Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises
By Matthew Huntley
July 27, 2012

I love a woman with a whip.

With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s much-lauded Batman trilogy ends on an entertaining and satisfying note, although not exactly a challenging one. Because Batman Begins and The Dark Knight set such high standards and took the superhero movie in a direction that forced critics and audiences to reconsider just how impactful, complex and tragic a movie based on a comic book could be, the expectations for this third film are probably unreasonable. Many have the right to expect a masterpiece, and while the film doesn’t quite live up to that coveted level, fans can rest assured knowing this is still a superlative action drama with well-drawn characters.

The story takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, in which the maniacal Joker (Heath Ledger) tried to expose Batman’s true identity and prove that anyone, when pushed toward devastation and loss, is capable of being corrupted by evil. It ended with Gotham City’s presumed savior and golden boy, District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), after having been transformed into the hideous Two-Face, devolving into the very criminal he sought to rid the city of, thus proving the Joker’s point. Only Batman (Christian Bale) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knew the truth and decided it would be in the city and people’s best interest for Dent to continue to be held in high regard, to remain Gotham’s “White Knight.” Meanwhile, Batman volunteered to take the fall by becoming the man people could blame for Dent’s crimes, hence the Dark Knight. To him, it was for the greater good.

Since then, “the” Batman has not been seen, nor has his alter ego, Bruce Wayne. Older, limping and arthritic, Bruce has become a recluse, hiding out in the east wing of Wayne Manor. He’s been ignoring Wayne Enterprises and spends his days walking around in a bathrobe with a cane. Only his beloved butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), sees him. That changes when the slinky Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a master jewel thief posing as a maid, makes her way into the mansion. (We of course know Selina as Catwoman but the movie never provides her that moniker.)

Selina makes it seem like all she wants is Bruce’s mother’s pearls, but what she’s really after is Wayne’s fingerprints. She’s cut a deal with one of Wayne Enterprises’ chief competitors, a slimy fellow named Dagget (Ben Mendelsohn), who in turn is linked to the monstrous Bane (Tom Hardy), a master killer who wears a metal contraption on his face that resembles a gas mask, which supposedly helps him breathe. I don’t know what’s more disturbing about Bane - his appearance or his voice. He’s tall, muscular and bruised, yet his manner of speaking is ironically charming and intelligent. It almost makes you forget he could suffocate you or break your neck in a matter of seconds. For these and other reasons, I’d go so far as to say that Hardy’s Bane has just as strong a screen presence as Ledger’s Joker. He’s a tough, scary and domineering force to be reckoned with, brutish and unapologetic. When he swings his fists, we feel it; and when he talks, we listen intently.

What Dagget and Bane want with Bruce’s fingerprints, I leave you to discover, but as the film develops, we learn Bane is an ex-communicated member of the League of Shadows, the same group that trained Bruce to channel his anger and fear in Batman Begins. You’ll recall it was the leader of the League of Shadows, Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson), who sought to destroy Gotham City because he believed it was the League’s inherent duty to restore balance to a city that lost itself to crime and injustice. We all know Batman thwarted Ra’s al Ghul’s plans and now Bane is attempting to carry them out again by rigging the city with explosives and detonating an atomic bomb.

That’s the movie’s central plot, which is not unlike plots we’ve seen in other comic book movies or even the James Bond pictures. But as familiar as it may seem, it’s surrounded by richly drawn characters and elaborate action sequences, which provide a genuine rush and work at keeping us on edge. Once again, Nolan delivers stupendous chase scenes around the city with Batman speeding around on his motorcycle and, for the first time in the series, flying in the air with his helicopter on steroids. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Bruce’s loyal friend and head of Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences division, appropriately calls his new toy The Bat.

Among the new characters is a brave, hotheaded police officer named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who explains to Bruce that he knows the pain of being an orphan but still clings to hope that things can always change for the better. The same goes for Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a philanthropist and Bruce’s new love interest, who wants to provide the city with a sustainable energy source. Bruce shows her his company’s breakthrough fusion reactor and entrusts her to watch over it because he knows it could just as well be turned into a weapon.

Eventually, everything and everyone culminates into (yet another) war fought between good and evil against a cold and dreary cityscape. This, too, we’ve seen before, but it’s so effectively executed that we feel it in our bones and there are several moments that shake us down to the core. At one point, when Gotham’s police officers start running toward Bane and his gang of ruthless criminals, part of me felt like cheering and I wanted to run with them. The movie is that good at putting the audience in the middle of the action and making us feel like we’re a part of it. And when Batman and Bane come face-to-face, the violence hits us hard.

Many consider The Dark Knight to be an inimitably great film, but one thing Rises does better is balance the hero and villain’s screen time. In the last film, Batman’s personal story and drama were overshadowed and put on the backburner next to the Joker’s, but here, both Batman and Bane are developed and the screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan flushes them out equally, seeing neither in terms of simple black and white. Amidst all the action and violence, the film manages to bring forth a good deal of substance. Overall, it’s not quite as thought provoking as the previous installment, but it still pays off handsomely.

I recently watched the first two films in the trilogy in order to prep myself for the third one (as I’m sure a lot of people did, or will), and I found myself re-admiring how many turns each of the plots and drama took and how they didn’t merely settle for the usual structure that usually accompanies the superhero genre. Rises seems more willing to adhere to a traditional formula and survive on sensationalism, convenient plot devices and a somewhat standard twist to close out all the legacy’s remaining threads. Perhaps Nolan assumed he’d be giving fans what they want by ending it this way, and while the film entertains us immensely, Nolan has been better than this before and will no doubt be better than this again. Don’t get me wrong: Rises is exceptionally well-made and satisfying, but one of the lasting qualities of a Christopher Nolan movie - not just the Batman films - is they don’t just leave us satisfied. They give us more than we anticipate and often leave us in a state of deep reflection. Feeling satisfied is good; being left in a state of deep reflection is better.