The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

13 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Let’s face it—even if we know that the third and final chapter of a trilogy is somewhat underwhelming compared to the previous movies, we can’t help but see them anyway because we have to see for ourselves what these franchises will end on. This is especially true of the updated “Batman” series by Christopher Nolan, whose “Batman Begins” is brought the Marvel hero Batman to a new darker level, and whose “The Dark Knight” is practically a masterpiece. “The Dark Knight Rises” is the third and concluding chapter in this trilogy and it’s a marvelous, extraordinary, satisfying conclusion to one of the great trilogies in film history.

It’s unbelievable, what Nolan and his crew have not only done to Batman, but also to the superhero genre. Not only are they excellently crafted when skillful filmmaking and top-notch action sequences, they bring heavy doses of conflict and pull off the riskiest move—making the hero an anti-hero. All of that is brought to the nth degree, in that it makes the films the darkest in the genre, and that is why these “Dark Knight” films are so great. They weren’t popcorn films or even lighthearted entertainments—they were deep, rich movies that really made you think about human issues and conflict…and the protagonist just happens to sport a black mask and cape.

“The Dark Knight Rises” picks up eight years after the events in “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse and his night identity as Batman is no more. If you recall in “The Dark Knight,” the hero-turned-villain Harvey Dent was killed, with only Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knowing his true deeds. Gotham was led to believe that Dent was the hero all along and that Batman is no longer needed. Eight years later, Bruce Wayne doesn’t leave the east wing of Wayne Manor and is aided by his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), who thinks it’s time for him to live a new life away from Gotham, as it just made him more miserable. Alfred believes that Wayne just wants things to go bad again so he can feel better.

And coincidentally, enter the mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy), sporting a metal breathing mask and carrying a voice that is part Sean Connery, part Darth Vader. He comes from the League of Shadows, once communicated by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson, making a brief cameo as he reprises his role in the first film). He comes to Gotham to expertly spread chaos, and also to rule it as his own. Who can stop him?

Introduced into the mix is a heroic young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a reluctant deputy (Matthew Modine) who is forced to work that “hothead” cop, and two possible romantic partners for Bruce—one is the sexy, thieving, feisty, not very trustworthy Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) also known as Catwoman, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) who may be able to rescue Wayne Enterprises after Bane’s stock market wipes out Wayne’s finances. I think Wayne has more chemistry with Tate, but then again, he and Catwoman are too busy trying to trust each other to create foreplay (unless that is the foreplay).

But anyway, with help from his new sidekicks and some new gear created by the Q-like Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce Wayne rises again as Batman to assist Gotham in restoring its safety. However, as Catwoman states, there’s a storm coming. Without giving too much away, Bane is surely taking over Gotham and he actually manages to get Batman out of the picture so that he wins. The question is, can the Dark Knight rise again?

Too often do we get the villains attempting to succeed in taking over whatever it is they’re trying to take over. Only in the case of “The Dark Knight Rises,” Bane actually succeeds for the most part. In the middle of the movie, he is able to overrule Gotham and run things along with his followers—mainly prisoners and would-be criminals. (There’s a nice touch having the Scarecrow, played again by Cillian Murphy, being the Judge that sentences mutineers to either exile on thin ice, death by execution, or death by exile.) The city is an absolute hell-on-earth scenario, and only Batman can bring everything back to normal. But how?

As was the case with the previous movies, the action sequences are outstanding. There are scenes of physical violence involving Batman and Bane, and of course Catwoman gets in a few kicks every now and then. But there are also some great chases, with vehicles like the Batmobile, Batplane, and even a Batcycle, most of which come in handy in the sensational action-filled climax. I don’t know how Christopher Nolan is able to take an action sequence and make it look as kick-ass without being overdone, but he always seems to pull it off. I can’t necessarily explain how he does it; marvel at the action here and in his films such as “The Dark Knight” and “Inception” and you’ll see what I mean. I would have loved to see this movie on an IMAX screen—heck, I’d even see it in IMAX 3D if I could!

The Bruce Wayne character is even more conflicted this time around—he’s more heroic, but he’s also more flawed. Not only does he have some major disadvantages that come into place at crucial points in the movie, but also we get more of Bruce’s status as an anti-hero. He’s a hero who could at any point be pushed into joining the dark side, which is why we’re happy that he is our hero and wants to stay our hero. But will he stay that way or will he end up like Harvey Dent, after he realized that being a hero brought nothing to him?

All of the cast members are excellent. Christian Bale is still a solid Bruce Wayne/Batman. Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine are still very game at their reprising roles. The almost-unrecognizable Tom Hardy is a solid villain, though his voice takes getting used to at first. And other newcomers to the trilogy Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are more than welcome.

The ending is just perfect. It hits all the right notes about how to conclude this story of Batman, and that is all I’m going to say about that.

How do I rank “The Dark Knight Rises” along with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight?” To me, that’s kind of a tough decision to make, as I love all three movies the same. It’s like asking me which fast food chain I like better, when the answer is just unnecessary. I love this movie, it’s absolutely thrilling, and it’s one of my favorite films of 2012.

There’s something else I should bring up, and it’s very important. “The Dark Knight Rises” has a running time of two hours and 44 minutes. It was the fastest two hours and 44 minutes I’ve experienced in a cinema. I was not bored for a minute.

NOTE: I state that the third and final chapters of great movie trilogies are underwhelming only when compared to the previous films. “Return of the Jedi” and “The Godfather Part III” may not be as (I’ll just say it) “perfect” as their predecessors in their own series, but they are still fine films. And look at the Academy Award winning film “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”—need I say more?

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