Following up a film as successful as The Dark Knight had to be a daunting task for several reasons. Director Christopher Nolan had created what many considered a ‘superhero’ film masterpiece with his second Batman entry. The film won its late co-star Heath Ledger an Oscar for his wonderful portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. It also became responsible for the Academy changing it’s list of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10, after a huge uproar occurred due to it being overlooked for the top prize in 2008. The film was a major box office success and not simply because of the curiosity surrounding Heath Ledger’s performance. It was simply a great film. It was a movie that begged for repeat viewings and audiences did not disappoint. The big question for Nolan and company was how do you follow up such an exceptional motion picture knowing that fans are expecting greatness once again? And how do you create a villain that’s as memorable as Ledger’s Joker?
Despite the odds, Nolan set out to create a film that could match the intensity of The Dark Knight. In order to do this, he needed a script that allowed Batman to rise up from the ashes and become the superhero the city of Gotham desperately needs and longs for. David Goyer provided the story for which Chris and his brother Jonathan hammered out a screenplay for. What Batman needed was a super-villain that could rival the Joker. Not mentally, but physically. The Joker is the ultimate psychological foe for him and there really isn’t another villain in the Batman universe that can match that. Nolan chose to go with Bane, a formidable beast of a man that can literally break our hero down with each thundering punch. Bane’s backstory may be the least known of many of the other popular enemies of our hero, but Nolan does a great job of establishing an interesting one for audiences to sink their teeth into. Not content with having one main villain, the film also gets another foe in the form of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. We’ve seen Kyle before in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, played by the sultry Michelle Pfeiffer. In fact, Bane also popped up in Batman and Robin, and…well, let’s not go there.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after The Dark Knight and Batman is now an enemy of the city. Having taken the wrap for Harvey Dent’s crimes, Bruce Wayne is now a lost soul. He has gone into hiding because he honestly doesn’t know how to function without becoming Batman. He is also a physically broken man. Bad knees have caused him to walk with a cane and it appears he no longer has what it takes to become the city’s hero once again. But of course, this is Bruce Wayne we are talking about and no physical ailment is out of his reach due to his wealth. Bane gives Wayne reason to don the Batsuit again. He arrives on the scene at a time when Gotham feels safer than it ever has and hope for a better future is planted firmly in the minds of the citizens. Under the Dent act (named after Harvey, of course, who is now considered Gotham’s hero), the majority of the city’s criminals have been locked up. Commissioner Gordon, once again portrayed by Gary Oldman, plans on admitting to the conspiracy involving Harvey Dent and Batman at a function celebrating Dent Day, but decides that the city is not ready for the truth. Gordon’s speech falls into the hands of Bane. Gordon is shot in the process, and he promotes officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) to detective, allowing Blake to report directly to him. Both Blake, who figures out that Wayne is indeed Batman, and Gordon convince the Dark Knight to return and take Gotham’s new villain down. Bane stages an attack the city’s stock exchange and uses a stolen set of Bruce’s fingerprints to place a number of bad investments in his name, bankrupting Bruce and forcing him to relinquish control of Wayne Enterprises. Correctly suspecting that his business rival, John Daggett, has employed Bane to aid in this aggressive take-over of his company, Bruce hands over control of his company to Miranda Tate, a savvy business woman, in order to keep full control out of Daggett’s hands. Bane, however, kills Daggett to take control of his infrastructure.
Selina Kyle leads Batman to Bane, who says that he has assumed the leadership of the League of Shadows, following the death of Ra’s Al Gul. Therefore, Bane knows the true identity of the Batman. Bane manages to infiltrate the hidden ‘applied sciences’ division of Wayne Enterprises, where he steals three Tumblers (which are part of Batman’s means of transportation). A massive one on one fight ensues, and the recently and rusty back in action Batman is no match for the overpowering and dominating Bane. In one of the film’s best sequences, the fight is brutal and Batman takes quite a beating. Bane literally shatters Bruce Wayne’s back as Selina Kyle watches in horror. She overhears Bane mention Bruce’s name and weeps as Wayne is beaten so bad that he can’t even walk. Without giving anything else away, there are a few surprises that pop up after Wayne is dropped into that hell of a prison. We get more of Bane’s backstory…and the backstory of someone else who has a big secret that is revealed later in the film. With Batman out of the picture, Bane aggressively starts to take Gotham down. He has a nuclear bomb set to go off in 5 months that will destroy most of the city. A lot of people would ask if a villain is so eager to destroy a city, then why does he wait several months to do so? Well, the answer is this…Bane wants the citizens of Gotham to hold onto hope, go on as if nothing is going to happen, and then when they are at their most vulnerable…destroy them with one big blow.
Bane lures the vast majority of Gotham’s police force underground and sets off a chain of explosions across the city, trapping the officers. Bane reads the letter from Gordon about the truth surrounding Harvey Dent. Therefore, any prisoner locked up because of the Dent Act must now be released…and Bane does just that. Any attempt to leave the city will result in the detonation of the Wayne Enterprises fusion core, which has been converted into a bomb. The rich and powerful are taken from their homes and put before a mock trial presided over by a villain that we have seen before (hint: he was in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). Basically, this fake judge gives each person a choice…death or exile. Following an unsuccessful attempt at getting Special Forces soldiers in to restore Gotham, which resulted in the soldiers being hung from a bridge for the world to see, the city slips more into an anarchy. Bruce is watching this all unfold from his underground hell as Bane gives him a television to watch as he rots there. He wants Wayne to see the destruction as it happens because he knows this is the ultimate way to destroy the man. Once Bruce sees that all hope is lost…he will lose hope as well. But come on…this is Bruce Wayne we’re talking about here. He was a member of the League of Shadows…he knows how to survive…and most of all, rise up and restore Gotham to the glory it once had.
Bruce eventually recovers from his injuries and retrains himself to be Batman. He escapes Bane’s prison to return to Gotham, where he enlists Selina Kyle (who he believes still has a lot of good in her), John Blake (who still believes in Batman and has since he was a small boy), Miranda Tate (his newfound business partner), Commissioner Gordon (who has been eagerly awaiting his return) and Lucius Fox (the head of Wayne Enterprises) to help liberate the city and stop the fusion bomb before it grows too unstable and explodes. It’s at this point where I will stop my synopsis of the plot of the film. Reason being, this is the part in the film where the twists and turns really begin. It’s also at this moment, when Batman returns to his city, where the movie really takes off and becomes the epic conclusion fans had hoped for. The script really takes Bruce Wayne and Batman on a roller coaster ride. Bruce is a down and out recluse at the beginning of the film, and Batman is non-existent. When The Dark Knight returns to face Bane for the first time, you get a sense that he is very eager to become the city’s hero again, but you also realize that he not physically ready for the task at hand. He severely underestimates Bane. After a brief moment of optimism, Batman and Bruce Wayne are then taken to the lowest level we have ever seen them at.
Seeing Bruce in his most broken state makes it all that much more exciting to see him return just before the bomb is set to detonate. Batman arrives just in time to ‘try’ and save the city. One can say that it’s quite a coincidence that he comes back at the last minute, but that’s what a superhero does, right? The final 30 minutes of the 164 minute run time ranks up there with the most exciting half hours ever seen in a motion picture. The action is non-stop…the story goes in a few surprising directions…and the end is utterly satisfying, where a lot of films leave you with a finale that leaves you wanting something different…or something more. Not here. Christopher Nolan and his team did a fantastic job not only wrapping up their trilogy, but leaving the door open for someone else to come in and pick up where they left off. Yes, it is a completion of their storyline…but as a stroke of genius, they managed to tease what could be the future of the Batman character. As stated many times throughout these films, Batman is not a person, but a symbol. It is the symbol that the city may need to call on again in the future.
I had high expectations going into The Dark Knight Rises and I must say that I was very impressed by the end result. It is one of those films, like its predecessor, that demands repeat viewings. Masterfully paced, brilliantly written, beautifully acted, and marvelously directed, it should receive a Best Picture nomination at next year’s Oscars. Will it win? Unlikely, but a nomination for a superhero film is an achievement nonetheless. The performances by the recurring characters in TDKR far exceed what we’ve seen thus far. In particular, Michael Caine gets a chance to show us how good of an actor he really is thanks to the script beefing up his role and giving his Alfred more emotional sequences this time around. Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman both continue to prove that they are perfectly cast in their roles as well. Christian Bale also does his best Bruce Wayne/Batman in this picture. Like I stated before, both of his characters are on an emotional and physical roller coaster throughout the movie and Bale really nails every high and every low that each one of them goes through. The new players do great work as well. Anne Hathaway, who I had reservations about, really surprised me with how well she handled Selina Kyle. I should have never doubted Nolan on that front. My reservations probably had to do with that fact that I was picturing something similar to the Selina Kyle role in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns or perhaps Julie Newmar’s Catwoman from the campy television show. Nolan made Selina Kyle more of a realistic adversary/ally for Batman. She is not Catwoman because she was licked or bitten by several cats as we’ve seen before, but she is a master thief who don’s a cat-like suit…hence, cat burglar. Hathaway need not be overly sexy to play the role well, because it’s not written that way. Yes, she does flash the sexy when needed, but she also possesses a vulnerability and real urge to do what’s right in a time of crisis. This is why Batman or Bruce Wayne believes in her and this is why they end up making such a good team. Hathaway nails the part and her solid performance was a nice bonus that I had not really expected. Tom Hardy’s Bane is obviously the most physical one on one threat that Batman has ever faced. Not only is he massive in size, but because he was a member of The League of Shadows, knows how to fight. Hardy is the only person I can picture as Bane simply because he has the acting chops as well as the physicality to nail the role. Because Bane wears a mask the entire film, it’s really hard for an actor to make much of an emotional impression when half of their face is covered. However, Hardy does great work with his eyes here. The intensity in his eyes signifies the drive that’s within Bane. The Joker may have mentally defeated Batman in The Dark Knight, but Bane ultimately breaks him in TDKR. The other new additions this time around, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate offer much more than one might think to the plot of the film. You can tell early on in the movie that Blake is going to be a much more important character as the film rolls along. Levitt is a superb actor who makes this John Blake much more interesting than he might have otherwise been. Marion Cotillard doesn’t really offer too much until the end…but when the finale approaches, she gets a chance to show why she was a great choice for what turns out to be a key role.
So, what kept me from giving the film a 5 star rating? A couple of minor issues. There were a lot of worries going in about Bane’s voice. Not being able to understand him…too muffled…sounds like bad voice-over work…etc. Well, I agree and disagree with most of those observations. I understood about 85 percent of what he was saying and it was enough to not really interfere with my overall enjoyment of the film. However, I do wish it didn’t sound like a bad voice-over job, because it really does. It’s hard to ignore simply due to the fact that at times it didn’t sound like Bane (or Tom Hardy) was actually saying what we were hearing. Hardy’s voice is very cool when it’s understood. I just wish a little more thought had been put into that for the audiences sake. Also, Bane’s demise happens rather quickly and I really wanted to see him and Batman duke it out one more time. Bane goes down quickly, almost too sudden considering he was such a force to be reckoned with throughout the film. There are also a couple of minor plot holes in the film that aren’t really ever explained. Now, perhaps on a second or third viewing (which will happen by the way), I can fill in one or two of them, but for now, I’m left a bit perplexed by them.
At the end of the day, The Dark Knight Rises falls right between The Dark Knight and Batman Begins for me. TDK is still the quintessential superhero film and I’m not sure if anything will ever surpass it. Heath Ledger’s Joker made much more of an impression on me than either Bane or Selina Kyle. Not to take anything away from Hardy or Hathaway, respectively, but Ledger’s Joker was so cleverly written and so maniacal, that it made it such a tough act to follow. Plus, Ledger’s performance was that of legend…a truly phenomenal one it was. The intensity and the on the edge of your seat excitement generated by TDK is nearly matched here in TDKR, but falls just a bit short. However, this new entry surpasses its predecessor in some categories. Rises is much more of an emotional film simply because nearly every character is going through some sort of major struggle within. Gordon, Alfred, Bruce, Selina, Blake, and even Bane all have a lot invested emotionally in the events that either led them to where they are at or haunts them as they move forward. Also, Nolan really outdid himself visually with his supposed final entry. Gotham City (which is actually Pittsburgh) looks very much like a realistic city that’s being torn apart, blast by blast. Same can be said for The Dark Knight, but I actually prefer the look here perhaps because it’s on a bigger scale. Either way, both are a major improvement on how the city looked in Batman Begins, which I felt was a bit too CGI’d. The action sequences are once again top notch and I couldn’t find a complaint with any of them (with the exception of Bane’s abrupt demise). Some may feel that the first Batman vs. Bane fight lacked a bit of longevity or perhaps ended too abruptly, but I don’t agree with that. I thought the fact that Nolan chose to basically tune out the soundtrack and let the punches being thrown be the only sounds that are heard was a smart, clever move. It added much more to the sequence and why would this fight go on too long? Batman has been out of the game for 8 long years and his first foe when he returns if a beast of a man who clearly knows how to fight. There is no reason for the fight to be excessive in length. Yes, it would have been exciting to watch more of these men go toe to toe, but it wouldn’t have made much sense. Another key element to any film on an epic scale such as this is the occurrence of a top notch soundtrack. Not only does Hans Zimmer continue the wonderful music he started in Batman Begins, he clearly exceeds it here. Every sequence is amplified by his highly intense tracks that seem to fit perfectly into each one. Zimmer should receive and win an Oscar for his work here. It truly adds a lot to the film. Rises is the perfect mix of important characters from the first two films combined with the addition of some extremely interesting new players. We get glimpses of some familiar faces and a couple of new Bat items that add a lot of fun to some of the action sequences.
I’m not sure anyone in Hollywood will be able to match what Christopher Nolan, David Goyer, and Jonathan Nolan have created with The Dark Knight trilogy. Yes, there will be another actor who will eventually step into the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and we will more than likely see reinventions of the villains we’ve seen many times before, but creating a vision like the Nolans have is no easy task. They successfully re-created a superhero that sorely needed another story to be told. If Warner Bros. intends to reboot Batman again (which I’ve heard they have already planned to do so), then good luck to them…the pressure is on. Perhaps they should just follow Christopher Nolan’s lead and pick up where he left off. Unlike Spider-Man, which underwent a successful reboot this year, Batman is not the same beast. Yes, most people enjoyed what Sam Raimi did with the original Spider-Man trilogy, however, re-creating The Dark Knight so soon may be a mistake if the powers that be decide to do it over the next few years. Go in a different direction…don’t try to do a backstory again. Nolan did it well…he did it to perfection. The Dark Knight Rises is my favorite film of 2012 so far…and for those who love to compare it to The Avengers, well, that is now my second favorite film of the year. Both were done extremely well…and there is room for both of them at the top. The Amazing Spider-Man was also a joy to watch. 2012 sure has been a great year for the superhero film.
Also, catch the great teaser trailer for Man of Steel, which is attached to The Dark Knight Rises.
The Dark Knight Rises Rating:
The Dark Knight Rating:
Batman Begins Rating:
Prayers go out to the victims and families affected by the Aurora, Colorado shootings that took place at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Below is a statement from director Christopher Nolan.
“I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”
Nolan concluded: “Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”
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