Mike’s Review: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (FULL SPOILERS)By
The following review will contain full spoilers. Please see the movie before reading.
I’ve had a day to think about The Dark Knight Rises and I’m ready to share my thoughts. But first, I should acknowledge that I saw the movie three times in a row: Midnight (regular), 3:10 am (IMAX) and 6:20 am (IMAX). While I would consider this technically a gut reaction review, I’ve formed my thoughts enough to share, but reserve the right to change my mind upon future dozens of viewings.
Christopher Nolan is a master filmmaker. Few people argue against this. But one of the main reasons we feel so strongly about his work is that he has a profound ability to leave audiences with a sense of fulfillment and theories. Each of his films have ended in a way that provokes discussion. He has long considered this one of the key roles of cinema and any movie that doesn’t present an opportunity to discuss the prior events once the credits roll can be classified as a form of a failure. While the ending to The Dark Knight Rises does not present the same everybody-is-right debate as Inception, it does give people an idea of a world beyond the end of his trilogy. This is the end of the movie, but the first thing I want to explore here.
As a reminder, the final moments of The Dark Knight Rises provide closure to each of the main characters as they pertain to the trilogy. Some people have complained that it is too happy for this franchise. While they aren’t wrong, they are incorrect to assume it’s not completely appropriate. Bruce Wayne deserves to live, in all incarnations of the word. Alfred deserves to see Bruce. Fox deserves to have his faith rewarded. Selina deserves a fresh start (the same one that Bruce wants, in many ways). Blake deserves to take up the mantle.
The two most fiercely debated aspects of the ending are clearly Bruce’s future and Blake’s future. The one most ripe for discussion is clearly Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake. The moment he stepped into the BatCave, I instantly hoped to hear soon of a 3-picture contract for Gordon-Levitt. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Warner Bros. jumped all over that when they saw the ending. He’s at a perfect point in his career and Nolan has primed him for a role as an action hero – something I never would have guessed for the little boy in Angels In The Outfield. By the way, I hope I wasn’t alone in thinking about that movie when Blake spoke of an orphan childhood. Anyway, this role is filled with possibilities. I’m not entirely familiar with the gallery of villains in DC Comics, but I do hope this franchise continues with a slightly-altered take on Gotham heroics. I’d love to see Blake take on the man responsible for killing his father (due to a gambling debt) and provide us with a O-Ren Ishii/Kill Bill backstory revenge tale. The big question remains, what villain could be responsible for the murder of his father? And now, we have a whole mansion of orphans with an underground cave dwelled by a hero (X-Men, anybody?). Gordon can still be involved and we can see glimpses of Batman in Blake flashbacks. I honestly think the success of The Bourne Legacy will determine the direction WB takes this franchise.
While this ending, coupled with the fan service of his real name being “Robin,” serves as an alley-oop to future filmmakers, I think it fulfills the arc of Batman/Bruce Wayne perfectly. Regardless of what the fans want for this character, Nolan has drilled it in our heads that Bruce just wants somebody else to take up the mantle. Problem is, we haven’t met anybody worthy of it yet. But that worth is not defined by a background in mixed martial arts or tutelage from a ninja cult. It’s a mindset. Batman is an emotion, not a physicality. Blake serves as a beacon of the inspiration Batman has provided Gotham. The 8-year gap provides the perfect time span for a child inspired by Batman to grow up with his same spirit. Yes, the comics suggest this character is dressed in a red and green circus suit. But Nolan is a visionary, and he understands that there is more to characters than the costumes they wear. So don’t devalue his work by simply saying, “John Blake is Robin.” He’s not. Even if you’d like him to be. It’s the perfect way to give Bruce what he and Alfred have always wanted.
But obviously the ending is more layered than just the future of Batman’s legacy. That moment in the cafe is fulfilling in every sense of the word. It’s the perfect moment, even if it’s slightly awkward in execution. The moment Alfred told Bruce that he always hoped to see him in that cafe, any true moviegoer (or fan of Christopher Nolan) knew the movie would end there. It happens all the time in movies. A little foreshadowing goes a long way. So, when Batman flies off into the ocean with the bomb it was clear what would happen. The film was setting us up for it pretty obviously. Fox constantly going on about the autopilot in the Bat. Alfred’s chat about the cafe. Selina’s desperation for a fresh start. I was preparing for it bit by bit throughout the film. And when Alfred walked into that cafe, I smiled. I knew it would come and I knew it had to. But part of me wishes it went down slightly differently. Part of me wanted Alfred to see Bruce, then a man walk past the camera and the table be empty. Did Alfred see Bruce or just imagine a healthy life for Bruce? I like to think Nolan considered this. He’s just too committed to the audience. He knows what the audience needs, and he gave that. I’m just a cynic. I want that spinning top ending all the time. Nolan spoiled me a bit. I got over it quickly, because it’s appropriate. It’s needed. It’s the right way to end things. It gives you the opportunity to create fan fiction in your mind about what Bruce would be like living in Europe with a cat burglar. It lets you think that maybe Alfred will give up the entire estate to John Blake and just live as Bruce/Selina’s butler. I’d be happy with that. And I am. So let’s move on to the rest of the movie.
There is a lot to The Dark Knight Rises. It’s ending will inevitably distract audiences from exploring the movie as a whole. A lot of people will be so thrilled with the ending that they’ll forget the bits and pieces along the way that made no sense or the characters that were skimmed over. Yes, this is me saying the movie is not perfect. Usually it takes me longer to notice this. Inception and The Dark Knight are two brilliant films that I love endlessly, but I acknowledge the litany of goofs and holes that riddle both. I see them, I acknowledge them and I move on. Because the movies are just too much fun, too awesome and too exciting to dwell on the momentary lapses. It comes with the territory of creating something so sprawling. There are plenty of things to tilt your head about. How does Bruce Wayne get back into the cut off Gotham City after he escapes the pit? How does punching an exposed vertebra fix someone’s back? Why the fuck did that police officer shoot Batman’s EMP device? Why did John Blake have to be an exposition douche when Fox explains the bomb to Daniel Sunjata’s hilariously short-lived agent? How did a freshly stabbed and beaten down Bruce Wayne survive ejecting the Bat miles into the ocean? Why are the cops and mercenaries fist-fighting when they have working guns? These are all things we think during the film, but it’s just so much fun we ignore it as the movie progresses. And that’s fine by me. Necessary evils, I say.
Some characters in the film were agitating. I hated everything about Daggett and his Thin Man sidekick. While underplayed thematically, they did serve a role. Some are calling them out as worthless add-ons to complicate the plot. In fact, certain lines throughout the film imply that without Daggett’s interference, none of the events would have worked. Essentially, the League of Shadows used him much like they used Scarecrow in Batman Begins. It’s not the character that bothered me, but the pursed-lips overdone slimeball performance by Ben Mendelsohn. It’s like he was trying so hard to get noticed that he took away from the professionalism of those around him. Thank you Bane for snapping his neck. And I’m sure Nolan deliberately had the performance approach campy. Characters like that are supposed to make you root for their death. I just can’t help but yearn for somebody with a more nuanced performance. Like the plot holes, I got over this quickly though. Because there was a sense of betrayal in Miranda Tate’s character that gave us something more from the business end of this movie. And thus introduces my favorite character – Miranda Tate.
Anybody who cares enough about the franchise likely already knew that Miranda Tate was lying. Marion Cotillard was just too obvious of a pick for the role and we knew the movie would come full circle and Bane’s seeming involvement with the League of Shadows. But Nolan had the intelligence to recognize this. He didn’t overplay her. He hid her in the shadows of the film. He downplayed her importance, while always keeping her at the forefront of the action. Yet, every line Miranda Tate utters is perfectly nuanced. It applies perfectly to her big turn. Take a moment to reflect on her character. She is a rogue investor in Wayne Enterprises. Implied as events in the 8-year gap, we learn she gave Wayne a massive grant to begin a clean energy fusion project. We know now that it was all a plan to turn the device into a bomb. But Wayne’s seclusion and paranoia prevented her from successfully integrating herself into the big game plan. And this, right here, is the underplayed explanation for why everything took 8 years to happen. In the film, Talia explains during her revelatory moment that her patience has paid off. It’s the patience of waiting years for Wayne to finally open a door for her to let Bane take control. I imagine Bane could have done what he did at any point in the last eight years, but it wouldn’t have fulfilled the greatest purpose Talia had endeavored without Wayne’s naive trust in her. This is precisely why she seduces him in his own home. She notices his weakness mentally and capitalizes on it. She knows that if Bruce can see a warm body again, he’d trust it. And when Wayne gives her the tour of the underground reactor, it’s game over. Her plan is officially unstoppable. This is why I love her character so much. Yes, she is barely in the movie, but she is the movie’s “duck,” swimming furiously under the surface, but calmly gliding above. Her turn as Talia was perfection. A slow, twisting knife in Batman’s side. Though I think it would have been more appropriate to stab him in the heart, per her father’s prophecy, that would have ended the movie right there and Batman couldn’t have had his glorious heroic ending.
But it’s not just her own arc that makes Miranda Tate so engaging. It’s her connection to Bane. The decoy backstory that the entire movie commits to is so brilliantly turned on his head in the final moments that I actually pumped my fist under my theater chair. It’s such a fresh take on the various Bane/Talia stories in the comics that I felt like I saw something new. You get bits of it all. It’s a relationship not specifically explained. It’s complicated. And it’s better for it. Ultimately, I think Bane’s motives were slightly odd. He has a sort of programmed commitment to Talia. It felt like he should have wanted something for himself, even if it’s just Talia’s love. Maybe he’s just so enthralled by her that he is in a state of perpetual hypnosis. It’s another forgettable, forgivable oversight. I overlook it because Bane is just…so…fucking…hardcore.
Bane is amazing. I loved every single second he was on screen. Let’s get it out of the way quickly though, he is no Joker. There’s something about the Joker that Bane doesn’t have. I don’t know what it is. I don’t care. It’s a different character. And I loved him. My only gripe is that they changed his inflection so much in the Prologue. Some deliveries were made worse, like his delivery of the phrases, “It would be extremely painful” and “With no survivors.” I was used to the Prologue. I liked it just fine. Maybe they could have raised his volume a bit, but they nearly completely redubbed it. Upon the first viewing, I couldn’t get my head out of the changes for a good five minutes after. The second and third viewings were not as frustrating, though. His character as a whole is just so fun to watch. The two major one-on-one fight sequences are the single best I’ve ever seen. Ever. The brutality and ferocity of the first showdown is something I never thought I’d see from Nolan. The cowl smash and the back break are so redeeming as a fan of this trilogy. I’m not big on comics, but I was really hoping we’d get the iconic moment from Knightfall. And we did! And yet, Bane leaves the fight with such malaise. It’s as if he wanted more from Batman. Or that it was too easy a fight. some have called this scene anti-climactic. I call bullshit. Because I sat in the theater with chills for at least two full scenes following. And yet, Nolan re-visits the fight with an even more exciting final showdown. What better way to disable Bane than to have a rejuvenated Batman smash his mask in. It’s fitting and fulfilling. Moreover, it’s Bane’s reaction to that moment that I nearly stood up for in excitement. Tom Hardy showcases his boxing prowess once more with an unrelenting and amazing display of speed and power. Those two pillar punches are felt across the theater. It’s mesmerizing. I want more of it! But Bane wasn’t simply defined by two fight scenes. His speech outside Blackgate is inspiring and highlights a great montage sequence. And his speech to Bruce in the prison is filled with great acting. Body language and eye movements supplement his tone and inflection in a scene that humanizes this beast in a way that makes him a fully-formed character. The speech about hope and despair is wonderfully written. Overall, Bane may seem like a one-note trigger-happy hard-fisted villain, but he is not. You just need to pay closer attention to get a sense of his complexities and depth. He is woven into the story in a way that is bigger and grander than just what is seen. It stretches through Talia’s reveal and Batman’s recovery. It’s worth revisiting later.
Of course, we can’t forget Selina Kyle. While I felt her character was the weakest as it pertained to the story, Anne Hathaway portrayed the character in a way that resembled Ledger’s Joker. Every moment she is on screen is filled with a tense, unpredictable sensuality that keeps you engaged and excited. She’s sexy and dangerous. She is always one step ahead of whoever she is talking to and I think that’s her best quality. But ultimately, her selfish journey is distracting in a film about the greater good. Yes, Bruce in a way wants the same thing she does – a fresh start – and it applies well to the ending of the film, but throughout the movie, all this overt exposition about the Rykin data Clean Slate thing was just distracting and frustrating. Yet, she would fill the scenes with a sarcastic humor and dangerous quickness that made the rest of her on-screen time so enticing. I would be lying if I wasn’t begging for a wide shot of her interrogation of Daggett against the wall.
Bale and Caine are at their best as the familiar characters of Alfred and Batman. Finally, a movie gives them something to really strain the relationship. I always hoped Alfred would give an ultimatum and he really did. Caine’s performance in The Dark Knight Rises is just heart-wrenching. And finally Christopher Nolan just lets it happen. The short moment Alfred has over the graves of Bruce and his parents had me in tears instantly. I just wanted to give him a hug, even though a part of me knew we’d see Bruce again in the cafe. And the back-and-forth between Bruce and Alfred is like watching your parents argue at dinner. It was nice to see Bruce getting a bit fed up with Alfred’s over-bearing advice, though, since he must have a breaking point there as well. The conversation they have during their “break-up” scene is the most realistic and authentic moment in the entire trilogy. It was an inevitable moment that Alfred needed to do. And while it didn’t work as effectively for Bruce as it may have for the audience, it served a purpose of sorts. I would have liked to see more of Bruce struggling in everyday life without Alfred, but I can see how that would get campy and goofy after just 60 seconds or so. And while Bale played both characters very well, as usual, I’m still thrown off any time Batman speaks. I’m not one of those people who throws a hissy fit about the voice. I generally keep quiet on the matter. But you can tell that they are handcuffed by their own creation. Even though half the characters that Batman uses his Bat-voice on in the movie already know he is Bruce Wayne, there is a sense that Bruce has to use the monster’s voice in order to buy into his own creation. I was honestly hoping he was speak in Bruce’s voice when he gave Gordon the cryptic revelation of his true identity.
Technically, the film is another giant achievement. The practical effects really show this time. With only the city-wide explosions and some moments with the Bat coming across as heavy CGI moments, it was just a pleasure to watch. Speaking of which, that city-wide explosion was insanely good. I uncontrollably uttered, “Holy shit.” I rarely speak out in theaters. It was just mind-blowing. But while The Dark Knight Rises is truly inspired and another crowning success for Nolan and company, there are aspects that need to be pointed out. It’s not perfect. In their collaboration, Lee Smith has been a master editor. I think this movie was done extremely well, but you could see moments of struggle in the editing suite. It begs the question if Nolan should have broken his no-reshoots rule. But I wonder if it’s less about what wasn’t there and more about having too much. There’s a more complete and organized 3+ hour movie in here somewhere. And while some wanted it to be shorter, I think if it had an extra 15 minutes, it could have been perfect. Certain things were abandoned mid-movie in favor of other plot points. The story could have used just a little more time, but as a whole it still works as a masterful structure. It’s just not perfect.
Wally Pfister continues to shoot gorgeous cinematography. With sweeping shots and subtle dolly moves, this trilogy is, in my opinion, the best shot trilogy of all-time. Better than The Godfather and Lord of The Rings. The former was less innovative visually and the latter relied too heavily on CGI landscapes for me. But, there was something uncharacteristic about this installment. A handful of intimate moments failed horrifically in the focus department. Specifically, Batman’s entire face is out of focus when Catwoman traps him with Bane (“You made a big mistake.”) and Bane’s face is entirely out of focus when he sits over a broken Bruce in the prison. There are other moments like this in the film, but those two stood out. I want to give Pfister and his focus puller the benefit of the doubt, because IMAX cameras have ridiculously shallow depth of field. Of course, they weren’t all IMAX shots. And this brings me to my biggest issue with the film.
If you saw The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t, make sure you do, because it’s a totally different experience. But I’m just fed up with the back and forth of IMAX aspect ratio. It’s wonderful to see the impossibly large format utilized, but some decisions to cut back and forth were ill-advised. For instance, when Catwoman hands off Wayne’s fingerprints in the shady bar, the cut to IMAX happens after the first punch is thrown. It’s weird and distracting. Moreover, it’s the 3-second establishing shots that bother me. I don’t need to see Wayne drive off in his Lamborghini in IMAX unless it’s followed up by an IMAX scene. It’s hard to keep up with the aspect changes when it happens that quickly. Because it takes you a moment to catch up. You essentially have to re-adjust your vision for it. And don’t get me wrong, IMAX is the best. The final 20 minutes of the film are almost exclusively IMAX shots, apart from another frustrating change when Batman drop kicks Bane into City Hall. I get it. Audio is difficult to capture with IMAX cameras. But more attention needs to be paid to when the shots will be utilized. Why not simply commit full scenes to IMAX. No cutaways to IMAX skyline shots or IMAX establishing shots. No mid-scene swaps. When the action starts, drop into IMAX. If you have dialogue mid-action, stick to IMAX. Just commit to it. I’m not sure where the decisions come from. It could be budgetary. It could simply be the technical needs of capturing audio. I don’t know. But I do know that it’s distracting and we need a better solution. Sometimes the switch is even so rough on the eyes that the 35mm shots seem completely distorted and stretched horizontally. But this movie is a sprawling epic. It needs IMAX as much as it needs the ending it gave us.
Hans Zimmer’s score has been a key component to the entire trilogy. James Newton Howard’s emotional addition to Batman Begins remains my favorite aspect of the entire film and it is revisited multiple times in this third chapter. Upon listening to the score endlessly before the film’s release, I had hoped the ending would provide a silent act of martyrdom by Batman set to the emotional peak of the track entitled ‘Rise.’ Nolan has always had an affinity for drowning out the audio and letting music take over in key scenes and he did just as I hoped he would, as Batman flies off into the horizon with the bomb and the Bat. The rest of Zimmer’s score is just as we have come to expect. It’s bombastic and driving. It pushes the movie into a frantic pace that adds to the excitement already present on screen. The “deshay basara” chant associated with Bane is wonderfully implemented into the plot of the film, even though it’s horribly synced with the old men chanting it as Bruce climbs. How did Lee Smith and Nolan not see that error? But it’s besides the point. The film’s excitement level crushed barriers when the music was turned up. The drums shook our IMAX seats in ways that made my stomach bounce. And it reminds us why we love Hans Zimmer so much.
Will it change everything you thought you knew about the previous two movies? No. I had hoped it would, but I suppose that is asking a lot. I still believe this movie serves as Nolan’s prestige in the three-act magic trick that is tricking worldwide audiences into watching character-driven stories. Because that’s what this trilogy is really all about. Each of the three films start relatively slow because each one consists as an isolated tale in a grand legacy. The first one introduces us to this world and this character. The second one shines as the most entertaining and fun to watch, because the characters are already connected and now they just get to play. The third one acts as the wrapping paper. At times it’s shiny and pretty and fun to look at, but it’s true purpose is to envelop the characters in the world they’ve lived in. To give them what they’ve earned and deserved. The only character in the trilogy whose future is uncertain and untreated is Crane/Scarecrow. But that’s always been his thing. He just wanders about Gotham filling whatever roles he can gather. But Bruce is Gotham’s favorite son. And as such, Nolan has given him the personal send-off he deserved.
Is Gotham free from violence forever? Hell no. In fact, you could argue it’s in its worst shape yet. A rebuilding community with a broken economy and a lot of new homeless people. It’s going to get very ugly in Gotham. But Bruce finally found his opportunity to inspire good without eliminating himself as a human being. It’s always been about separating himself from the “structures [that became] shackles.” He was a prisoner of his own creation. But he couldn’t just walk out and never come back. He had to leave a legacy. That’s why John Blake came at the perfect time in Bruce’s life. A product of Batman’s inspiring acts over the years, Bruce can finally let somebody else take up his mantle. Will Blake succeed? We don’t know. Will he even need to try? Maybe not. But he now has the tools to do it. And frankly, now we have the Batman that started Batman in the first place. The detective comic is reborn. A detective now has the ability to be the Batman. Maybe we’ll get Batman Beyond. Maybe we’ll get a Robin spin-off. Or maybe we’ll get nothing but our imagination, which is the way Christopher Nolan always likes it. If you have to ask, I’d probably assume that Warner Bros. will reboot Batman in a way that allows him to exist in a Justice League movie. We’d see an interwoven community of superheroes and a man driven to save the world with whatever he can do, instead of saving his own world like this Bruce Wayne did. I’m happy for Bruce. I hope he lives happily ever after. I think he will.
It’s a rousing success. Christopher Nolan continues to impress us with his ability to provide commercial blockbuster without submitting to the stereotypes of the genre. Many of us hope he’ll go back to his roots with the next project, but I’d be happy either way. He seems to have mastered the big-budget movie in a way that audiences desperately need. Some of them don’t know they want it. They complain about his films because they lack something they think they want. But it’s always been Nolan’s approach to challenge the audience into believing in a film that doesn’t do it like everybody else. In a summer that includes The Avengers, making a film like The Dark Knight Rises is without a doubt a challenge. The trilogy is complete. There is room for more inside this expansive world of opportunity should Warner Bros. continue with what Nolan provided. Whether they do it or not is irrelevant. Nolan has succeeded.
The only question that remains, and the one people keep asking me, is where The Dark Knight Rises ranks in the trilogy. My response continues to be, who gives a shit? This movie exists as the wrapping paper to a wonderful gift from Christopher Nolan. Does this exist as a standalone film in many ways? Absolutely. So do the other two movies. But it exists for the sole purpose of completing a full story. To suggest it is better or worse than the rest of the trilogy would be to call one chapter in a book better than another. All that matters is how they function as a unit. Before, it was incomplete. It was two different films about the same character. Now, it’s a full arc. It works as one. Do you have to watch them all in a row every time? No. But you may as well. And I can’t wait until the day I get a chance to do that.
What Should You Do? Well, you already saw it. So, see it again!