The core of The Dark Knight Rises is a fairly sloppy movie. Large chunks of dialogue are devoted to exposition. Plot points in the first half of the film clearly telegraph the “surprise” plot twists in the second half. And the plot itself, while loaded with twists and turns, is fairly simplistic.
But, even while taking all of this into consideration, The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie and fitting end to the trilogy Christopher Nolan started in 2005. This is due to Nolan’s direction, the stellar acting by the wonderful cast, the great editing by Lee Smith, and the powerful score by Hans Zimmer.
The film takes place exactly eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, and Harvey Dent’s death on that night has become a citywide holiday. Crime is at an all time low, yet all is not well in Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his Batman identity, but, without a purpose to his life, he has become a virtual recluse. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wrestling with his conscious over glorifying Dent, a man who tried to kill his son, and demonizing Batman, the man who saved his son’s life.
Things take a turn for the worse for Gotham with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane is a dangerous and bestial mercenary who at first appears to be a soldier in a corporate war between Wayne and an evil business rival by the name of Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn). But things aren’t what they seem with Bane, and his true intentions will have dire consequences for both Gotham and Batman, consequences not even Bruce/Batman’s new allies–honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), eco-friendly business woman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)–can help Batman stop from coming.
This film is more a sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins than 2008’s The Dark Knight. While the latter was one of the most successful films in movie history, only two plot points–the death of Harvey Dent and the cover up afterwards, and the death of Rachel Dawes–are mentioned yet the Joker isn’t. Of course, there would few actors able, or willing, to follow in Heath Ledger’s shoes in that particular role, and to recast the part would be sign of disrespect, but his storyline in that film has interesting parallels and contrasts to the plot of this film. It would be a stronger film is these comparisons were addressed or even acknowledged. But as it stands, the film closes the circle and makes the series a true trilogy, telling one wide-reaching story arc.
The film is almost three hours long, yet nothing is wasted. There is no fat or gristle here, just meat. Every scene serves a purpose. And while this means that, yes, there are a lot of Chekovian guns being introduced that many savvy film goers will be able to figure out how they will be used by the third act, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In a summer where there are films that barely introduce plot points and often forget to follow up on them, it’s refreshing to see so much forethought and planning put into a script. And the long running time allows moments for all the characters, and there are a lot of them, to grow and become fleshed out. Even minor characters get juicy character moments.
Editing and score are vital parts of any film, yet are often overlooked by audiences. They say the only time you notice editing was when it is bad. Not so, as I noticed Lee Smith editing and how good it was. When there is a lengthy patch of exposition-laden dialogue, he inserts a beautifully shot (by cinematographer Wally Pfister, once again in top form) scene that shows what the actor is describing. During action scenes, the narrative shifts back and forth from character to character, location to location seamlessly and at just the right time building tension along the way.
Hans Zimmer is an old pro at scoring and naturally his score here is top notch. It adds layers and dimension to the story, evoking the perfect mood at the ideal moment in a great compliment to what is going on on the screen.
Trying to single out an actor in the cast for special acclaim is like trying to pick just one player from the 1927 New York Yankees to be on your All-Star team. When a cast has 15 Oscar Nominations and five Oscar wins between them, there is little doubt that there will be a plethora of great performances to choose from. But if I had to pick one cast member to give an Oscar nod out of only one member of the cast, I’d choose Anne Hathaway.
Her Selina Kyle, the character comic book fans know as Catwoman, is a multi-layered, complex character. Hathaway’s Selina is a woman who must wear a number of different masks, a tricky thing for any actress to play. But Hathaway knocks it out of the park. I can’t say that I’ve been overwhelmed by anything I’ve seen Hathaway do in the past, but I was overwhelmed here. Hathaway plays Selina as bold and naive, strong and insecure, coquettish and earnest, usually within the span of a one scene. The other characters are kept guessing as to what persona Kyle is presenting, but the audience is always kept in the loop. Hathaway puts a more realistic stamp on the “bad girl with a heart of gold” archetype. It’s a brilliant piece of acting.
Tom Hardy’s Bane will be unfairly compared to Ledger’s Joker, so I am not going to compare the two (if I was going to compare Bane to any film villain, it would Darth Vader, if only for the breathing apparatus dialogue). Hardy plays Bane with the gusto of a Shakespearean actor playing Hamlet for the 49th time. He owns the role with confidence and bravery. In a world where every superhero movie can’t wait to remove the masks from their characters, you have to give credit to Hardy for working with half his face covered. Hardy will also be unfairly criticized for having his words swallowed by the mask. But, in truth, I didn’t find him any harder to understand than I did Gary Oldman, and all Oldman had blocking his dialogue was a mustache.
If there was one weak link in the cast, it was Mendelsohn as Daggett. It might be just me, but his performance annoyed me so much that I had to mention it here. He played the role more like a caricature than a character, chewing scenery and employing body ticks in lieu of developing any form of true characterization. Thankfully, he’s not in the movie for long, but whenever he’s on screen, I found it painful to watch.
As for the other cast members, you can expect your typical excellence. Michael Caine doesn’t have a lot of screen time this time around, but he makes the most of it. Gordon-Levitt plays what could be a boring role–the honest cop–with nuances and facets that makes John Blake interesting.
Christopher Nolan combines all of these elements in such a way that makes for a satisfying film. You willingly overlook its flaws because the trip Nolan is taking you on is so interesting. He sets an epic tone for the film while keeping it grounded in reality.
This supposedly is Nolan’s last time directing Batman, although he does leave an obvious opening to continue this story (albeit in a way that I doubt Warner Brothers would be interested it). But if this is Nolan’s last time at “Bat,” then he went out in a grand fashion. This film is a fitting end to an era.