After the long buildup to my face-off of The Dark Knight Rises vs. The Avengers, here is my review of The Dark Knight Rises and a winner is announced.
The Dark Night Rises (for the sake of brevity, from now on I will be referring to “The Dark Knight Rises” as DKR) is the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s three-movie exploration of Bruce Wayne and his exploits in the City of Gotham as the Caped Crusader, Batman. There was much hype and anticipation surrounding this movie. This was to be expected considering the rousing success and critical acclaim the second installment, The Dark Knight, received when it came out in 2008. Although it certainly did not match the hype of the Dark Knight, of which the Dark Knight lived up to, DKR did deliver an all-around spectacular movie and is an apt conclusion to the three movies. The three Nolan-directed movies have definitely vaulted Batman into the stratosphere of all time great superheros and has set the benchmark for future movies of this kind. That is saying a lot considering it was all but dead after Batman and Robin forced Warner Brothers to pull the plug on any further Batman movies. (Also, yes, I realize Batman is not technically a superhero, but I think it is not wrong to label him as such).
As a stand-alone movie, The Dark Knight Rises has it spectacular moments and intriguing bits of story. As it opens, we are introduced to the equal parts intelligent, cool, and murderous villain, Bane. After that opening scene, however, the movie enters what I felt was an early malaise. It seemed to take forever, and require lots of back-story and some flashbacks to keep the story moving. I remember thinking about the time it gets good, “Man! That took FOREVER.” It’s a definite weakness that the story needed a bunch of underlying foundation and scaffolding just to get going. Such an opening was half to be expected, since eight years had passed since the events of the previous film. But no other third part of a trilogy had me dozing off, even if it ended up being an inferior movie (Spiderman 3, Matrix: Revolutions).
Once it gets good, the movie is really good. Bane and Batman start to cross paths as Bane is causing mayhem in Gotham and taking over everything. Alfred whines and leaves, Miranda becomes new leader of Wayne Enterprises and charms Bruce, Cat Woman burgles stuff, charms Bruce, and then has a change of heart; Detective Blake cavaliers himself into the good graces of Commissioner Gordon, Bane whoops on Batman and sends him off, and all seems terrible for Mr. Wayne. It’s at this point that the movie hits another pool of molasses. There is almost another short movie as Bruce Wayne recovers from having his back broken and finds out the story of Bane and re-discovers himself and the reason for Batman. It keeps the movie dragging on and on and has a detrimental effect at the end. As Batman returns to Gotham to rescue everyone and travel the world with Cat Woman after his fake death, Bane, for some reason, fades into the background after the added twist that Miranda is the true bad girl in all this (apparently she is quite the secret ninja acrobat). Bane is unceremoniously killed (A HUGE TRAVESTY) and Batman flies the Nuke out into the ocean FTW!!
Overall, the story was good, it just dragged too much and the end of the movie suffered. If the movie had been any longer, it would have “The Godfather” or LOTR type length, which it did not need. There were moments of pathos, suspense, plot twists and turns, and incredible action. But the movie was Yokozuna-style slow at some points and needed a good Lex Luger elbow to the face to get going (Obligatory mid-90’s WWF reference anyone?)
Characters/Actors and Actresses
Bane is a beaming highlight in this movie. How Nolan managed to mold, shape, and direct Tom Hardy into this masterful character that is on the same level as Heath Ledger as The Joker (but not as good) is what makes Nolan the cinema wizard he is. Bane comes off as cool, vicious, intelligent, and a really bad dude. Also, he is not a random villain that appears out of nowhere. He has a great back story, enters seamless into the overall narrative, and is just the right touch of different from the Joker to culminate the three villains from Nolan’s version of Batman. His death at the hands of Cat Woman is by far the biggest travesty the movie could have devised. Bane deserved a nice, long, drawn-out death that ends with a satisfying crescendo.
Instead, that crescendo is given to lowlight Miranda Tate. Her death at the end of this movie serves as a fitting crescendo to her character; just awful. I thought her relationship with Bruce Wayne was necessary, to lull him into a slumber over her, and also to secure Bane’s grabbing of the core, but other than that, I found her character annoying and unnecessary. And her death is the kind of death you see in a 4th grade Shakespeare play, not a multi-million dollar blockbuster!
Another highlight is Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman. She is a drink of cool, fresh water compared to the Michelle Phifer version (think crazy cat lady but not old). Hathaway is able to channel the slightly off kilter nature of Cat Woman into a masterful performance where she can be a sweet, innocent girl and turn on a dime into a feral, cold-blooded thief/ninja. Great performance and a great character that everyone was happy ended up with Batman at the end of the movie.
Batman himself, the venerable Bruce Wayne, is at times belabored, but is very consistent and delivers a solid performance to finish up the three movies. I say it is not as strong as his Batman Begins performance, but its close enough to not notice a major drop-off. His heroic tendencies have diminished due to the nature of his villain status amongst Gotham, but are revived by the last highlight, Detective Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who is slowly climbing the charts on my short list of favorite actors). Gordon-Levitt is super cool as Blake and comes across as the heir apparent to Batman as the cavalier defender of the common good (Robin movie forthcoming?). He fills in gaps which Bruce Wayne use to occupy and only gets cooler and more awesome as the movie goes on. I’d talk more, but this is getting to be too long.
A lot of the real feeling and human element enters this film through the two new characters added to the good side; Cat Woman and Detective Blake.
Hathaway’s character, Selina Kyle, grew up a troubled youth that got to where she was by stealing and thievery, despite her rich upbringing. At first, she is indifferent to the suffering and chaos brought on by Bane, expressing to Bruce Wayne that she wants to see the city burn and the rich to fall. She does not change her tune, only helping Batman when he reveals that he can get her the “Clean Slate” program to get rid of her criminal record. You get the impression that despite her vicious streak, Selina desires to start a life over that is free of crime and the stealing that has consumed her since adolescence.
She changes her tune when she decides to help Batman and Bane beats the snot out of Batman, who was obviously overmatched, and reveals that Batman is in fact Bruce Wayne. Selina suffers a crisis of conscience as she realizes despite his riches, good looks, and reputation, Bruce Wayne is not one of the bad guys and is in fact been putting aside his fortune to fight crime and bring peace to Gotham. At the climax of her turn, she says Batman needs to just get away, and not bother helping the people that have cast him aside. She sees no reason to help Gotham, but Batman objects, says he still has more to give to Gotham, and gives her the option of leaving while he goes and helps. In the end, she becomes a good guy and helps Bruce to take down Bane and Miranda and save Gotham from the threat of nuclear decimation.
Blake comes from the other end of the spectrum. He is a youth that grew up in Bruce Wayne’s orphan program, his parents died when he was young, like Bruce, and has a strong sense of justice and good and evil, like Bruce. It is Blake who ends up, through his savvy detective skills and fast wit, like Bruce, bringing Wayne back from retirement and pushing him into, once again, defending Gotham from a villainous menace. Blake becomes a kind of young Bruce Wayne/younger Batman. He fights with a wreckless sense of justice that draws the praise of Commissioner Gordon and the cooperation of Batman. He is the pre-jaded, pre-Joker Batman, and the second generation of Batman/Gordon’s ideals. He is the relatable character, the fan turned into the hero, and exemplifies everything of what the character of Robin should be about (I’m pretty sure there will be a Robin movie, unless it is fitting that the loose end of Robin carrying on the fighting of Batman is never explored…not gonna happen).
Well, now that I have officially rambled on here for over 1500 words (sorry about that) and I have almost convinced myself that the Dark Knight Rises is better than The Avengers. Each movie scratches a different movie going itch, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the characters and the entertainment value of The Dark Knight Rises. It has action, suspense, great actors/actresses, some great dialogue and a fitting climax. It’s hard to do this, but I still have to give The Avengers the win over the Dark Knight Rises, but I might change my mind in six months.
I GIVE THE DARK KNIGHT RISES 9.49 OUT OF 10! COMES UP, BY THE NARROWEST OF MARGINS, SHORT OF THE AVENGERS!