A film review by Craig J. Koban July 23, 2011
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Edition (see Review Addendum)
2012, PG-13, 165 mins.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
may not be as interesting or as charismatic of a villain as
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
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 members.
Two 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.
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.
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
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.
what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of the BATMAN films:
1. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) 2.
BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
4. BATMAN (1989) 5. BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966) 6. BATMAN RETURNS (1992) 7. BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
1/2 8. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997)
And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of the BATMAN films:
1. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
4. BATMAN (1989)1/2
5. BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)1/2
6. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
7. BATMAN FOREVER (1995) 1/2
8. BATMAN & ROBIN (1997) 1/2