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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard

Written By: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan (also story), David S. Goyer (story)

Directed By: Christopher Nolan

The Short Version

Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman comes to a conclusion.

Watch the other two first; if you don’t, you’ll miss too much.

The story is rich, but it’s less about Batman than it is about a young cop.

Catwoman’s wonderful; Bane is a letdown.

The Dark Knight Rises is good, and a must after seeing the first two, but temper your expectations.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEF'S SAMPLER PLATTER.

There’s all kinds of cheese here, artfully presented so that you may wonder if you really should dig in and taste it all or just set it down and contemplate it.


Pairs Well With...

AMARETTO.

Soothing Italian liqueur for when Gotham has nothing left for you but pain.

“I like your girlfriend.”

“He wishes he was that lucky.”


In 2005, Christopher Nolan made what many people at the time considered to be the best comic book hero movie ever.  In 2008, he followed it up with a film that many considered to be even better, highlighted by what was inarguably the best comic book villain performance of all time.  And today, on the 43rd anniversary of humanity’s first landing on the moon, it comes full circle.  The third and final chapter of Nolan’s take on the Batman story has finally hit the screen.

But… is The Dark Knight Rises truly that?

I’m not suggesting that this isn’t the last chapter in the saga; it definitively is for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which are the vehement declarations of everyone involved with making the movie.  What I’m wondering is if the story’s really about Batman.  Honestly, I don’t think it is.  It’s certainly more about Bruce Wayne than Batman, but even there, one could argue that he’s less the lead here than he is the film’s most important supporting character.  And no; I don’t think the villain’s the lead, either.  I do think that a young cop who just came out of nowhere has a shot at the title, though.

Which is, of course, what Bruce Wayne would want, because as anyone who’s followed the story thus far knows, from the first few days after putting on the cowl and cape, Wayne has longed for the time when the people of Gotham wouldn’t need a Dark Knight anymore.

Our story begins eight years after the previous one left off.  No one has seen or heard from Batman since the death of DA Harvey Dent, but Gotham City has been doing well without the cowl-covered vigilante.  Thanks to a powerful set of laws passed in Dent’s name, the entire organized criminal underworld now sits behind the bars of Blackgate Prison with no chance of getting out.  Sure, there’s still crime, but the terrible siege under which the city had once suffered has effectively been broken.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, Shaft) has also disappeared from the limelight, living as a recluse inside his mansion, walking with a cane, and seen only by his faithful butler, Alfred (Michael Caine, Inception).  The billionaire playboy plays no more, and the city seems happy to attend parties he hosts on his front lawn knowing that he’ll never show up himself.

But, as many whisper, a storm is brewing.  A mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) has taken up residence in Gotham’s sewers, and a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, Alice in Wonderland) has taken an interest in acquiring a copy of Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints.  Could any of this have anything to do with the dormant fusion reactor sitting beneath the surface of the city, and might someone, somewhere have a little bit of unfinished personal business to settle with the Batman?  Take a wild guess…

The Dark Knight Rises is not the movie that most people are expecting.

First, as noted, it’s not really centered on Batman, but rather, on the question of how everyone – not just Bruce Wayne, but everyone – can, does, and should get along without him.  Indeed, two trends of the series continue here: the runtime of the theatrical cut has increased, but the proportion of our hero’s screen time has decreased.  It makes for interesting storytelling, but let’s face it: it’s not the common expectation for a comic book hero movie.

Looking at this from an acting perspective, it may be just as well.  While I like Christian Bale’s performance overall, the weariness with which he plays his character feels about a half a notch too strong, to the point where there are moments where it seems like the actor himself, while still doing good work, just wants to go home.  It’s not quite selling past the close, but it’s knocking at the door.

Meanwhile, our anonymous cop character out of nowhere, Blake, is anything but weary in the hands of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Halloween H20: 20 Years Later), who takes full ownership of the screen despite being cast as the most ordinary person possible.  Both in terms of story and in terms of lead acting, I ended up leaving the theatre feeling that The Dark Knight Rises was his movie, and not Christian Bale’s.

This leads to the second expectation: the villain.  I don’t think that any reasonable person expected something to rival what Heath Ledger did in the previous film; that would be beyond unrealistic.  However, after looking at the trailers and just seeing his physical presence on camera, I had noted (and felt myself) a near-universal belief that Tom Hardy’s Bane would be an awesome villain.

At no fault of Hardy’s, he’s not.

To borrow a comparison from another famous bit of modern myth, the character is meant to be Darth Vader, but instead, he’s General Grievous: looking like he’ll make for a great action figure, but losing just about all of his mojo the moment that he talks.  Again, this is not Tom Hardy’s fault; rather, this is a major sin of post production.  His voice as modulated through the mask he wears is so heavily distorted that it’s often nearly impossible to understand.  What’s more, the sound mix doesn’t make that voice project as though it’s coming from the mask.  (When Vader speaks, for example, you accept that the voice is from his helmet.  When Bane speaks, it sounds like a PA system broadcast from speakers across the entirety of whatever room he’s in.)  And though, like Christopher Lee in The Mummy, Hardy does have the gift of being able to act with his eyes alone when called for, Nolan rarely directs the camera to call for it.  I think there’s a reason for this, but I don’t want to go into too much detail for spoiler purposes.  I will say, though, that as both a writer and a director, Nolan treats this character whom the audience is expecting to be an incredibly powerful villain as little more than a big, blunt tool.

On the other hand, I know that many people weren’t expecting much out of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (whom we all know as “Catwoman” even though this story never gets past calling her a cat burglar); the uproar over the initial announcement of her casting is proof enough of that.  Here, the surprises are pleasant.  Hathaway does a dynamite job with the character in every respect; for me, in terms of what I enjoyed the most about The Dark Knight Rises, she completely steals the film.  Hathaway made no bones about desperately wanting this role, and that enthusiasm shows.  She takes full ownership of this role and then some.  As a regular human being trying to make her way through the world, as a master thief, and as an ass kicking fighter, she is Selina Kyle.  She also is fortunate enough to be working with a script that really treats the character well; indeed, in many respects, Catwoman takes on some of the promise that Batman leaves hanging.  And for multiple stretches of the movie, it’s Hathaway and Selina Kyle who hold things together insofar as reminding the audience of why they showed up in the first place.

Finally, there’s the matter of The Dark Knight Rises as a standalone film.  Like The Return of the King or Matrix Revolutions, it isn’t.  If you walk into this movie without having seen the two that came before – especially the first one – then a whole lot of what goes on here just won’t make any sense.  Nolan’s Batman films are meant to be a trilogy, and he is not kidding.

This also means that a whole lot of the runtime of The Dark Knight Rises is spent tying up items that came up in earlier films, including things that the audience probably thought were tied up already.  As was true previously, Nolan’s uncanny ability to maintain an atmosphere and his superb knack for picking an excellent cast keeps the movie from getting a “bogged down” feel to it, but I don’t think that anyone will ever be able to accuse The Dark Knight Rises of being fast-paced while still wearing a straight face.  In terms of plot, there are no major holes to speak of, given the allowances for certain items of preposterousness that we always make for comic book films.  (The first action sequence with the airplanes, for example, is just plain ludicrous.)  Yes, I could have done without a well or two being revisited (the repeat of the “basic moral dilemma,” for example), but overall, I found the story to be solid and meticulously woven.  Okay, I also knew exactly how the movie would end a really long time before it happened, but even this doesn’t bother me; if anything, I feel better, simply because I like the ending, for reasons I won’t discuss here.  A story doesn’t have to be unpredictable to be good.

And The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t have to be the best thing to happen to movies since THX to be enjoyable.  It’s not great.  It’s not the best movie of the year.  It’s not even the best of its own series.  But, if you’ve seen the rest of that series, you do need to see this film, too, to come full circle, and it’s certainly not going to be a chore to do so.  It’s a good movie, and good really is good enough.

Bottom line, The Dark Knight Rises may not be the Second Coming of Awesome, but it is a worthy conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and absolutely worth the time for anyone who’s seen the first two films (which are a prerequisite to fully understand this one).  It’s not quite as much about Batman as you’re probably expecting it to be… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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