I’m going to preface this entire post by saying that at the moment I am somewhat sleep deprived and heavily caffeinated, both of which may amplify my current state of judgment a bit. That being said, the number one cause of my present state of mind is not lack of sleep or the stimulants pumping through my system. Rather, the guilty party in this case is the absolute cinegasm I have just experienced by the hand of Christopher Nolan’s latest and final entry into the Batman Saga: The Dark Knight Rises. With the gravity of this movie and the amount of expectations it carried with it, I feel that it deserves my first multi-part review and so it shall be. This first installment will cover my initial reactions to the film in the broadest sense, while the following installments will delve further into Spoiler Alert territory. For now though, I’ll start off with this: it is an incredibly rare and magnificent thing when a movie, carrying so much hype into its release, manages to deliver on that hype, and The Dark Knight Rises is a shining example of that cinematic splendor. As I watched the movie, I admit that I noticed several flaws and relative inadequacies at some points, but as I walked out of the theater I found myself not caring about any of them as I reveled in the absolute satisfaction of seeing a set of films I love so fully get the well-executed and incredibly powerful conclusion that they deserve.
As I said, I’ll keep things broad for the moment for the majority of you out there that don’t have the dedication to deprive yourself of a weeknight’s sleep. To start off, I just want to address the factors that led up to The Dark Knight Rises release. Most moviegoers are likely aware of the state of cartoonish decay that had befallen the Batman Franchise after such over the top critical and box office failures as Batman Forever and Batman and Robin (The Nipples, the Nipples…). In 2005 however, along came a young up and coming director by the name of Christopher Nolan, and what he did with the struggling Batman Franchise has since made arguably the biggest impact on the movie industry of any director in recent history. Nolan took the “camp” of the previous incarnations and darkened the tone to the levels of the 1989 film, yet grounding that darkened tone in a more realistic setting in a move we now know as “The Gritty Reboot”. Add in a spectacular cast, complex story lines and a level of character depth previously unobtainable by the superhero genre, and you wind up with some of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful franchises in history. After setting the bar even higher with 2008’s The Dark Knight, many questioned whether or not Nolan had hit his crescendo too early and left himself with an unreachable level of expectation for the final film. Were that film in any other hands than those of Christopher Nolan, we might have ended up with a situation similar to the original Star Wars trilogy, in which the second, darker toned entry reaches such dizzying heights that the third fails to live up to regardless of any increase in scope or an added level of conclusiveness. I myself shared that cautiousness in my optimism, but as more and more material was released I gradually threw that caution to the wind and joined in on the collective countdown.
So here we are, the wait is over, and rather than the Ewok-laiden disappointment of Return of the Jedi I am left with the resounding joy of Return of the King. In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has managed to truly bring his Batman Saga full circle and the result is something which stands on a pedestal held aloft by the sum of its already elevated parts. One thing that The Dark Knight and Batman Begins managed to do exceptionally well was manage a fairly high volume of significant characters. Between Batman himself, Alfred, Fox, Rachel, The central villain and all peripheral villains, they bring to mind The Avengers from earlier this year in that with a script so crowded with significant characters, it would have been easy for the movies to either leave people out or distract from other necessary central-character development. This is an issue faced doubly by The Dark Knight Rises in that it takes the franchise’s already long list of characters and adds to them Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine). As a screenwriting team, John and Christopher Nolan have always managed to weave a lot of characters together in ways that establish everyone as an individual character while still managing to tie everyone together in various ways. Nearly every character listed above has some sort of interaction with each other, and it gives a huge amount of opportunities to explore characters through those interactions. While some of those interactions are definitely more compelling than others (I’d have to say the scenes between Alfred and Bruce were up there with my favorites)
Several quick notes before I wrap things up and accept the welcome embrace of sleep. First off, a big source of concern going into this movie was the inclusion of Catwoman, a character which based on past incarnations didn’t quite feel in line with the sort of atmosphere Nolan has been building around the series. I’m very happy to say however that, with a few small exceptions, Anne Hathaway does a great job of steering her character away from the image of Catwoman most of us had in our heads and towards a more grounded and believable portrayal. While there are a few moments of taking sides, Selina is mostly motivated by self-preservation and her relative self-centered outlook actually provides a nice morally neutral foil to the Good Vs. Evil motif of Batman and Bane. Speaking of Bane, you may be wondering how well he stacks up to Heath Ledger as The Joker, and while I have a special place in my heart for the crazed anarchism that Ledger injected into his role I still felt like Bane was at least very close to the same level as his predecessor. We only once see Tom Hardy’s face in the film but he manages to convey a sense of menace through nothing but his eyes and impressive physique. His voice was probably what set him apart for me though, and while the Joker danced around Batman, attacking everything around him rather than the Dark Knight himself, Bane is much more of a head on adversary for Batman and as we watch the two face off it feels even more like our caped crusader has finally met his match.
The Verdict: 9/10 Incredible
If I had to describe this movie in one word, that word will be Powerful. This movie does everything to grab your attention and hold on as any other successful blockbuster would do, but it adds a sense of depth and complexity which make it truly stand out from any other movie I’ve seen in the past few years. In any case, I can count the number of movies on my hand which I would give 10’s to and The Dark Knight is at the top of that list. While I’m not quite convinced that Dark Knight Rises is at the same 10 level as its predecessor, it is pretty damn close. Bottom line, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are two films which are very different yet equally impressive. The Dark Knight is more of a sprawling Crime Saga, whereas The Dark Knight Rises feels more like a Batman movie with James Bond DNA. In DKR, the story starts off fairly slowly and builds to a breakneck speed which continues for the entire last 60 minutes or so of the movie, all amplified by the drastically increased stakes of Bane’s more concentrated brand of destruction. Like The Dark Knight, I can understand some people having an issue with the long run time (about 2 hours and 40 minutes) but in both films Nolan has a lot of story to tell and I would rather take the time to watch it in full than have it be cut down to a palatable size in order to please of your average ADD movie viewer. Bottom line, See this movie. I can’t guarantee that you’ll love it as much as I did, but I can at least tell you that I felt more gleefully satisfied on my way out of the theater than I have since I got my acceptance letter from my Business school. Nuff Said.