In 2005, Batman Begins revolutionized the comic book movie genre. Christopher Nolan, a critically acclaimed but relatively unknown director, took a franchise that had become a gaudy joke and rebooted it into the new standard for all comic book adaptations. He removed the rubber nipples and the neon lights and delivered a shockingly dark and realistic origin story that proved that superhero movies could be more than just good superhero movies – they could be good movies period.
Three years later, Nolan took the world by surprise once more with The Dark Knight, the critically-adored sequel to Begins. As much as I loved the first film, nothing could have prepared me for the effect that The Dark Knight would have on me. I count it today as one of my favorite films of all time. It’s the first movie I ever saw three times in theatres. I never thought I’d care enough about a movie to see it three times in a theatre, but I knew the second I walked out of the IMAX theatre that I had to see it again. While Batman Begins was an exceptionally well done reboot of a comic book film franchise, The Dark Knight was on a whole other level altogether. It’s a big-budget crime drama with costumes. The characters are well-developed, the acting is dynamic, the set-pieces are thrilling, the IMAX scenes are gorgeous, and the score is remarkable. It is, hands down, one of my favorite Batman stories.
I knew that it would be near impossible for Christopher Nolan (or anyone else) to make a Batman movie that topped The Dark Knight in my eyes, which brings us to The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited follow-up to The Dark Knight and the conclusion of the Dark Knight saga which Nolan has been working on for over 9 years. So did Christopher Nolan do it? Is The Dark Knight Rises a better film than The Dark Knight? The answer is no, for a variety of reasons, the biggest being that The Dark Knight is simply a much better stand-alone film. You can fully enjoy The Dark Knight without having seen Batman Begins. I don’t feel the same way about The Dark Knight Rises.
Don’t be discouraged though. The Dark Knight Rises was never going to be better than The Dark Knight. What it is, however, is a fantastic conclusion to one of the best film trilogies of all time. While The Dark Knight stands alone as a fantastic film, The Dark Knight Rises turns all three into a fantastic trilogy. This is the capper that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight needed to close out the story of the Batman. It’s filled with numerous flashbacks and references to the previous two films. The Dark Knight really didn’t have much to do with Batman Begins, and this is the film that links both of them together. It truly builds on everything that came before, and while that can be considered a weakness, when looked at as part of a bigger whole, it is most definitely a strength.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the basics of the plot. It gets a little too convoluted for its own good in places, but Nolan was really shooting for the moon with this one, so it’s forgivable. This film is seriously grand in scale and serves as a suitably epic conclusion to the story. I’m not going to go into any more detail on the plot. There’s too much information out there already. The less you know going in, the more you’ll enjoy it. What I will talk about are the cast and characters.
Surprisingly, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is one of the highlights of the film. I feel like once again, Nolan saw something we didn’t (remember when everyone thought it was a bad idea to cast Ledger as the Joker?) when he cast Hathaway as the sultry cat burglar. She’s sexy and athletic when she needs to be while also maintaining the damaged, vulnerable aspect of the character. The bigger surprise is how much of a non-entity Tom Hardy ends up being as Bane. Physically, he fills the role well and truly comes off as a menacing threat. The problem comes from the fact that his mask keeps him from really emoting. All we’re left with are Hardy’s eyes and I felt that he wasn’t able to convey that much depth with them. There’s also the fact that this voice comes off as a little ridiculous at times. Some have blamed this on the fact that Hardy’s dialogue was clearly re-recorded and/or filtered to make it more intelligible, which is probably true. Bane’s voice rarely ever sounds like it’s actually coming from him (only partially because it’s very high and squeaky at times). More often than not it sounds as if it’s being broadcast from a loud speaker, which does Hardy no favours.
Of the two other new additions to the cast, women (and men) will be pleased to know that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the standout. His Officer John Blake is given quite a bit of screen time and he really elevates the role into something special. Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate has less of an impact. It’s not that she does a bad job, there just isn’t really much there for her to work with. She’s easily the most undeveloped character in this film.
Most of the old cast members are back and they all perform up to their usual high standards, although this is really Bale’s turn to shine. In The Dark Knight, Bale’s performance was overshadowed by the performances of Ledger, Eckhart, and Oldman. That is not the case in this one. This is Bale’s best performance to date and it was a pleasure seeing him end his career as Bruce Wayne on such a high note.
Aesthetically, Nolan has blown me away once more. The IMAX scenes are absolutely gorgeous (there’s over 60 minutes of them) and they really lend to the epic scale of the film. See this in IMAX if at all possible – that’s how it’s meant to be watched. While James Newton Howard did not return for this film, Hans Zimmer’s score doesn’t suffer much. It’s just as memorable as the previous two, and not only because many of the previous musical cues have been co-opted for this score. Zimmer’s “deh-shay bah-sah-rah” chant is used well throughout and the themes for Catwoman and Bane are every bit as good as the ones made for the Joker and Two-Face.
One complaint that I’ve seen brought up numerous times is that the film is a bit too “comic-booky”, which I think is a valid complaint. The world Nolan built in The Dark Knight was about as realistic a world as you can have in a superhero film and aspects of The Dark Knight Rises‘ world clash with that. All that being said, in hindsight, I feel that Batman Begins is also very “comic-booky” when compared to The Dark Knight, so it wasn’t a deal breaker for me. On the “comic-booky” scale, The Dark Knight Rises is only one notch above “an ancient order of assassins unleashes fear gas on the psychotic criminals in the Narrows in order to destroy Gotham”.
In the end, I was emotionally satisfied with this film. When a story that I care about comes to an end, I want to see loose ends tied up, acknowledgements of everything that came before, and closure for the characters that I care about. This film delivers all three. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it’s still a fantastically satisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight saga, my favorite trilogy of all time.