Saturday, July 21, 2012


Yes, I'm back with another of my movie takes, this time on the film The Dark Knight Rises, based on the classic DC Comics superhero Batman.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...time to turn on the Bat Signal...

It's been four long years since director Christopher Nolan crushed it with The Dark Knight, which earned Heath Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his powerful portrayal of The Joker.  Initially, Nolan was hesitant about returning for another sequel at first, but signed on after his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer came up with an ending to the series that he liked.

This film borrows elements primarily from two classic Batman comics stories, "Knightfall" and "No Man's Land," weaving them into leftover plot threads from the previous two films that aren't mandatory viewing but highly recommended.  As a result, the storyline is something of a patchwork quilt that isn't quite stitched at first and only comes together toward the very end of the film.  While not the convoluted maze of Nolan's previous film Inception, you spend a good deal of the film's first act wondering where the story is ultimately headed.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

Unfortunately, what we start off with is a bit depressing for Batman fans.  Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, which ended with Batman taking the fall for Harvey Dent and becoming a criminal fugitive, Bruce Wayne has become a Howard Hughes-esque recluse hiding out in one section of the rebuilt Wayne Manor.  Years of punishment from crimefighting have taken their toll on his body, giving him a limp in his left leg and also some unfortunate facial hair.  Meanwhile, thanks to a piece of legislation called the "Dent Act," crime in Gotham City is at an all-time low, so who needs Batman around, anyway?

Well, along comes the muscular powerhouse Bane, masked throughout the entire film with a breathing apparatus that garbles his voice somewhat and makes him sound like Bond villain Auric Goldfinger dressed as Darth Vader.  Bane, it turns out, is a firm believer in the 99% crowd and is all about ripping Gotham City society to shreds before turning his attention on Batman after Bruce Wayne finally gets back in the Batsuit.

What was initially depressing turns even worse when Bane dislocates one of Batman's vertebrae and then dumps him into a deep pit that only one person -- a child -- has ever escaped from.  So Batman obviously isn't exactly overjoyed by this and neither is anyone else in Gotham City.  Commissioner Gordon is hospitalized early on and feels all kinds of guilt (as he should) for going along with the pointless lie of what really happened to Harvey Dent.  Catwoman just wants to be left alone and disappear using a handy device called a "Clean Slate" that erases all computer records of your existence.  Bruce's butler and surrogate father Alfred just wants Bruce to give up being Batman and go sit outside at a cafe somewhere with a chick, and even quits Bruce's employ in the process.  Lucius Fox just wants Wayne Enterprises to make some damn money now that Bruce Wayne spent it all funding Miranda Tate's project that really isn't a nuclear bomb, swear to God it's not.  Oh, and new character John Blake is the only other cop in Gotham worth a damn who just wants Batman to come back and for somebody -- anybody -- to actually give a crap about the orphanage where he grew up.

Nope, nobody is happy in this movie.  Okay, maybe Bane is, but that's only because he pretty much owns everyone's ass.

After about two lonnnng hours of Gotham City gradually being turned into the island of Manhattan from Escape from New York and everyone trapped inside going "Well, this sucks," Bruce Wayne finally heals and figures out how to get out of Bane's timeout pit.  At last, we have our finale, the ultimate showdown between Bane and the Dark Knight with a wicked but not unexpected little Gotcha moment from Miranda Tate thrown in for good measure.  Score composer Hans Zimmer cranks up all his musical highlights from the trilogy, while Nolan just lets everything fly in one big chaotic and screen-splitting hullaballoo.

And then suddenly, just like that moment right after a big fireworks display, things are pretty much over.  The characters quietly disperse, some fading abruptly without knowing what happens to them, while others get their endings that may or may not be entirely satisfying depending on your personal point of view.  But at least, thankfully, there is an ending to Nolan's Dark Knight saga.

So what about the performances from the cast and the characters they portrayed? Well, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts...

BATMAN/BRUCE WAYNE -- Yes, Christian Bale still insists on making his Batman growl as if he smoked twenty packs of Marlboros a day, but it's hard to deny his skill acting as Bruce Wayne.  Especially in the film's first act, Bale gives an especially nuanced performance as the reclusive and drained Bruce, then gradually ratches things up as the storyline dictates. Easily his strongest outing since Batman Begins.

CATWOMAN/SELINA KYLE -- Redeeming the character of Catwoman from The Film That Must Never Be Discussed starring Halle Berry, Anne Hathaway displays some very impressive physical skills beyond her sleek catsuit.  It sometimes felt that her part was a tad underwritten, but that's definitely not any fault of Hathaway's and I'd love to see her take on the character get a solo spinoff film.

BANE -- Tom Hardy had the thankless job of trying to act around a mask covering his nose and mouth the entire film, as well as the vocal distortion effect added to his line delivery.  Despite these limitations though, he makes Bane a formidable and worth adversary, second only to Ledger's Joker in the trilogy, and you have to give mad respect to the amount of physical bulk he packed on for the role.

COMMISSIONER JAMES GORDON -- In his least effective outing as Gordon, Gary Oldman gets treated like a punching bag both physically and emotionally.  His character has a moment to step up and admit his mistakes but ends up being turned into a coward instead of the Commissioner Gordon we respect.  A disappointing outcome for the character.

ALFRED PENNYWORTH -- Alfred isn't given much in the way of screen time, but he does help coax Bruce out of seclusion only to then turn right around and abandon him right when Bruce needs him most.  Michael Caine turns in another solid job as Alfred though, and thankfully, Alfred gets a happy ending of sorts after learning what ultimately happens to Bruce.

ROBIN JOHN BLAKE -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a strong outing as Batman's sidekick, Not Robin.  As the successor to the Batman legacy, his character gets to reassure Bruce that he can retire as Batman, although whether Batman would actually retire is open to fan debate, obviously.  I have to admit, I was a bit surprised that Nolan didn't have Blake suit up as Batman #2 when needed, but I'm kind of glad that he didn't.

MIRANDA TATE/TALIA AL GHUL -- Diehard Batman fans probably saw the plot twist of Miranda Tate coming a mile away, as I did, but Nolan still makes it pay off beautifully.  The timing of the revelation is perfect, literally twisting the knife in Batman's side even further and making the bleak situation even more threatening.  Marion Cottilard seems to be Nolan's go-to Bad Girl now and as excessively long as this film was, I wish we could've had more scenes with her acting openly as Talia.

LUCIUS FOX -- Once again, Morgan Freeman does his best Morgan Freeman impression.  It doesn't matter though, because all Lucius really needs to be is Batman's version of James Bond's armorer Q.  He gets to show off all the cool new Bat toys to the audience but it was interesting to see his reaction once Bane turns up to claim all those cool Bat toys for his own purposes.

All in all, The Dark Knight Rises is the satisfying conclusion to the Christopher Nolan trilogy that it needs to be.  Yes, it's about a half-hour too long, too overly depressing and Bane is a bit too garbled at times, but Nolan still manages to pull everything together in the end.  His game is still far ahead of other directors in the superhero genre and there are some absolutely stunning visuals that demand everyone else to step up just to stay in the same conversation.  I'll be sad to see him leave but with his creative influence as producer on Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman film Man of Steel, next summer has the potential to bring us something just as entertaining as these three Batman films have been.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Watchmen (2009)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Batman Begins (2005)
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
9. Iron Man (2008)
10. X-Men: First Class (2011)
11. X2: X-Men United (2003)
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
13. X-Men (2000)
14. Thor (2011)
15. Batman (1989)
16. Superman II (1981)
17. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
18. Green Lantern (2011)
19. Iron Man 2 (2010)
20. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,



  1. Thank you Charles! Now I don't have to go see this in the theatre because I abhor depressing flicks - esp. super hero ones!

    Christian Bale's mouth bothers me. Always has, even whilst in Little Women & American Psycho - he lisps! His tongue flicks his front teeth visibly & audibly ALL the time! Once you notice, it's hard NOT TO NOTICE! Gah!

    Great review, though as always!
    ~Gwyneth Jones

    1. To be fair, the movie does end on an upbeat, hopeful note but because it's the end of the trilogy, the feeling gets lost in saying goodbye to Nolan's version of the characters.

      And yeah, I've had a couple people tell me that Iron Man should be higher, but I've also had a few tell me that the X-Men movies should be higher than Iron Man. To each their own, I guess.