PLOT: It has been eight years since Batman (Christian Bale) vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act.
But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.
REVIEW: The next few paragraphs are probably going to piss off most of my readers to the point of spastically shouting “F*ck this stupid f*cking idiot and his f*ckity-f*ck-f*cking website” repeatedly till their heads explode but here goes. I’m not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT. Never have been. I’ve seen it many times and have always found it to be vastly inferior to BATMAN BEGINS.
Here’s my issues: TDK is incredibly overrated (Quick list of superhero movies superior to TDK: the original SUPERMAN, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, THE CROW, IRON MAN, and Tim Burton’s BATMAN), full of unanswered questions (What happened to The Narrows, Arkham Asylum, and the Gotham monorail system featured so prominently in BB?), ripe with visual inconsistencies (Nolan dropping the comic book tone and style of BB in favor of a dour riff on Michael Mann’s HEAT is something that will never cease to annoy me), packed with plot holes (How did Harvey escape the hospital so fast? Where did his Joker and his gang disappear to after he tossed Rachel out the window? Why did Batman take the blame for Harvey’s crime spree when he could’ve easily pinned it on The Joker?), poorly paced (any fanboy who griped about Sam Raimi shoehorning Venom into the last twenty of SPIDER-MAN 3 needs to remember Nolan pulled the exact same stunt with Two-Face), and loaded with unnecessary detours (the subplots involving the guy trying to blackmail Bruce Wayne, the trip to Hong Kong, and Joker’s bizarre plan with the two ferries could’ve easily been trimmed down or eliminated entirely).
The only thing saving TDK from being a total wash is Heath Ledger’s virtuoso performance as The Joker. That’s it. Everyone else in the cast, save for maybe Aaron Eckhart, is clearly just rehashing their performances from BB. There’s no sense of progression, no growth, no development. That just won’t do when you’ve got Ledger (R.I.P) delivering the performance of a lifetime.
Had Ledger just phoned it in or flat-out sucked, fanboys would’ve not accepted such standard issue performances. They would’ve paid for their single ticket (they certainly wouldn’t have kept coming back and propelled TDK to the box office glory it achieved) and simply dismissed TDK as yet another subpar superhero sequel to be thrown in with the likes of FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, SUPERMAN III, and BATMAN AND ROBIN.
End of TDK rant. Sorry to go to such a dark place right off the bat (ha) but I wanted you, the reader, to understand my fanboy standpoint going into THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I’m not a fan of the current “All of us must worship every film equally or perish!” mentality. Actually think it’s kind of f*cked up that people, whether they be critics or not, alter their opinions to go with what is popular. People are allowed to have individual opinions. And my individual opinion is THE DARK KNIGHT is just not very good.
Also not very good was the ad campaign for TDKR (yes, I’m going to acronym each title). Lots of bland trailers, bland posters, and bland production stills. It makes no sense Disney was given so much sh*t for JOHN CARTER ad campaign (which admittedly wasn’t great) when the one for TDKR was just as bad, if not worse.
The only thing that kept me mildly interested was the rumor mill which churned out some real doozys …almost none of which ended up being true. Joseph Gordon-Levitt did NOT portray The Riddler, Azrael, or Alberto Falcone (AKA “Holiday”). Juno Temple was NOT Batgirl. Ellen Page wasn’t Batgirl either, nor was she even in the movie. Also not in the film were Robin Williams as psycho shrink Hugo Strange (reuniting him with Nolan nearly a decade after they teamed for INSOMNIA), Ledger’s Joker (he was supposedly going to be resurrected using CGI and unused footage from TDK) or Henry Cavill’s Superman 2.0 (rumored to appear as a set-up for the Nolan-produced MAN OF STEEL hitting theaters next summer).
As you can imagine, I was not looking forward to THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I had thought Nolan would simply repeat himself. Just photocopy the TDK script, give it a little rewrite, cut and paste Bane and Catwoman in, and call it a day. Maybe kill off Batman for sh*ts and giggles. Push the franchise into the realm of Shakespearean tragedy. Do what had never been done before. Make the fanboys and little kiddies cry.
Well, he didn’t do that. Sort of. That last bit about Batman dying is true but false. You probably already know what I’m talking about since you’ve probably already seen the movie but if you haven’t seen it then all you need to know is the “Batman dies” line is a non-spoiler spoiler. It happens but it doesn’t happen. You’ll understand what I’m saying when you see the movie.
What Nolan has done is craft THE DARK KNIGHT RISES into the BATMAN BEGINS sequel THE DARK KNIGHT should’ve been. It’s definitely not a perfect film nor is it the best superhero movie of 2012 (that honor still belongs to THE AVENGERS) but it is a rollicking good time that is well worth your hard-earned moviegoer cash.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
The film: TDKR is EPIC. Epically EPIC. I was honestly shocked at how much mileage Nolan and director of photography Wally Pfister were able to get out of those IMAX cameras. Expected a couple of EPIC widescreen city shots (I definitely appreciated the brief glimpse of The Narrows in the finale) and maybe a few EPIC action sequences (Bane’s initial appearance and the final showdown are the standouts) but I certainly didn’t think the entire film was going to be EPIC. There isn’t a single shot that isn’t positively bursting with visual splendor.
The director: Getting back to the basics of BATMAN BEGINS was a wise move on Nolan’s part. Helps the bloat (a carryover from TDK) and mopey bits (Bruce is still a bit of a downy clowny ‘cause Rachel went BOOM) go down a little easier. Plus it gives the film the edge it needed to complete against THE AVENGERS and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for summer superhero dominance. Grim and gritty is so 2006. Upbeat (TDKR is very funny at points) and uplifting (Bruce’s escape from the Lazarus Pit had me clapping) is the new cool. Glad Nolan accepted that and embraced it.
The script: Perfectly acceptable but rough. The structure is a little wonky (it’s almost like the film is broken up into three separate mini-adventures), the dialogue a little too on the nose (wayyy too much exposition), and the some of the character motivations are poorly defined (I’m still not sure why Catwoman did some of the things she did). The breathtaking visuals and excellent performances help smooth things out. One might argue there is a political undercurrent to TDKR but I don’t buy it. It’s Batman versus Bane for the fate of Gotham. Plain and simple.
The score: EPIC. Hans Zimmer knocked it out of the park again. Not much else to say here.
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman: One of my biggest complaints about TDK is there wasn’t enough Batman or Bruce Wayne. TDKR rectifies this issue nicely. Whether he’s behind the mask (yes, Bale is still rocking that silly growl), behind the cane (a result of the years of abuse endured as Batman), or behind bars (Bruce ends up in the same prison that begat Bane), Bale is all over this flick. In a good way. He’s finally discovered that perfect mix of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Only gripe I have is that Bruce’s quickie relationship with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is a little undercooked. It works …but just barely.
Tom Hardy as Bane: Ferocious, terrifying, a little restrained. The PG-13 does him no favors. I dug what Hardy was going for and felt it in certain scenes (both of his mano-a-mano encounters with Batman were f*cking brutal) for but felt the lack of true on-screen viciousness (Bane does a lot of body damage but it’s all muted and off-screen) and his silly Scottish/British accent (imagine Sean Connery as a butler) kept him from being truly memorable. And yeah, Bane’s voice is abysmal. The reported redub (which occurred after audiences complained the audio mix for the TDKR prologue attached to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL was muffled and unintelligible) didn’t work.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman: Badass. Never thought I’d use that word to describe Anne “PRINCESS DIARIES” Hathaway but it’s what works. Hathaway’s Catwoman (despite the fact she’s never called that on-screen) is badass. And hot. Stacked against the other live-action Catwomen, I’d say she’s above Halle Berry and Lee Meriwether, on-par with Eartha Kitt, and just below Julie Newmar and Michelle Pfeiffer. Only gripes I had was her character’s motivations were not clear (she’s in cahoots with Bane but the film never bothers explaining to us how or why), her little girlfriend (Temple's character) was pointless, and she kinda got abandoned plot-wise for about twenty minutes towards the middle of the film. Other than those quibbles, Hathaway is aces. Would love to see a prequel spin-off.
Gary Oldman as Commissioner James Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth: Awesome, as usual. Oldman and Freeman are such consummate pros that they turn the copious amounts of exposition they’ve been saddled with into pure poetry. And don’t even get me started on how good Caine is here. I’m still reeling from the fact he pulls a GOOD WILL HUNTING on Bruce.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake: Can’t say much for fear I’ll end up spoiling some of the big plot twists but know JGL’s performance is top notch. Best one in the film actually. His character is also the most interesting. Fully realized. Beginning, middle, end. Good stuff. You’ll understand when you see the film. Trust me.
Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate: Cotillard, so good in Nolan’s INCEPTION, shines in her early scenes with Bale and Freeman but starts to waffle as her character becomes more …complex. The less you know, the better.
The cameos: Keep an eye out for genre vets Aiden Gillen (GAME OF THRONES), Burn Gorman (TORCHWOOD), Desmond Harrington (DEXTER), Nestor Carbonell (“Batmanuel” from THE TICK), Thomas Lennon (RENO 911), and William Devane (24) in small roles. Matthew Modine also pops up but I honestly believe Nolan cast him so he could tell people Joker was present (Modine played a character nicknamed Joker in FULL METAL JACKET). Fans of the Nolan Bat-films will be happy to learn -- MINOR SPOILER ALERT!!! -- Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson briefly reprise their roles as The Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul.
The homages: Bat-fans will find a lot to love here. Elements from BATMAN BEYOND (Bruce is a recluse living in bitter isolation), “Knightfall” (Bane breaking Batman), “No Man’s Land” (Gotham is separated from the mainland), “Batman: Year One” (I’m pretty sure Temple’s character is meant to be Holly Robinson), Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (Bruce coming out of retirement), and “Bane Of The Demon” (I won’t spoil how it connects to the film) are present. There are also a few playful verbal references to Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, and The Sewer King. And there’s even a big circular bomb in the finale that resembles the one seen in BATMAN FOREVER and the 1966 Adam West BATMAN theatrical film.
The finale(s): Ignore the grousing online about the finale of TDKR being too drawn out and schmaltzy. Fanboys are missing the point. Remember in TDK when Harvey Dent said “The night is darkest just before the dawn”? Keep that in mind as Batman flies off into the sunset.
That’s where I’m going to stop. I’ve probably spoiled a little too much already but whatever. Minor spoilers never hurt anybody. Plus, this is my second version of this review (the first one, written early last week following my first viewing of TDKR, was accidentally deleted) and it’s way less spoiler-y than the first one. Be glad I didn’t post that one. It would’ve ruined the ENTIRE movie for you.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is EPIC. Yeah, it has flaws and rough edges but Nolan makes it work. Not only is TDKR a great summer blockbuster but it’s also a superb wrap-up to a damn fine superhero trilogy. This flick actually makes me like THE DARK KNIGHT a little more. It’s so good that it improves on a film that wasn’t very. How often does that happen?