Theatrical Review for 'The Dark Knight Rises' is now up!Posted: July 20, 2012
Theatrical Review by Ben Nguyen
In 2008, The Dark Knight took the world by storm, presenting a chaotic Gotham brought to its knees by the anarchistic Joker. It also happened to be thematically richer than pretty much any superhero film before; tightly written, and incredibly well acted. Naturally, when they finally announced The Dark Knight Rises, expectations were extremely high, especially since the threequel curse has plagued so many other films including Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, and even Return of the Jedi to an extent. But the odds were different this time, director Christopher Nolan returned and had complete creative control which meant that for better or worse, whatever he did would represent his vision in the end so he would shoulder all of the praise or blame. As someone who very much enjoys Christopher Nolan films and adores the Batman series he has created, it was hard not to walk into that theater without some pre-conceived notions, and having followed much of the news and footage surrounding the film, I made the mistake of having a specific image of the film in my mind. It turns out, it was much different than that. But it wasn’t necessarily in a bad way.
The Dark Knight Rises is often times quite moving and thrilling, just managing to stick the landing, but it doesn’t appear to have done it with ease. Nolan makes the mistake of biting off more than he can chew with so many storylines to weave together, and the result is a less tightly written film than The Dark Knight or even Batman Begins. The set up is huge, as it brings in elements from both of the previous films, including the aftermath of Harvey Dent’s and Rachel Dawes’ deaths, while incorporating a lot of storylines from the first which I’ve chosen not to reveal for the sake of spoilers. Despite being 2 hours and 40 minutes long, one could argue that the movie actually could have been longer, allowing many of the dramatic moments to settle in and breathe, and adding to the gravity of how serious and dire the situation gets in Gotham City, which make no mistake, becomes worse than ever despite the events of the first two. The movie zips at a furious pace that means you will never be bored, but it results in a film where you feel like Nolan isn’t quite in control, a bizarre feeling considering how calculating his films can be.
On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said in how the film ties the overall trilogy as a whole.
As a complete character arc, Bruce is given a finale that he deserves, and it certainly helps that Christian Bale delivers a terrific performance as Bruce Wayne, which shocked me, considering how apathetic he seemed in The Dark Knight. But somehow, he regained his spark and delivers an unbelievable amount of charm to the character. While his Bat-voice is only moderately improved from the 2nd film, his enthusiasm and effort into the role in the film is felt, and makes the movie considerably more interesting. Joseph Gordon Levitt as John Blake is also given a meaty role that is reasonably well handled as a character who can relate to both Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Bruce Wayne.
Bane, the film’s villain, is interesting as Tom Hardy certainly has the unenviable role of succeeding Heath Ledger as the Joker, and he also has to wear a mask for the entire film. He is physically brutal throughout the film, but even I have to admit some of his dialogue got lost by the mix/accent, which you either find comical, or oddly chilling. Finally there’s Anne Hathaway as Catwoman who brings a lot of sizzle to the role, pulling the role off with flying colors. She’s wonderful as Catwoman and if there was only one fault to character, it has nothing to do with Anne, her role just isn’t as fleshed out as it should have been.
The supporting cast is full of the usuals including Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Both provide a soothing presence in the film in light of the dramatic intensity of the film as they always have, if a bit underutilized. Their presence (especially Michael Caine) adds a lot of the emotional weight to the film, quite possibly the most emotional of the three if that means much. People should not confuse that statement with intimate though...Batman Begins is an incredibly interesting film in the Nolan series because the focus is almost entirely on Bruce Wayne, whereas that's not the case with the 2nd and 3rd film. Despite that, Bruce does get more screen time than he did in the 2nd.
The emotional moments are accentuated by some of the terrific action scenes which showcase some of Nolan’s improvements in that department. Bane vs. Batman is often brutal and fairly well choreographed, while the scale of some of the other set pieces are so much bigger than before, and he’s able to execute them relatively well. The end, which brings many emotional and visceral moments together is proof of that, even though the script hasn’t quite earned the frantic urgency the film displays.
It may seem like I have a lot of criticisms with the film, and it’s because I do. But make no mistake, the first two films also have a slew of problems, it’s just that it’s more readily apparent this time (at least compared to The Dark Knight). But it works in the end, and it certainly helps that it ends on a very satisfying note in terms of a finite trilogy. The stakes are considerably raised, the acting is as strong as ever (though missing the magnetic performance of Ledger), and the cinematography is beautiful. There’s a lot to like about the film.
The main problem I have comes with the execution, which just brute forces its way to its conclusion and manages to reach its destination safely. In the end, I wanted to see a conclusion that would end the trilogy on a satisfying note, similar to Return of the King or even Return of the Jedi and that held true. It’s just that with the wrong mindset (comparing it to his predecessors), you may end up disliking this movie more than you should, because this movie is tonally different from the other two films. And who knows, it may even play better on rewatch once you have the initial expectation out of the way, Batman Begins has held up incredibly well and even improved in some aspects since its release in 2005. Think about it this way, you’ve looked at a series that was dead in the water from 1997-2005, and Nolan turned it into a powerhouse franchise for the ages...and one of the best things you can say about the film is that when it ends, you will feel that it was entirely worth the seven year journey.