Sometimes controversy is good. Sometimes there are movies where practically everyone is in total agreement of its quality and sometimes there are movies where you’re not likely to find two similar opinions sitting next to each other. It’s been known to happen in movie series before. 2008’s The Dark Knight is the former and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises is the latter.
Eight years after covering up Harvey “Two Face” Dent’s less than shining activities for the sake of keeping the streets clean, Gotham is now virtually crime-free and the Batman has disappeared. Bruce Wayne has allowed his pain, both physical and spiritual, to hold him back from the world. But after a run-in with a particular cat burglar, sinister, city destroying plans arise involving the masked mercenary Bane and his underground army. Does the dark knight have it in him to rise above his lowest despair and save Gotham from absolute death?
Many people, like myself, adore The Dark Knight and put it on a pedestal of greatness. Good for The Dark Knight, bad for the expectations it creates for The Dark Knight Rises. That was always going to be something that would draw weightless criticism from fans and audiences. When the previous movie is just that amazing, an undeniable fraction of people were expecting (maybe even wanting) to be disappointed that this one wasn’t as revolutionary or, in some cases, wasn’t the best movie ever made.
The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a perfect movie and it’s not as ground-breaking and legendary as its predecessor, but it is a smart, riveting, and sophisticated blockbuster that cements the Dark Knight trilogy as one of the greatest ever.
The reason so many people have such potently positive reactions to this series, as opposed to just any action blockbuster, is that they are high quality entertainment. Christopher Nolan never plays to the dumbest part of the audience, crafting dark, philosophical and multi-layered stories with characters you want to invest in. He cares about story as much as he does blowing shit up and assumes the audience does too.
The dialogue is on another level, the seriousness is to the point of having a panic attack, and the themes are timely and thought provoking. There’s nothing quite like watching the finished product of a master story-teller, especially one of Nolan’s classy caliber.
Of course, the story can only succeed so far without the players to bring it to life. Make no mistake, just like Begins and Knight, the cast brings their A-game for this final outing.
He was great in Begins but Rises hosts Christian Bale’s best performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Watching him run this gauntlet of pain and failure to hope and triumph, solidifying his heroism, is inspiring and reaches true Batman mythology levels, with the least divide between the character’s two halves. Which also means the voice is more controlled. Yay.
Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman are great as ever as Bruce’s support group with Alfred getting the most heart-felt moments that have been waiting in the wings since the very first movie.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (never referred to as anyone but Selina Kyle), portrayed here as a classic grifter and con-woman, doesn’t share every single detail with her comic book iteration, but gets to the true essence of that character and it fits right in with this universe. Hathaway gives a great performance as what is most likely the iconic Catwoman performance.
Tom Hardy owns as Bane. The guy has swag. Not only that, he has calmness, intimidation, brutality, and (thanks to more backstory than any other villain in this series) occasional sympathy. Bringing all that across with only his eyes and ADR’d voice is a true feat. His villainous monologues are epic and there are times when even that nightmarish muzzle can’t hide the fun Hardy’s having with the role.
|“You merely adopted the darkness. I was born in it.”|
[Note: The dubbing for Bane’s voice in the opening scene has been reworked and I fucking hate it. In the original scene that showed in front of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol back in December, Bane was difficult to understand but had a very creepy subdued vibe that he talks with for most of the movie. Now it sounds like a completely different, over the top voice that, while crystal clear, has no character to it. Really not how I wanted to start the movie.]
These movies will always be held up by their stories and cast members but the technical wizardry at work don’t hurt none either, Jeb. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is almost as much of a star as any of the cast and in IMAX, the images are earth shattering (seriously, go see it in IMAX — it’s worth every penny). The production design that’s always one foot from reality has been consistently cool when it comes to the vehicles, and the aerial vehicle, The Bat, is the most kick-ass of the bunch. Even the fight coordinator gets to shine because holy shit are those fights between Batman and Bane a gut punch.
Because The Dark Knight Rises is such a beast of a movie at 2 hours – 45 minutes and has so much to tell, in order to keep the vehicle moving, some corners had to be cut. Some stray lines didn’t get punched up, quick fixes happen a couple of times, and the slightly more fantastical plot elements will require more suspension of disbelief for some.
The film is not as tightly paced as the first two. The first hour is entertaining enough and puts the pieces in place but is also clunky and maybe a little too heavy on exposition without concise placement.
Act two is slower and more dismal, but there’s something about the darkness that wickedly sucks you in because you want to see how hopeless things get before the titular rising happens. (I was debating with myself early on whether this was the darkest of the three. Bane seemed to have caught on and gave me my answer when he hung those guys from the bridge. Well done.)
The first two acts are always good and fun but rarely great. But it becomes clear that they were necessary evil in order to ratchet up the stakes and deliver one hell of a third act. The final 45 minutes is one of the most massive, breathtaking, awe inspiring, edge of your seat and emotionally satisfying finales ever put on film. Not just for the movie itself, but for the entire Dark Knight trilogy. Everyone, from the director, the cast, the award worthy cinematography, the production design, the sound design, to Hans Zimmer’s intense soundtrack, is firing on all cylinders to deliver the best possible ending to this great story. It’s here where we truly see the care that’s added to the spectacle. The end very much justifies the means.
Like I said, sometimes a certain type of controversy is good because it means discussion. If any movie series deserves to be discussed for a long time it’s this one. The Dark Knight Rises is ambitious in both story and production, and though it may creak here and there, it is a cut above the rest and a great ending to an epic trilogy we both needed and deserved.