THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – The Review
Whenever a fan-favorite franchise as popular, and with such history is undertaken by Hollywood, the primary question is always “Will it succeed, or will it get butchered?” The Batman property first took theatrical form in the capable, yet recently more volatile hands of Tim Burton, who delivered us two very stylized but still enjoyable versions of the Batman lore. I’ll refrain from commenting on the 3rd and 4th entries into the Batman filmography, which then brings us to the relatively young, but extraordinarily talented — perhaps even genius — vision of director Christopher Nolan. Now seven feature films into the DC Comics based franchise, the question must still remain on the fans’ tongues… “Does it work?”
In short, the answer is an emphatic, ecstatic yes, Yes, YES! Christopher Nolan has for some time now led us to believe this third installment of his Batman interpretation will be his last. Following BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES serves as a superbly well-rounded grand finale to the trilogy. Co-written with his brother Jonathan Nolan and the writer who really gets around, David S. Goyer, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is highly effective at utilizing every last second of the 164 minute running time. The film picks up some time after the previous film. Harvey Dent is dead, but his legacy lives on through the Blackgate Prison, housing some 1000 of Gotham’s most dangerous and violent criminals, essentially rendering Gotham City nearly crime free. As we discover what the post-Joker Gotham City has become, we also discover that Batman has seemingly retired as Bruce Wayne is now a reclusive hermit with health problems.
On the surface, one would think Gotham City is turning around and all is safe, but we know better than this, do we not? Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is the only man in Gotham still uneasy about the fate of his city, as the mayor and the rest of the police force have bought into the new peace, mocking Gordon in his skepticism. However, there is one cop who shares Gordon’s uneasiness and his name is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Gordon’s paranoia is not without reason, as THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a slow burn mystery as the master plan in progress by this film’s villain gradually develops and unfolds like a fiendishly intricate piece of paper origami with a deadly surprise waiting at the center.
Enter Bane, to whom we are introduced at a very early stage in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. We witness the transport of a mysterious criminal/terrorist by the CIA, a large man bound and blinded with a black hood loaded onto a plane. From the very beginning, something feels unavoidably tragic about this transaction. This scene spares no time in showcasing Bane (Tom Hardy) as a powerful, strong and intelligent enemy. Bane is a hulking, bald man who wears an ominous mask housing what appears to be a breathing apparatus of some sort. For those who are not familiar with the storyline from the comic books, this plays a significant role in the film, one which I will not spoil. You’re welcome.
Tom Hardy (WARRIOR) truly captures the essence of Bane, the comic book villain that has become known as Batman’s greatest foe, even over his age-old arch-nemesis The Joker. What truly stands out about Hardy, aside from the shear bulk he developed for the role, is that he portrays the character so well with a performance that is solely physical in nature. As Bane must wear the mask at all times, Hardy is unable to use his voice, and is limited with his facial gestures, forcing him to convey every nuance and emotion through his body. It’s quite remarkable to watch, but I feel a second viewing is necessary to truly appreciate this, as the film is so fully engrossing that it’s quite difficult to focus on any one single element during the initial viewing.
Months ago, a talking point hit the Internet about Bane’s voice. The issue revolved around the audience’s ability to easily understand Bane’s dialogue given that Hardy was forced to speak through the mask apparatus the entire film. This was arguably an issue, and in the end, the film does prove to have employed ADR — Automated Dialogue Replacement, or looping — which allows the filmmaker to go back after filming has completed and replace the existing dialogue with that of a different or better quality. This was a smart decision, as many viewers would have likely found themselves distracted by a struggle to hear the character and understand the story. On the other hand, I do have one… let’s call this a curious observation, as it’s not really a complain, but, I found that Bane sounds surprisingly like Sean Connery. There is no evidence that he provided the new dialogue, but it sure sounds similar and I found myself minimally distracted, but curiously entertained by this notion.
There are those who had their doubts about Anne Hathaway being cast in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, but I was not amongst their ranks. I’ve held an appreciation bordering on respect for her talent for some time, so finding her cast as Selena Kyle — known in the DC Comics Universe as Catwoman — has my interest peaked. As it turns out, Hathaway (LOVE & OTHER DRUGS) delivers a low-key performance with the appropriate sarcastic humor and sharp wit without over-reaching in her role. With the help of a very well written character, Hathaway captures the physicality, sexiness and personality of Selena Kyle with astonishing accuracy, ranking her above Michelle Pfeiffer, in my book.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES does an exceptional job at staying relatively true to the source material, an area in which I could spend endless and lengthy words, going into great detail elaborating and analyzing, but that wouldn’t do you — the reader — any justice whatsoever. IF you’re a reader of the comic books, little of the story itself will be of much surprise, but the film itself will be a highly rewarding experience to accompany your existing knowledge. For those unfamiliar with the comic books, SEE THE MOVIE FIRST! Why? This film is so well done, and serves as such a solid introduction, it will be best to delve into the comic books after seeing the film to fill in all the details and texture of the monumental Batman story arc.
Director Christopher Nolan continues to prove he is a force to be aware of in Hollywood, rapidly becoming the most powerful filmmaker in Tinsletown. To our great benefit, he has developed a strong, ongoing relationship with cinematographer Wally Pfister and composer Hans Zimmer. Thank God, because this has led to a trilogy of films that look and sound absolutely breathtaking. Batman demands the criminal’s attention, so it’s fitting that this trio of creative artists render the Batman lore as equally demanding of the viewer’s attention. Christian Bale continues to deliver as Bruce Wayne/Batman, still growling at the bad guys, but slightly less so as to water down the excess and becoming less of a distraction.
Viewers prepare yourselves. Get ready to rumble and relish in Batman’s action-packed swan song, or is it? I’ll say no more, but I will merely point out that this film has plenty of surprises, suspense, incredibly choreographed fights between Batman and Bane, and even some bad-ass, long-legged butt-kicking by Anne Hathaway. As usual, there are plenty of cool toys featured in the film, a couple of distinctly hilarious tongue-in-cheek moments, one of which is a humorous epiphany delivered by Batman himself. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES also delivers on the heart strings, featuring one specifically tear-inducing moment between Alfred (Michael Caine) and Bruce Wayne. Marion Cotillard rounds out the cast, playing fellow philanthropist Miranda Tate, along with return performances from Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and a cameo appearance from a previously featured villain.
While THE DARK KNIGHT RISES serves as the perfect finale for an incredible three chapter story, it also raises many questions for the audience, especially fans, while not leaving any significant loose ends. If your cinematic experience with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is anything like mine, you’ll leave the theater energized, excited and fulfilled, while also desperately desiring more from the new master of “the caped crusader.” Personally, I feel privileged to have been exposed to Batman in such light, but also feel like the cinematic legacy of The Dark Knight has only just begun to tap it’s true potential.