Expectations are at an all time high for Director Christopher Nolan. Coming off of the one-two pop culture punch that was The Dark Knight followed by Inception, it might be a little unreal of audiences to expect another shock or surprise from him. In only the way Nolan can, he both does and doesn’t finish the job of telling the story he started with Batman Begins. The Dark Knight Rises is an epic tale – full of wonderfully relevant nods to our modern day dilemmas – that, unfortunately, falls back on convention and gaps in logic when the dark material begs to go forward into some pretty uncomfortable areas.
I’ll just go ahead and say it. The Dark Knight Rises is not better than The Dark Knight. It’s not even close. Nolan, co-writing with his brother Jonathan, has fastened a tale that is witty without being too comic, dark without completely drawing into the shadows, and castrates Gotham City without leaving a permanent scar. It doesn't have a powerful villain and asks too much forgiveness from an audience expecting closure.
Does this make it a bad film? Hell, no. The Dark Knight Returns has moments of slam-bang action beats that will satisfy the fans of the bat. Batman’s new toys are mad machines of mechanized mayhem and his penchant for destruction is fully in tact – even if his body is a bit beaten. Plus, it’s the first time in a long time that the countdown from a red LED clock on a bomb has ever made me nervous. It’s Nolan’s excellence to the standard action beats that accelerates this puppy across the finish line for an eventual win, that and the IMAX-sized visuals of Wally Pfister’s cinematography.
Opening with a mid-air hijacking (a feat “borrowed” from 1989’s James Bond offering Licence to Kill) and a vocally enhanced Bane (Tom Hardy sounding a bit like an amplified Sean Connery) barking orders over the roar of winds and engines, The Dark Knight Rises takes awhile to get its groove back. (Hell, I am still trying to make sense of that cool scene. It seems completely unnecessary.) We are whisked away to Wayne manor, where Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway who steals the show as the unnamed Catwoman) is introduced as a thief with Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints on the mind and familiar faces – Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) – looking world-weary and worn look on.
We find out that it’s been 8 years since the events in The Dark Knight and Batman has taken the blame for Harvey Dent’s murder and, as a result, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has tucked himself into the very shadows of Wayne Manor. No one ever sees him anymore. He simply and unexplainably wants to check out. And, to be certain, no one has seen Batman in as many years. Gordon wants to tell the world about Two-Face and how Batman has saved his little boy, but he cannot. The Dent Act has made Gotham a safer place.
But Bane has been waiting in the wings to strike and now, with Gotham and an ailing Bruce Wayne at its weakest, is the appropriate time. The breathing device on his face seems to amplify his voice (to an unnatural point at times and obviously re-recorded since the first trailers) and his intention for a one-on-one meeting with Batman in the shadows – for control of a nuclear reactor - is what he wants most of all.
It’s this first act that rings false the most. It’s muddled and a bit unsure of itself. Wayne has been self-confined to Wayne Manor for a year? Seven of those he’s simply been where? As it opens, always in the shadows, Wayne comes across as a Hammer Film-like monster hunter. Lurking. Frail, yet agile. Is it all an act? Apparently, not. Moments of comedy (a Thomas Lennon cameo as his doctor) are interspersed with Wayne’s sudden return to the streets and city. I’m fine with the uneven playfulness of this first act, but it seriously betrays the near murder of Commissioner Gordon as the city begins to crumble.
In the first act, Bane comes roaring across the screen like a roided out ox, but then plans the French Revolution…only to secretly want Gotham City to burn. Haven’t we already been here before? Wasn’t this what Joker wanted? (And speaking of Joker, he gets no mention here at all. None. All the other villains from the previous films get their on-screen notice but not Joker. I understand the sensitivity of Heath Ledger's death, but – if only for continuity’s sake – give the character a brief mention or two.) The audience needs it and so does the film.
Anyway, the point here is that the plotting of the first act is muddied at best and, while the second and third acts are solid, the first few steps of The Dark Knight Rises are a bit worrisome. Just like Wayne, it walks with a cane.
Gotham City must fall. In what goes down as Occupy Wall Street cinematic ode, Bane rallies his troops (some homeless, some criminals, much to the real occupy movement’s chagrin) and invades Gotham’s money holders with his Marxist mumbo jumbo. Bane, too, appears to have cracked into the inner circle at Wayne Enterprises and, as it turns out, even weapons genius Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is powerless to stop him from cashing Wayne out.
When Batman does arrive – awoken from his seclusion by Alfred (Michael Cain) and Miss Kyle - new allies John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop orphaned by violence, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who becomes the new CEO when Wayne is forced to step down, are there to assist.
Yet, the emotion of Bruce’s return to the suit is carried on Alfred’s shoulders. He refuses to bury Bruce or to watch him kill himself and so – to put it as frankly as the film does – he leaves. Yes, Bruce is without Alfred for more than half of this 164 minute shebang. Where does he go? I have no idea. You won’t either. He is simply gone. Bruce tells him, “Goodbye” and that is all. It's lame. And, I'm sorry, totally unforgivable. Alfred would never leave Wayne. Never. It reeks of defeat. This is a huge and very telling in the arc of the narrative. And it comes right before that fateful meeting with Bane. Hulk smash, you say? Well, kind of. Yes, kind of. The film – and for fans of the comic – pretty much know the ass handing that Bane gives Batman and on film – when Hans Zimmer’s percussion heavy score is finally silenced – it is a solid and thundering beat down. Oh, if only it were longer…
To discuss the next hour of the film would be a disservice to you the viewer. Just know that Blake and Wayne share the journey with a wild ride of Gotham-sized responsibility. There are plenty of twists and turns, but – where it counts the most (in the film’s final few moments) – one half of the film slides into standard superhero convention after a near Inception-like ending and the other sets up another starting point. That being said, Nolan handles all this with his normal excellence behind the camera but – if I am truly being honest - to come so close to genius and ease up on a definitive ending is a bit of a disappointment.
Bale proves he is the right man for Nolan’s Batman with this quiet and sensitive performance. Much of Batman’s lines are less harsh (we still get a few gruffer than gruff growls), but – with a screen time of less than 40 minutes in cape and cowl – this film belongs to Bale as Wayne. We see him up, we see him down. We see him walking with a cane to (albeit illogically) diving out a window at one point early in the film.
Wayne has to claw back from the depths of hell to reclaim Gotham City (and a pit whose location makes little sense as the events unfold). Exactly how does Batman get back to Gotham so soon? Oh well, the point is through it all, Bale gets to the absolute guttural level of Wayne. His fear is on display; his own mortality, too. While his relationship with women may not make a whole hell of a lot of sense, Wayne never gives up…even when he is confronted with the demons established in Batman Begins. Thematically, this film improves the tone of Batman Begins with more than a handful of references to it.
The Dark Knight Rises is a lengthy movie and, perhaps, thirty minutes should have been trimmed to make it function a little better than it does. It’s the darkest of the three (and, trust me, it ought to have gone darker) and leans on its unmasked actors more than you would think a superhero movie should...which is a plus. There are extensive thematic borrowings from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Hell, even a Gotham City prison break feels like the storming of Bastille. As action-oriented as The Dark Knight Rises needs to be, this is a character-driven narrative and – as fates are realized - all eyes turn to Levitt’s Blake as his arc from everyman to hero unfolds.
As satisfying as the conclusion to the trilogy is, ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises simply enhances Nolan’s vision of Batman without truly expanding on it. It’s complicated, heroic, but not void of fan-friendly archetypes. You know what to expect with Nolan and, after a cluttered first act, he delivers the promise inside Gotham’s reckoning.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.
Runtime: 165 mins.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale; Anne Hathaway; Tom Hardy; Liam Neeson; Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Genre: Action | Adventure | Crime
Memorable Movie Quote: "Calm down, Doctor! Now's not the time for fear. That comes later."
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site: www.thedarkknightrises.com
Release Date: July 20, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available
Synopsis: Despite his tarnished reputation after the events of The Dark Knight, in which he took the rap for Dent's crimes, Batman feels compelled to intervene to assist the city and its police force which is struggling to cope with Bane's plans to destroy the city.
Available on Blu-ray - December 4, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1, 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (2 BDs, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; DVD copy; BD-Live
Warner Bros 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode looks great and should quiet the criticisms of The Dark Knight’s transfer. This is a dark film and the shadows don’t crush their lines or blur into inky stains. The locations are crisp with definitive edges and dark lines hold their edges. While the aspect ratio switches between 2.40:1 and 1.78:1 in an attempt to mirror the film's IMAX presentation, the leaps are never distracting to the film’s presentation. Colors are bold and the detail is fine. A closer inspection of the visuals might reveal a bit of banding issues with some of the images, but overall this is a solid release from Warner Bros. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is a bombastic salute to the cape and cowl and will definitely give your system a bat-sized boot to the head.
- None. This should raise some eyebrows. Yes, Warner Bros is holding out on us. Consider yourself warned.
The supplemental items, all exclusive to this release, feature an excellent documentary about the various Batmobiles and many featurettes about making the film -- the only disappointment is how a person navigates through it. It makes little sense and is definitely not user friendly. Right now, the only reason to dig in to the supplemental material is the hour-long documentary over The Batmobile. Filled with interviews from Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, Joel Shumacher, artists, writers, editors, and even some fans, the documentary is a nice inclusion to the release. The rest of the supplemental material are entry points in Ending the Dark Knight and are filled with behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew.
- The Batmobile (60 min)
- The Prologue: High Altitude Hijacking (8 min)
- Return to the Batcave (4 min)
- Beneath Gotham (3 min)
- The Bat (11 min)
- Batman vs. Bane (6 min)
- Armory Accepted (3 min)
- Gameday Destruction (7 min)
- Demolishing a City Street (4 min)
- The Pit (3 min)
- The Chant (5 min)
- Race to the Reactor (8 min)
- The Journey of Bruce Wayne (9 min)
- Gotham's Reckoning (10 min)
- A Girl's Gotta Eat (9 min)
- Shadows & Light in Large Format (6 min)
- The End of a Legend (9 min)
- Trailer Archive (9 min).