REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 165 minutes | Release Date: July 20th, 2012 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Christopher Nolan
Writer(s): Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan / Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer (story) /
Bob Kane (characters)

“Sometimes the pit sends something back”

**Potential thematic spoilers**

The trailer for the aptly coined ‘epic’ conclusion to director Christopher Nolan‘s caped crusader trilogy—The Dark Knight Rises—says it all through an emotional exchange between Batman (Christian Bale) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). Lamenting in her trademarked selfishness that he doesn’t “owe these people any more” and he’s “given them everything,” she begs to run away from the anarchy ravaging their once great city of Gotham. He did his best, admirably failing. Having none of it, though, the billionaire playboy who molded a life of tragedy and its resulting anger into a legendary beacon of protection sternly replies, “Not everything. Not yet.” Stopping at nothing to end the reign of tyranny directly wrought from the fire of his arduous and bittersweet journey for vengeance, Batman rides to the edge of oblivion.

At almost three hours in length, Nolan—with brother Jonathan and David S Goyer again assisting in fleshing out the story—goes all out to shatter his hero’s psyche so he may rise without fear to rally the innocent prisoners of a mad man against their oppressor at risk of death. Operatic to the point of a prepubescent boy singing the “American Anthem” at a football game becoming a stark aria to evil’s climactic takeover, one could argue the series has gone too far in terms of scope. There is an audacity at play in the trilogy’s overblown, Shakespearian-scale denouement where the film’s myriad characters must discover whether they possess the courage necessary to move away from darkness. Gotham City becomes Bruce Wayne incarnate—a fragile, lawless shell overrun by the shadows of indefensible fear that must choose between heaven and hell for its salvation.

We know which Wayne chose—the Batman is a glaring example of a Jesus-figure donning black in a continuous wrestling match with retribution. The city’s decision isn’t as easily made with its destroyer Bane (Tom Hardy) systematically erasing their once glowing figures of justice. With Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) laid up in the hospital, Deputy Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine) clouded by a power trip to take his job, and the memory built on a lie at the end of The Dark Knight for Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) defrauded eight years after posthumously being anointed a God among men, Gotham’s faith was defeated. Taking a page from Tim Burton‘s Batman by instilling a sense of martial law at the hands of zealots and criminals happy to wield their brand of malevolence on a ruling class sitting comfortably in their ivory towers, Bane looks to cleanse Gotham through genocide.

It seems a simple premise on the surface, but finding Batman and Bane facing off for control of a neutron bomb set to wipe millions off the planet won’t happen overnight. If I had a gripe with The Dark Knight Rises it’s Nolan and company’s desire to turn everything that occurred in the previous films into foreshadow. But rather than assume its audience is cognizant of this hero’s trajectory, the filmmakers appear to love hitting us over the head with motivations so ingrained in the mythology of Batman that Americans practically know them at birth. We know the horrors of his shot in cold blood parents, the charitable nature towards orphaned boys, and the mask he wears when not hidden beneath his cowl—so why must throwaway characters constantly tell him he hasn’t the strength to overcome because of his assumed posh upbringing?

This really irked me throughout, especially since this final installment allowed Wayne’s secret identity to no longer be so secret to those he keeps close. It is as though Nolan isn’t sure we’ll remember the first time an ignorant bystander is proved wrong about who the playboy really is during the bloated runtime that he needed to do it again and again. But we saw his rise in Batman Begins and saw him face the darkness inside his heart during The Dark Knight—it’s unfortunate that time is wasted watching both once more. That said, I guess a bit of refresher is necessary considering the world we’re re-introduced to is so far-removed from the last one. Retired for almost a decade into a crippled shut-in too afraid to trust those he protected to turn a profit, a rebirth of sorts becomes necessary.

With a new cast of supporting players in Hathaway’s Selina Kyle—a woman with some surprises of her own to keep even Batman off-balanced—and John Blake’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) idealistic cop to complement regular stalwarts Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred (Michael Caine), the cast list sprawls in an attempt to tie loose ends while possibly leaving doors open for the future. Marion Cotillard‘s entrepreneur Miranda Tate also joins to help propel the underlying struggle between fusion energy’s dream of cheap, renewable fuel and its nightmarish potential for apocalypse while making strides to fulfill the gaping hole left by Rachel Dawes’ demise as a romantic partner. But as they run around with a bevy of familiar faces new (Juno Temple, Aidan Gillen, Josh Stewart, Reggie Lee) and old (telling would be cheating), The Dark Knight Rises hinges on Bane’s grand plan.

An intriguing villain portrayed with equal parts malice and intellect, Hardy’s nemesis is a far cry from Heath Ledger‘s iconic Joker despite opening introductions similarly showing their art for deception and unrelenting brutality at a breakneck pace. Talked about across the internet with reason, one must look to Hardy’s eyes and the softer touch juxtaposed against a loudspeaker voice emanating from outside his body. They are what move and emote while his mouth remains covered, forever betraying his psychopathic activities with a deeper motivation yet unrevealed. More than merely a pawn to give the ensuing chaos a face, the character shouldn’t be taken lightly as his inclusion is greater than preconceptions may infer—contrivances and subterfuge be damned. The same can be said for everyone, though, as an emotionally bombastic finale allows a continuation within this universe possible despite Bale and Nolan bowing out.

Tough to say it succeeds on its own merits, The Dark Knight Rises does give the kind of closure warranted by a saga so epically told despite its character’s rather meager, pulpy origins. A tome that takes you exactly where you want to go inside the fabric of Nolan’s Gotham, fans should find themselves immensely satisfied. Slower than the first two and containing less action, the story itself finds a way to take lofty goals and lay them out in a way that brings us full circle. Bale proves Batman to be a man—fallible, overly ambitious, and above all else mortal—and takes the role to its inevitable height of heroism while his corrupt world finds a driven few containing ideas of rehabilitation despite increasing pressure to surrender. Hope endures amidst catastrophe as its symbol—the bat—lives on to inspire new generations of dreamers.

[1] CHRISTIAN BALE as Batman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action thriller “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. TM & © DC Comics. Photo by Ron Phillips
[2] TOM HARDY as Bane in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action thriller “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. TM & © DC Comics. Photo by Ron Phillips
[3] ANNE HATHAWAY as Selina Kyle in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action thriller “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES,” a Warner Bros Pictures release. TM & © DC Comics. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
[4] L-r: JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT as John Blake and MATHEW MODINE as Foley in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action thriller “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. TM & © DC Comics. Photo by Ron Phillips

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