The Dark Knight Rises Review: Rising

Christopher’s Nolan The Dark Knight Rises closes out a trilogy unprecedented in the superhero genre. Following the highly praised second-entry The Dark Knight, the final entry successfully meets its lofty expectations, a feat not shared by Sam Raimi in Spider-Man 3. It was pretty much inevitable that The Dark Knight Rises would be weighted heavily against its predecessor, which has likely been as much of a challenge for Nolan as the villainy  Batman has faced throughout the dark trilogy.

Batman (Christian Bale) took the fall last time around for Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and as the title suggests, Gotham’s caped crusader has returned to rise to meet his destiny. Terrorism, corruption, and social unrest have once again taken Gotham City hostage (literally) with the main villain Bane at the forefront (after a brilliant and exhilarating introduction by plane in the first set-piece). Bringing ruin to both the stock exchange and infrastructure, Bane leaves little hope to the citizens of Gotham while Batman falls once, twice, again and again to come to its aid. What’s so riveting about Batman’s rise here is how hard our hero falls. Bane’s chaos ensues on the city in the third act for what feels like a straight hour before we see the mask again, but when we do, the epic conclusion that follows is an unforgettable ride that will strike fear into any superhero film that dares to follow.

Many will argue that Bane (Tom Hardy) pales in comparison to the Heath Ledger’s legendary role as the Joker, but while all the entries of a series are inescapably tied, it is better to treat Bane for his role here, and not to be compared with The Dark Knight. As for this final entry, he couldn’t be a better fit for its themes. I didn’t find the mouthpiece to hinder his expression as many have noted, but find it a strong character piece in itself. Hardy’s ‘holier than though’ voice, complemented by well-written dialogue, go far in creating a distinct villain who steals every shot he’s in, sometimes even whilst sharing it with Batman. The shots of Batman and Bane together are well-spaced, reserved for the most dramatic moments.

There are some truly great shots throughout. Landscape panoramas of Gotham in chaos strike a different awe than those closer to the ground, but seamlessly. They befit the terror Bane exudes in his voice, stature, and actions. There is a raw, brute evil to Bane that is very different from the twisted mental state of the Joker; he’s more of an ideological terrorist than one who is self-gratifying. I usually admire cunning over strength in a villain (see my post on Thor regarding Loki), but Bane has both in droves. While it doesn’t beat anything in final act, I have to say that the single most effective set-piece leading up to it is the ‘mano a mano’ fistfight between Batman and Bane in the second act. This is a powerful scene that is revisited again later, where both Bane’s and Batman’s full dimensions are shown without distraction: no bat-mobile, no bat-wings, no explosives, no goons. The setting is dim and there is a reviling feeling that Batman takes his biggest fall here and now.

The Dark Knight Rises does so much perfect, but not everything. Running close to three hours is fine for such an ambitious film, but the screenplay is not completely balanced, with too many plot threads running parallel to each other. I won’t complain too much about that though. I imagine Nolan had a lot he felt compelled to include in his last entry, and it’s nigh impossible to find fault at anything leaving the theater. Undoubtedly, this is the finale everyone expected.

There is going to be a drought for superhero films for the rest of the year, and budgets won’t be getting any lower following Bruce Wayne’s last endeavor. Superhero films have been evolving to greater heights, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future. The first truly great trilogy of the modern superhero genre, Nolan’s dramatic, somber take on Batman in The Dark Knight Rises has set the bar high.