The Dark Knight Rises – Review

The Dark Knight Rises – Review

Review by FilmFellaDarren – 8/10

It’s been seven years since Christopher Nolan returned Batman to the brooding, shadowy world he existed in in his DC comic book origins. The caped crusader was a hero in desperate need of rescuing after Joel Shumacher ‘s Batman and Robin destroyed the franchise with its garish neon excesses. Nolan stripped all the kitsch neon vulgarity of the late nineties versions away, sculpting The Dark Knight into a formidable terrorist fighter in a less stylized and more realistic version of Gotham, noticeably free of neon – it was a Gotham for the troubled new Millennium; a Gotham we could relate to as it reflected the issues that preside in our post 9/11 world. As a result, the idea of super-villains and costumed vigilantes was more tangible and consequently more enthralling than it had ever been before.

Moving a franchise into trilogy territory however has always caused problems with movie series – particularly comic book series.  The examples of weaker third films are numerous in cinema history – look at what happened with the third Godfather movie, or Blade instalment or Terminator film. Comic book movie franchises particularly have been totally derailed by terrible third films: Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and The X-men have all been punished in really awful third films. So can Nolan boldly take Batman to a place he hasn’t been before: a great third film?  Yes, he can – although this film is not without its flaws, it is another really interesting Dark Knight film – it may be somewhat faint praise given how bad other third comic book films have been, but The Dark Knight Rises is definitely the best third comic book franchise instalment of all time.

One of the reasons the third film works so well is that it isn’t a superfluous franchise filler, there is absolutely a reason to return to Gotham city: to discover what happened to Batman after he shot off into the night, pursued by Gotham’s finest as the perceived murderer of Harvey Dent. What has become of Batman since the last film? Well, he cleaned up Gotham so thoroughly that he made himself redundant; the Bat-suit is now moth-balled, and Bruce Wayne is a recluse; he’s neglected his Wayne Enterprise, which has fallen on hard times, and with a noticeable limp and cane, he has the appearance of a man deep into retirement. Without a super-villain to fight and organised crime now dismantled – he cuts the figure of a broken man: enter Bane – a muzzle wearing, brutish power-bodied new breed of super-villain, eager to dish out the long suffering Gotham a new brand of terror. Bane starts his crime rampage by craftily storming a stock-exchange. Despite the fact he is now branded a menace, the platform is once again set for The Dark knight to blaze back into Gotham, but is a weary looking Wayne still capable of mustering the physicality needed to become Batman again, and take down a super-villain as dangerous and powerful as Bane?

The Scarecrow, The Joker and now Bane – the power of Nolan’s Batman films is entirely driven by the strength of the super-villains. What Nolan has done with this franchise is realize that in the fear driven post 9/11 world we all live in, it’s not the heroes that offer audiences a way in to comic book worlds, it’s the villains. Why? Because we live in a media orientated world, which constantly give us hate figures for us to loath that are considered to be as formidable a threat to Western national security as any super-villain in a comic book movie – by contrast, the heroes in our world are less obvious to pin-point. We are told by the media that super-villains are now a reality, which is perhaps why we are now more inclined to believe in the notion of a super-hero.  Under Nolan’s direction, Batman villains have changed from costumed clad kooky rogues into, terrifying, ruthless terrorists, capable of bringing society to the verge of complete collapse.  The Scarecrow was frightening, The Joker was brilliantly reinvented as a detached terrorist and he was the major strength of The Dark Knight and now Bane is absolutely the power behind The Dark Knight Rises. His sensational entrance defines him as a fascinating super-villain. With the physique of a barbarian and his bald head and arrogant swagger – he has the appearance of a thug.  But his calm, controlled dialogue delivery, eloquent speech pattern, delivered through a plush British accent, suggests he’s a villain with intelligence as well as strength, which makes him a multi-dimensional super-villain – engagingly, he’s full of contradictions. Like The Joker, he has an intriguing crime philosophy.  One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – Bane embodies this totally and Nolan chooses his targets for Bane to attack cannily. When Bane gives big business a bashing at the start of the film, targeting slime ball greed driven money men, it’s hard not to whoop and holler given what has happened with corporate corruption in the real world in the time Batman has been away. Bane sees himself as a revolutionist, freeing the people from the tyranny of big business and police corruption – on some level at the start of the film you can’t help but root for him as there is a healthy dose of anarchist in his villainy DNA.

The rising star behind the mask is an unrecognisable Tom Hardy; He’s bulked up considerably to play the part and he cuts an intimidating figure; his swagger makes him seem like an untouchable figure and he seems interestingly composed as he terrorizes Gotham.

He is a threatening figure for the battered and bruised Batman to take on. The prospect of the two clashing promises a mouth-watering contest and it doesn’t disappoint. As good as The Joker was as a super-villain, he didn’t offer much in the way of fierce hand-to-hand combat. It’s hard to sustain a fight when your villain crackles with a deranged laugh every-time his jaw is smashed.  The bare knuckle dust-ups between Batman and the burley pain dishing Bane provide some of the most thrilling set-pieces in the film and the franchise. The action overall is just as thrilling as the previous films. Particularly the exhilarating scene where Bane attacks the thing that has been keeping the masses distracted and from discovering – what Bane must consider to be – their oppression – : a sporting contest.  Let’s just say with this explosive sequence the spectators got more of a spectacle than they bargained for – and so will audiences in The Dark Knight rises. 

There are problems however with the Batman character. The idea of him being weaker and vulnerable seems an interesting direction but it is entirely over-played.  You start to believe he would struggle to take down your average unruly drunk in a bar. Batman is a superhero who doesn’t really have any superpowers. Bruce Wayne is just a rich guy who used his money to protect his beloved city and designed a suit of armour enabling him to fight crime unscathed. The moment you seriously injure Batman, he’s ready for the scrapheap. Having Christian Bale hobble around with a Caine for a long time in the movie makes it hard to believe he could ever be capable of switching back to the old Batman – the plot devices they use to get him back into shape to fill the suit, are not convincing and totally glossed over. The Dark Knight Rises? Rises from what? A Stannah Stairlift?

Surprisingly, Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, aka Catwomen, adds a great deal to the narrative. That terrible Halle Berry spin-off seemed to take at least seven of Catwomen’s nine lives, Hathaway totally revitalizes the character; she practically purrs with sassy, seductive sex-appeal ; Hathaway has an edge she’s never had before, giving the sleek character a suitably beguiling feline wiliness, and blurring the lines beautifully between hero and villain. She’s key to a number of major plot-points and because you can never really work out her code of ethics, the film stays suspenseful. Although that suit and mask she’s wearing aren’t going to offer her much in the way of protection – if one of Bane’s henchmen land a blow on her exposed face, her Catwomen would be creamed – but my god she looks good in that suit.

Another welcomed addition to the cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing Blake, a concerned policeman who comes of age when Bane unleashes hell on Gotham.  His character is really the most relatable figure in the film – this is another great performance by him. Another actor on top of his game is good old Michael Caine. Caine absolutely supplies the heart, soul and emotion to the story – he’s given Alfred more depth than he has ever had before.

Back to Batman as it is sort of his film. I say sort of as he is absent for large parts of the film. It could have been called the Dark Knight disappears. As Bane dismantles Gotham, he’s thought of a clever way to keep the bat away in a plot point that ties in well with Bane’s fascinating back-story.

Nolan’s narrative is one of the strengths of the film. His three Batman plots have all had socio-political relevance –this one is no exception; Nolan taps into the current climate of fear surrounding the idea of a terrorist gaining a nuclear device. A nuclear bomb is the major threat to Gotham; it is a device that amps up the sense of doom and danger that permeates Gotham this time around. The narrative moves along satisfyingly – like the other Nolan Batman films, there are plenty of intelligent plot developments and intriguing ideas; the film is also considerably dramatic and suspenseful throughout.

It’s far from a polished masterpiece however. There is never really any clarity to the significance of Bane’s mask; having spent most of the film building him up to be such an unstoppable nemesis for The Dark Knight to fight, Nolan doesn’t really know how to give the character a satisfying conclusion. Another big problem is not one, but two half-hearted romantic sub-plots for Wayne that make no-sense, add nothing and are completely pointless.

Will there be more Batman films? Well at the moment there aren’t any plans for a fourth film. But would Warner bros really kill their cash cow? Batman might be back in a much talked about Justice League film. Nolan has stated he won’t be back for a fourth film but he does sow the seeds for a potential next chapter to the story.  As it stands, he has created a pretty strong trilogy. Watching the first two films again will definitely help you understand everything that is going on in this one; as all good third films should do, this one re-opens plot points and revisits characters in the previous films, absolutely anchoring this one to the narratives of the previous two films. Watch the first two again then, go into the The Dark Knight Rises fully versed in Nolan’s enthralling Dark Knight Universe.

In the past, the third film proved too troublesome a nemesis for Batman’s super-hero peers – although Batman does buckle under the pressure of some problematic character developments, the film on the whole does buck the trend of weaker third comic book movies.  The Dark Knight Rises is thrilling, well-paced, rich in narrative developments, and it combines substance with some impressive action set-pieces. The Joker was a hard act to follow but Bane is another great super-villain, providing the brains and the brawn behind Nolan’s engaging third Batman film.  There is a lot of evidence in The Dark Knight Rises to prove that Christopher Nolan is one of the best young directors in the business.

About Filmfella Darren
Film critic, writer and long-time cinema appreciator. I write about cinema matters, because cinema matters. Like your clothes and your laptops, my articles were made in Taiwan.

2 Responses to The Dark Knight Rises – Review

  1. Filmfella Lozz says:

    Nice review. And I actually pretty much share your sentiment on everything. I don’t understand why people think this movie is a masterpiece. It’s damn good sure, but a masterpiece? Not at all. The character of Batman is kind of insignificant in this film. The fact that Gotham feels very real, (understandably the direction Nolan wanted to take it in, but) it makes Batman look a bit silly in his surroundings. The comic book character almost doesn’t fit into the environment that’s been created around him.

    And Bane. The voice is bizarre, but interesting. The voice makes him interesting. SPOILER ALERT (don’t read on if you haven’t seen the movie): But it was kind of frustrating when you discover that you’ve learnt nothing about his character come the end. And I wanted to know more about him, because he could’ve been a great character. And the mystery didn’t suffice for me, I’m afraid. I do like ambiguity most of the time. I like to work stuff out. But here, we’re given nothing to work with. He enters, we’re told his history which doesn’t turn out to be his history, and no more. The Joker, however, was interesting enough not to need a backstory. Bane did.

    I’ve actually thought that every segment within this trilogy have been good, well made movies, but no more. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them, but I’m far more excited about what Nolan does next. Inception was far better than all three of these. And so is Memento, for that matter.

  2. steven says:

    great review dude, i need to see it again, maybe wait till the blu ray is out, love tom hardy, hope he continues to have great opportunities given to him, wonder what mad max will be like.

    the plot devices they use to get him back into shape to fill the suit, are not convincing and totally glossed over. The Dark Knight Rises? Rises from what? A Stannah Stairlift? this made me laugh, but i think your right, he did seem to heal quickly, maybe he is a superhero after all, like wolverine, cause…(spoilers ahead do not read

    his second healing seemed a bit far fetched, punch to the back an some pushups, an he can do what only one other person in the history of the world has ever done? but…its a film about a guy in a bat suit, so i just except it, also how did they get bruce from gotham, to the pit an back into to gotham when all roads were closed an they didnt have no bat flying machine…..no wait, what am i saying, its a film about a guy in a bat suit, just go with it….but over all, i enjoyed it, looked great, visuals were amazing, tom hardy looked a beast, second fight wasn’t as good as i hoped, but other than that i enjoyed it an i would buy it.
    wonder if JGL will take over as batman, an i know his name was robin, but the original robin is batman at the moment in the comics, bruce was killed, well, that was the story a few months back, not been following it fully, also, the guy playing robin at the moment in the comics is batman an Talia al Ghul’s son, damian, so hopefully in my eyes he would take over as batman, or at least nightwing, noooot robin, think a stand alone robin movie would be a bit lame

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