually he can do no wrong. The action alone was gripping enough to prevent me from giving this movie a fully-negative review. But in the end, I was left thinking, “so what?”. If Batman was just meant to be a symbol, and that he could be anyone, isn’t this the conclusion reached at the end of The Dark Knight? And if you’re going to disrupt that balance you spent two movies establishing, shouldn’t we see the consequences when the big Dent-conspiracy is revealed? All of these things worked so well in the previous films, because Batman’s actions had consequences.

    [/rant]

    • While I really liked the movie, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. The themes that Nolan was trying to express worked out in the end, but it would have been more effective if they would have focused more on Bane revealing the truth about Harvey Dent, or maybe even revealing the true identity of Batman. I also wouldn’t have included a backstory for Bane, for the same reason why they didn’t include one for the Joker. A simple reference that he used to be part of the League of Shadows would have been good enough. Overall though, the point that Nolan was trying to make through Batman was well-delivered.

    • Jose

      The “uprising” that Bane started was definitely something that bothered me and why I can’t love Bane as a villain. He was definitely a menacing character though.

    • Bane is a villain with an entirely different purpose than the Joker. In ‘The Dark Knight,’ The Joker’s mission was to create chaos and turn citizens of Gotham against one another while in ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ Bane’s purpose is simply destruction (or “creative destruction” to borrow an Econ. major term).

      Bane is not a politician like The Joker. During his takeover of Gotham, he does not seek to win people over to his side. We see some people joining him (mercenaries, prisoners, and people with nothing to lose), others fight him (police officers and members of the old system), while a third group sits back and let things happen.

      • Eric M

        Bane simply taking control of Gotham is what makes me question aspects of the screenplay. Things probably would have been written differently if The Joker was able to make his return in this sequel, but the whole storyline involving Dent felt forced into the story. There were no repercussions for the cover-up, aside from Blake and Gordon getting in a bit of a tizzy.

      • What ruins Bane, to me, is that he’s not acting on his own beliefs. He is deliberating the will of a plot from a previous film, and because of that this film has no individuality, his character much less. “The Dark Knight” stood on its own, because The Joker was passionately pushing his own demented beliefs. Bane was not, and his beliefs were never revealed or properly explained. The problem with him isn’t the mask or the voice. It’s his motives.

      • Eric M

        Duncan,
        I would say that Bane’s motive of being Talia’s protector is probably the best aspect of the character. It took two viewings for me to appreciate it, but when its revealed that Batman & Bane are both so similar with their desire to protect those they love, I couldn’t help but feel torn apart when the tear falls down Bane’s face.

        If only Bane wasn’t suddenly obliterated 30 seconds after this touching moment….

  • You guys are so lucky, i wont be able to watch it until August 5th :( this happens when u have limited number of screens in your city.

  • SPOILERS

    I might have forgotten something but can anyone remind me why the citizens even rallied with Bane? He told them the bomb was going to explode in 23 days and killed the only person who could stop it. I wouldn’t side with someone like that.

    • My bad, not 23 days. I got confused with another point where they say they have 23 days.

    • Jose

      I thought that Bane didn’t tell Gotham that the bomb was going to blow up anyway, only the main characters knew.

      • I thought that as well.

      • I’m probably wrong; I tend to forget movies pretty quickly but I’m going to see it again soon.

  • I thought we did get a film about the consequences of Batman’s actions..

  • Bane, as a villain, worked, I think. His voice sounded strange during the plane scene at the beginning of the movie, but I grew more and more accustomed to it as the film progressed. The scene is which Bane delivers his speech to the citizens of Gotham City is actually quite captivating and shows that Tom Hardy was trying his best to act through his restraints. Heath Ledger’s Joker wins as far as performances go, but Bane wins if we’re talking about who the badder bad guy is.

    I’ve heard some people complaining about Hans Zimmer’s score. Personally, I love it. I would probably hate it in any other movie, but for some reason it just…clicks in “The Dark Knight Rises.” It made me so anxious sometimes that I thought my blood vessels were going to explode out of my skin and shower my two nephews, who saw the movie with me, with blood, but that was A-OK with me (thankfully the only explosion that happened happened on-screen).

    The only thing I really have a problem with is the twist at the end. I saw it coming when I started noticing a little too much focus on one particular character, but Nolan still decided to try and trick the audience by giving that character a completely unrecognizable name. When the woman in the scene towards the end revealed that character’s full name, I rolled my eyes. I hate to say this, but that was just pure laziness coming from the filmmakers.

    I really did love “The Dark Knight Rises.” I went in expecting a spectacle and I got exactly that. Christopher Nolan can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. I’ve enjoyed every movie he’s ever directed and I view him as the current king of the superhero movie. Thankfully, Nolan doesn’t just make superhero movies; he makes superhero movies that are also movies about life and how bleak it really can be.

  • Ben Gotz

    I actually had no problem with the twist at the end, I personally, did not see it coming (though I know a few people who did) because the original notion about Bane I thought was believable and added another layer of pschological depth to our villian (depth I thought Nolan was adding to remind us this is not the Joker). Later, when the twist was revealed, not only did it complicate matters at hand greatly, it managed to keep the depth added to Bane and also reveal the true character of another one we know, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    I also was fine with not seeing the citizens of Gotham reactions to Harvey Dent’s false legacy because this was not their movie. This was a movie driven by the principal characters and their motivations/developments, reactions from the crowd would have made this movie even longer when it is already pushing how far it can stretch itself out. Blake’s reaction to the reveal is all I needed, he summed up what the people in Gotham should be feeling but since he was the one to say it we further sympathize with his character and see the young Gordon and Bruce in him.

    Overall, I thought this was a fantastic movie and couldn’t have asked for better. Bane’s voice did bother me a bit at first but it was acceptable by the time he came into prominence in the film. I thought there were some pacing issues in the first act as well, but performances were stellar, themes couldn’t be more relevant, and this is all still coming from a superhero movie. Cry your heart out, Spider Man

  • Janya

    So in-between the time the Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises came out, a friend managed to actually get me into the comics books (specifically Batman of course). So even though I told my self a good amount of times that I’m going to watch this movie, knowing it doesn’t really follow the comic book, and hope for a great movie to end this trilogy.

    Unfortunately it was harder than I thought to keep my comic book knowledge away. I saw the ‘twist’ so early in the movie which ruined that particular character for me. The whole prison pit thing was just so odd and weird for me because I know it supposed to be extremely loosely based on Ra’s al Gul’s Lazarus pit. Also the fact that Nolan’s Bane shared nothing but a name from his comic book counterpart.

    And the most conflicting was the John Blake character. I say conflicting because I think Joseph Gorden-Levitt did a great job with him (him, Anne, and Alfred were the best in this movie) but his character and what he’s supposed to be irks me for so many reason when I think about him outside the movie.

    Other than few mutterings on how some things were wrong, it was expected and I did end up enjoying the movie as a whole. Not as good as Dark Knight, maybe on par or bit better than Batman Begins.

  • If I went too deep into my thoughts I’d only serve to bore, but I was not taken with “The Dark Knight Rises” at all. It all felt rather messy and aggressively pointless. Bruce Wayne felt like a pathetic man who spent 8 years hidden in his mansion doing nothing but whine over his dead girlfriend.

    The reveals involving Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, I saw a mile away and that didn’t make them any less confused. Many of the characters, like Lucius, Gordon, and Alfred, were given nothing to do but play second-bill assistance to “the Batman”, whose legend is ridiculously overblown.

    The villain of Bane is wasted by lacking any passion or purpose for what he’s doing, instead following somebody else’s orders and rehashing plot that wasn’t so convincing even in “Batman Begins”. The film trivializes the violence, spurting out a little more every few minutes without us caring at all who died in the process. There’s a horrible lack of substance, with the surface impenetrable from reading any deeper meanings in either the visuals or the narrative.

    The symbolism is choked out, leaving a feature that lays on the screen for nearly 3 hours, hashing out ridiculous motivations (“The Clean Slate”? Seriously?), Glib one-liners (Gotham’s citizens are turned into annoying and selfish idiots), and purely disjointed editing. The president of the United States jumps on the screen at one point! How more ridiculously typical can a film get? This turns into something dumber than I ever expected Christopher Nolan to hash out, and it absolutely taints a franchise of two strong installments.

  • Jose

    Something I noticed (at least its true in most cases).
    If you thought The Dark Knight was the shit, then you’ll find Rises to underwhelm.

    If, like me, you thought Batman Begins was better than TDK, then you’ll think this movie was the shit.

    Oh, and I loved how the big reveal at the end involving Cotillard turned Bane into a sympatheitic monster for like, 33 seconds.

    • The reveal makes Bane, a character who was already acting on somebody else’s beliefs and not his own, making him already passionless in his goals in comparison to The Joker, and makes him a grunt. His character is utterly wasted, and we never get to know his personal beliefs because he doesn’t have any.

      • Jose

        Bane is the reason why I can’t give the movie a perfect score. In the comics and the animated series, he would act on his own a lot.
        Here, in the end, he’s just a henchman much like he was in Batman and Robin.

      • I completely disagree with that take. He is working WITH Miranda Tate, not for her. They both were trained by the League of Shadows and they both have the same ultimate goals.

        I think that Bane is being too directly compared with The Joker when Nolan went out of his way to make them different. Bane is all physical while Joker is more wily and psychological.

  • Scott

    Question…why after giving this an A do you have it falling so far down on your predictions list? Is it simply due to the tragic event? Because otherwise I’m thinking the Academy is kinda obligated to honor this one after snubbing TDK…

    • Sometimes the Academy recognizes actors that are “due,” but they rarely do it for movies. I thought ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ might have enough dramatic heft to appeal to voters, but it is ultimately a comic book movie – a genre the Academy historically despises.

      I sincerely hope it makes it on the list, but we will have to wait and see how the response is to films coming out in the upcoming months.

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