A film review by Craig J. Koban July 23, 2011

RANK:  #9



Edition (see Review Addendum)

2012, PG-13, 165 mins.


Bruce Wayne: Christian Bale / Selina: Anne Hathaway / Bane: Tom Hardy / Miranda: Marion Cotillard / Blake: Joseph Gordon-Levitt / Alfred: Michael Caine / Commissioner Gordon: Gary Oldman / Lucius Fox: Morgan Freeman

Directed by Christopher Nolan / Screenplay by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, based on characters created by Bob Kane

The DARK KNIGHT RISES - perhaps more so than BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT - takes the iconic and nearly 80-year-old super hero and has fully liberated him from his modest comic book roots into the larger realm of social/cultural significance.  That's why, I think, this series' Batman breathes with so much more raw credibility than just about any other comic book film property: he transcends simple definitions of heroism by becoming something larger than a costumed vigilante.  By the climax of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES he fully emerges as a freedom-fighting symbol of hope where none exists.   

For these reasons – and many more – Christopher Nolan has forever change the comic book film genre.  The first film in his trilogy of the Caped Crusader introduced us to its psychologically damaged and inwardly tormented hero and the vengeful motives that drove him. The sequel to it - the greatest of all comic book-based films - grounded Batman in the post-911 milieu of our brittle times.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES concludes the trilogy's story by plunging its protagonist to the deepest pits of personal and societal despair that has eerie echoes of our own anxiety-plagued era of terrorism and economic depression.  That a *super hero* film manages to be a grand and epic visual spectacle and a somber, troubling and contemplative commentary on the uncertain times we live in is a masterful balancing act, which helps elevate THE DARK KNIGHT RISES well above genre expectations.

This is arguably the most thematically dense and ambitious of all the Batman films.  Sometimes, though, its unbridled ambition and yearning to reach for - and occasional achieve - greatness falls a tad short, partially by an underlining screenplay that takes a long time to gestate and develop, too many side-characters and convoluted subplots that are left somewhat unembellished, and its own insatiable desire to be big and epic in scope and scale.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a long film (nearly 3 hours) and demands great patience in its viewers, but when its hero does triumphantly rise from the ashes of defeat and humiliation in an effort to save his city and literally millions of lives, there's no doubt that Nolan crafts an unforgettable series climax and satisfying trilogy finale.  The film may not have the freshness of approach of BATMAN BEGINS or the haunting precision and near perfection of THE DARK KNIGHT, but it nonetheless delivers in ways most other super hero films never aspire to.  

Intriguingly, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES opens some eight years after the unforgettable events of the last film, whereas Batman not only fought and defeated the Joker, but then had to make the haunting and selfless choice of taking false blame for the death of former D.A. turned homicidal madman, Harvey Dent, all in an effort to let him continue to linger in the minds of Gothamites as a true “white knight” crusader of justice.  This left Batman a wanted fugitive from the law and burdened with keeping the real truth behind Dent’s demise a closely guarded secret.  Because his former friend in Dent succumbed to evil and the love of his life, Rachel, was murdered, Bruce Wayne has retired from his nightly hunt of the criminal underworld…partially out of guilt, but mostly because he just does not have the emotional strength to go on as his alter ego, which he thinks has cost him and others in incalculable ways. 



Wayne becomes a Howard Hughes-esque hermit, secluding himself in the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor and never making public appearances.  He’s not just emotionally broken, but physically as well, hobbling around on with a cane due to the years of damage that fighting crime as taken on his body (funny, but for a reclusive and long since retired hero, Wayne is one muscular and chiseled cripple).  He still has his lifelong friend and surrogate father figure, Alfred (a spot-on perfect Michael Caine) serving his every need as his butler and confidant.  Gotham, however, has thrived in Batman’s absence from the streets, thanks in large part to sweeping crime legislation that has passed in the wake of Dent’s death and in honor of his name.  There is relative peace in Gotham, but based on the lie of Dent’s integrity and legacy, something that both Bruce and Commissioner Gordon (an always solid Gary Oldman) must bare on their consciences. 

With Gotham prospering, a new villain reveals himself to take advantage of the growing disparity between the wealthy and poor, a former League of Shadows mercenary – once ex-communicated by Ra’s Al Ghul (Bruce’s former mentor) himself – named Bane (Tom Hardy) that has a fiendishly ingenious plan to shed light on class inequality in Gotham by an any-means-necessary approach of violent destabilization.  He wants to turn the one per cent lower classes – and criminal elements – in the city against the other 99 per cent rich and well-off (he even manages to rob Wayne Enterprises of its incredible source of wealth via some well played viral terrorism).  Bruce sees Bane initially as just another threat and decides to return to the Batcave and anoint himself as Batman again to defeat the hulking and masked brute, but his first encounter with the physically superior villain and anarchist has disastrous consequences for him, leaving the once menacing and unbeatable crime fighter a mere shell of the man he once was and the city without its savoir to protect it from a sadistic madmen that just may destroy it completely without hesitation.   

Bane may not be as interesting or as charismatic of a villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker in the last film, per se, but Hardy nonetheless makes his freakishly frightening antagonist wholly his own.  With his bulging physique, penetrating eyes, and eerie mask that obscures his mouth (it’s required to alleviate pain from past injuries) that gives him a bass-heavy timbre of a James Earl Jones morphed with Sean Connery, Bane is an undeniably threatening and imposing specimen.  Perhaps more than with the Joker and even Ra’s al Ghul, Bane matches not only Batman’s intellect, but is clearly his physical superior, which gives this film in particular a nagging sense of unease as to whether Batman will ever defeat him.  Watching Hardy in WARRIOR and BRONSON I knew that he could be a credible and imposing physical presence here, but he has a matchless ferocity in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES that’s truly sinister and intoxicating to behold. 

It’s easy to overlook the performances in general in a film like this, but they are universally strong.  Bale effortlessly taps into his dual character’s depraved soul and sense of disconnection with the city he once protected, presenting one of the most flawed and conflicted portrayals of a super hero ever.   Caine is the searing heart of the film as Alfred, whom early in the story makes a troubling admission to Bruce regarding Rachel that’s libel to make many a Bat-fan get teary-eyed; he can't bare the thought of burying two generations of Wayne family membersTwo other performances stand out perhaps the most: the first is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, never referred to by that name in the film), a sure-footed burglar that finds herself intertwined between Batman’s cause to save Gotham and Bane’s end-game to destroy it, and she struggles with conflicting allegiances that she will ultimately have to make a decision as to which to adhere to (she's also a welcome sight in the largely male centric Nolan landscape).  The second is Joseph Gordon-Levvit playing an average beat cop named John Blake, an orphan - much like Bruce - that yearns to be his own kind of hero in the midst of societal warfare; he still affectionately looks to Batman as a significance force of change when others cannot.  In a film populated by larger-than-life players, it’s nice to see a grounded and more humble figure in the film like Blake to suggest the film’s sub-theme that true valor comes in smaller forms...and from the average Joes of the world as well.   

Of course, the $250 million budgeted THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is an absolute visual triumph, richly shot by longtime Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister and with over 60 minutes of IMAX footage.  An opening sequence – featuring Bane and his goons literally ripping a CIA transport plane to shreds with another larger plane and some insanely risky and industrious aerial maneuvers – is remarkable, not to mention some later sequences when Bane frighteningly destroys a football stadium just after game kick-off and eradicating all the bridges in Gotham, effectively secluding the island from the entire outside world (if any dare to enter or leave, he will nuke it to kingdom come).  Then there is the unavoidable and incredible climax of the film, during which the snow covered streets of Gotham become ground zero pitting Batman and his army of police officers versus Bane and his equally crazed disciples in a colossal donnybrook of the ages featuring thousands of extras that are refreshingly not rendered in faceless CG pixels.  Compared to a similar city-destroying climax in THE AVENGERS – featuring an extra-terrestrial invasion – THE DARK KNIGHT RISES’ conclusion carries a more tangible sense of terrifying immediacy, menace, and verisimilitude where you are truly left wondering what party will be standing in its wake.    

What separates THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, though, from the pummeling aesthetic extremes of so many mindless summer entertainments is that Nolan is a master of marrying his film’s grand apocalyptic spectacle and scale with sobering themes, making it a highly rare commodity of being a thinking man’s blockbuster.  Not many super hero films have time to both be both technological engines to wow and enthrall us alongside meditating on issues of urban unrest and upheaval, economic class warfare, personal loss, sacrifice and salvation, and the moral conundrum of being a law-breaking, extremist vigilante in an era of moral and ethical apprehension.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES contemplates what Batman needs to go through to be a true savoir to his people; Bruce has to travel through the darkest recesses of his past, his body ravaging defeats, and ultimately has to wage war on himself as to whether or not being Batman is truly required at all. 

With this third film now concluding Nolan's searing narrative take on Batman, it's safe to label THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy as one of the grand achievements of escapist cinema.  It does something that no other super hero franchise has ever dared to do: it crafts a broad, multiple film-spanning story of its hero with a beginning, middle, and, yes, an ending that undeniably brings the series to a close while simultaneously hinting that Batman - in one form or another - will continue to live on as an uplifting beacon of hope.  In Nolan's mind eye, Batman is greater than the mortal man that inhabits the suit; he's a transcending and everlasting symbol that inspires heroism in others; with Bruce under the cowl, he's a flawed, damaged, but determined and empowered remedy for society's calamitous war on terror and oppression.  In retrospect, whether or not Batman dies in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is almost redundant.  He's about inspiring good in those weaker beneath him and instilling in them hope for a better tomorrow.  Isn't that what being a true hero is all about?



I recently had the pleasure of screening THE DARK KNIGHT RISES for a second time at the Regina Science Centre's IMAX cinema, which is one of only a small handful of locations in North America that are screening the film with a true 70mm IMAX negative.  Christopher Nolan made bravura usage of the large screen format for the first time in THE DARK KNIGHT, which featured a handful of scenes (approximately 30 minutes worth) shot with the much broader, crisper and detailed negative.  Nolan has topped himself this go around by showcasing nearly 70 minutes of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES' most breathtaking moments in true IMAX (the opening plane heist and the climatic showdown in the occupied streets of Gotham, for instance, are the real show stoppers).  What has emerged - upon my second viewing of the film - is arguably a richer, grander, and more immersive canvas for Nolan's viewfinder into Batman's universe.  I found myself questioning the film's more glaring plot holes and conundrums less and instead became even more fully enraptured by its unbridled narrative, thematic, and visual ambition. My initial three and a half star review of the film still stands, but THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: IMAX EDITION is most assuredly a superior four star escapist experience unlike any I've had and should be the one actively sought out.






BATMAN  jjj1/2



BATMAN: THE MOVIE: 40th Anniversary Retrospective Review jjj1/2


And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of the BATMAN films:


1. THE DARK KNIGHT  (2008)  jjjj

2. BATMAN BEGINS (2005) jjjj

3. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012) jjj1/2

4. BATMAN (1989)  jjj1/2

5. BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)  jjj 1/2

6. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)  jjj

7. BATMAN FOREVER (1995)  jj1/2

8. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)  j1/2



  H O M E