Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Review

Review: The Dark Knight Rises is an utterly and brilliantly satisfying conclusion to The Dark Knight Trilogy. The film finds Bruce Wayne and Gotham City eight years removed from the events of The Dark Knight – Wayne has retired from being Batman and has locked himself away in his mansion, while Commissioner Gordon has cleaned up the streets. However, something devious is brewing, as the mysterious terrorist Bane plots to bring about both the destruction of Gotham and the end of Batman. Writer-director Christopher Nolan has done an excellent job in crafting this trilogy; from Batman Begins showcasing how the anger filled Bruce Wayne channeled his fear and rage into a way to save Gotham to The Dark Knight addressing the sacrifices that Wayne must endure to keep the city safe. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan tells the personal story of Wayne finally overcoming his fear while also aggrandizing the franchise, as this is an immense production feeling more extravagant (like the epics of classic Hollywood – similar to Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia) than the past two films. There are a lot of characters, interweaving storylines, big set pieces, and locations. Plus, the film has just a grand visual style and tone to it (especially when viewed as intended in real IMAX). Right from the start, the audience feels like they are experiencing something different and special (again, similar to how audiences must have felt watching the epics of the past on the big screen). It is a very visceral experience, as the visuals, score and sound design work together. Under less capable hands, the sheer amount of material (being enormous) that Nolan needs to get through in under three hours while still having enough action would have found the film collapsing under itself. Nolan, however, skillfully composes the film to flow beautifully and efficiently. If nothing else, this can be remembered (as well as the first two films) as the work of a master storyteller. Nolan gives Bruce Wayne the typical three act hero’s arc, but also incorporates five other principle characters that each has their own story arc, both intersecting and separate to Wayne’s. Nolan’s structure for the overall film builds upon Wayne’s arc, divulging story and character information for each of the main players. The film never feels slow or disjointed, because everything is building towards the end. While the characters all have their own motivations and arcs, all their stories come together in the end. Nolan also does a fantastic job of giving all his characters dramatic moments allowing them to shine, and thus the audience understands them, and can relate and be invested in them (which is key to any film working on a deeper emotional level). Yes, this is a spectacle film – there are huge action set pieces and thrilling moments, but they are not the point. The characters are the point, and why this film (and Nolan’s other Batman films) work so well. The audience wants to see Batman (Wayne) triumph – they genuinely care. This is particularly the case with this film (and is part of the reason I think it might be the most engaging of the series – though this only based on one viewing), as Nolan gives much more of an emphasis to Bruce Wayne than Batman. Before, Batman was the main character and Wayne was just the mask that he wore (to some extent). But with The Dark Knight Rises, it is Wayne’s story and internal struggle that drives the dramatic and emotional elements of the film, building on elements from the series (like the loss of Rachel). More so than the first two films, the audience cares about Wayne more than Batman. Nolan’s choice of villain in Bane also directly ties into this internal struggle for Wayne. Bane is both mentally and physically menacing and (maybe even) superior to Batman, and thus it is Wayne and not Batman that must find the will to defeat him. In many ways, this film (and the series) works as a character drama (both for Wayne and the other main characters). Nolan gives them so much depth (especially when compared to most genre filmmaking) and they are so well drawn and developed. But again, The Dark Knight Rises is also a great action adventure, full of brilliantly executed set pieces. It also has the expected one-liners and banter between the heroes and villains. Nolan does infuse some humor and lighter moments that relieve the tension (if only briefly). Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has been to an extent based in reality (there have not been aliens or monsters), but it is still an exaggerated reality. This film sees the technology that Wayne has access to pushed a little further as well. But it works, because the overall tone is still grounded. Tonally, overall, the film has a very bleak and constricting feel to it. Unlike most superhero films, the audience is not actually sure if Batman will live through the end. Nolan does almost too good a job with the tension, which is tired to how relevant the film feels to today's world (maybe especially America) with the social and economic unrest. The film is completely gripping and engaging on both a dramatic level and on a visual one – and this again goes back to Nolan’s care and skill in presenting and fleshing out his characters and giving this film (in particular) an epic grandiose visual style and scale. The Dark Knight Rises is not only one of the greatest comic-book films ever made (if not the greatest), but also a masterwork of genre filmmaking (and filmmaking in general as well). It is the new bar to which all other spectacle films must now be judged.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Christopher Nolan, now eight films in, can altogether be called the best Hollywood filmmaker both right now and of his generation (and one of the five best auteurs across all of film right now). With Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has perfected a style of filmmaking that is both on the highest ends of spectacle and drama from a quality standpoint. His event filmmaking has transcended pure entertainment or extravagance by giving even more care to story and characters. More so than any other filmmaker right now, his name brings with it the promise of not only a fantastic film but also something to wonder at and be amazed by. And more so than any other filmmaker right now, I look very much forward to what he does next. Hans Zimmer gives the film one of his most thrilling and epic scores (and this from a man who has built his career on composing excellent music for action films). The score enhances the enormous scale and grand feel of the film, completely complementing it. It is not only one of Zimmer’s best (maybe even his best), but the best film score of the year so far (here is a piece I particularly like). Plus, his Batman theme is wonderful. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is also wonderfully brilliant. The film has a dark yet crisp look to it. Gotham is visually presented as being both gritty and elegant – like any of the great cities of the world. And, Pfister’s camera works with Nolan to present this as being a massive event film. Visually, it is magnificent, impressive and colossal in its scope and scale. It truly feels like an epic in the best sense. Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh’s production design accomplishes many of the same things – it is grand in its scale and showcases both the gritty reality and elegance of the city and its landmarks (or differing sets). But Crowley and Kavanaugh’s work also has an aesthetic artistic appeal to it (especially the pit prison). Technically and aesthetically, the work from Zimmer, Pfister, Crowley, Kavanaugh, Nolan, and everyone else involved in the making of the film is top notch and without equal so far this year. The film also features exceptional performances. There are a ton of cameos in the film (at least for those that watch a lot of TV, as many familiar faces pop up in small roles). Juno Temple and Ben Mendelsohn are great in small supporting roles. Morgan Freeman plays Fox with his typical coolness and seemingly moral absoluteness. Fox and Alfred seem to very much take up the mantel of Wayne’s surrogate father figure. Michael Caine as Alfred is given more weighty drama to play in this film versus the past two, and he is fantastic in it. His emotional scenes with Wayne very much drive Wayne’s internal struggle, and thus Caine’s ability to be great in them is key (and he is great in them). Gary Oldman is also given some dramatic heavy lifting (much like the end of The Dark Knight), and he is very good (as usual). Oldman plays Gordon to be very conflicted. He has done a lot of good for the city, but at what cost (especially if you harken back to the scene in Batman Begins when he refuses to take a piece of the payoff – wanting to keep his hands and conscious clean). Marion Cotillard plays her Wayne Enterprises board-member character Miranda to be almost the perfect match to Bruce Wayne. She is lovely, caring and intelligent. And yet, there is something more to her. To say the least, she is very good. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is almost emotionless and hardened on the exterior, but there is a lot of pain behind his eyes. Much like the other characters in the narrative, his role as Blake and performance fits perfectly with Bruce Wayne’s own internal struggle. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as Selina Kyle. She is not there just to serve as eye candy or a mere love interest; rather she is a full and complicated character. Hathaway plays her to be very feminine in the way she moves, but also with an edge. She is not to be trifled with, as she can handle herself. Tom Hardy is wonderful as Bane. Many complain about his voice (and have since it first appeared in the prologue ahead of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), but I contend that it is an absolutely essential and genius aspect to his character. Hardy plays Bane with so much power, just in the way he carries himself and in the way he speaks. He is truly formidable. In the wake of Heath Ledger’s outstanding performances as the Joker in The Dark Knight, many wondered if any actor(s) could portray a villain (or main character other than Batman) to the same level in this film. Hathaway and Hardy are both equal to the task and bring forth different, but equally engaging and interesting characters. Christian Bale has been very good throughout the films. In The Dark Knight Rises, he gets a chance to really dramatically shine, and he is again astonishing. Bale’s Wayne is almost a tragic figure that is so vulnerable, but there is such a will to him as well. While with Batman, Bales play him to be a force of controlled rage. Being that this is a genre film, his work will mostly go unnoticed, but it is standout work nonetheless.

Summary & score: The Dark Knight Rises is the epitome of epic (event) filmmaking, being both of the highest quality in terms of entertainment spectacle and dramatic resonance. 10/10


  1. Great review!

    I agree with you about this being an fitting end to the trilogy.

    Chris Bale was at his best and Anne was great as Selina as well.

    Check out my review .


  2. Fine review Geoffrey. Bane is no Joker, but he is pretty intimidating and proves a great threat to Batman, which may surprise some people because it doesn’t seem like Bane has much going for him, other than a scary physique. However, Bane is one of the many reasons why I loved this flick and I’m so glad that Nolan ended this near-perfect trilogy with a bang.