As much as my anticipation grew for The Dark Knight Rises, the last in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, at no point did I ever expect that it would be better than The Dark Knight. Nolan would be mistaken if this was his primary goal. So my expectation for Dark Knight Rises was that it be a compelling ending to the trilogy, that the final chapter would reward its audience more than it would try to one-up its prequels or shock the masses. Thankfully, The Dark Knight Rises was exactly what audiences deserved.
For those who went to the premier dressed as some version of Gothamite, this film had several satisfying tributes and adaptations. None was more exhilarating than Bane raising the Batman over his head and breaking his back on his knee. The audience loudly cheered when this iconic image was recreated on film. It is a perfect example of Nolan paying tribute to the comics and the fans while also creating something unique. All the true Batman fans would notice slight derivations from story arcs like Knightfall, The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, and No Man’s Land. One of my favorites is the appearance of Holly Robinson.
Nolan’s portrayal of Bane is another example of a successful adaptation. Bane (Tom Hardy) is both a physical titan and a criminal mastermind. While there is no mention of ”venom ”and thankfully no ridiculous tubes protruding from Bane’s head, it is implied that some sort of chemical is being administered to Bane as a sort of morphine. While it is unclear if this also gives Bane superior strength and speed, Bane’s reliance on this device is the key to Batman’s ability to defeat him. This stays true to the original concept of Bane. Plus, by creatively changing Bane’s mask to a device that keeps extreme pain at bay, Nolan complements his derivation of Bane’s origin story, both of which make Bane more sympathetic and keeps him from being just a bulging evil villain. Despite Bane being dubbed “pure evil” by Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), and although Bane and the league of shadows are portrayed as terrorists, Nolan subtly demonstrates that even such “monsters” are still simply human beings with believable and even slightly admirable motivations.
“The pit” is an obvious reference to the Lazarus Pit of Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson). By changing the resurrection pit into the prison from which his heir immerges is an adaptation of the original concept that fits into the hyperrealism that Nolan has so meticulously established. Both Bane and Batman are reborn when they rise from the pit. (Yes, Talia is the first to immerge, but she is not exactly reborn).
If you do not own a single article of bat-clothing, the story of The Dark Knight Rises is just as satisfying. Obviously having seen the first two films helps you to better understand and appreciate the third. But you don’t have to have seen them both. This film presents classic conflicts to which most audiences can relate. The most obvious is the conflict between good and evil, order and chaos, blue blooded Americans and terrorists. While the first two films deal with these same conflicts, Rises adds another layer in its social commentary regarding the unfair distribution of wealth. Transforming Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) into a Robin Hood type of character and portraying the likes of multimillionaires and stock brokers as arrogant and callous certainly strikes a chord with today’s audience. This gives the film a satirical thread tangent to the corruption found in the first two films.
Like Begins, Rises is a story about Batman. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) continues to deal with depression, anger, and self-destruction. Once again, Nolan understands and correctly portrays the essential relationship Bruce has with his surrogate father, Alfred (Michael Caine) as well as his partnership with Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). While Rises presents us with the struggles of a Batman coming out of retirement (much like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns), the primary internal conflict Batman faces is not the demands of donning the mask for a second (and third) time. The central conflict is Batman struggling to become Bruce Wayne once more. Batman has always been willing to die for his cause, but now he must find his desire to live. Batman must save Gotham and Bruce Wayne. This development in the story is natural, relatable, and compelling.
I find nothing more annoying than a twist in a plot that is simply put there to fool the audience. Plot twists should reward the audience not give them a mental wedgy. Nolan understands this. Both of the major twists in Rises are surprising yet satisfying. The first is the revelation that Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is actually Talia Al Ghul. The audience accepts this abrupt change of roles because Bane then becomes the warrior who valiantly defends Talia from fellow prisoners. Bane still undergoes an incredible amount of pain while adding a commendable amount of loyalty to the character. One might argue that this simply reduces Bane to Talia’s personal body guard. I disagree. There is nothing to suggest that Bane did not do much of the plotting attributed to him from the beginning and he certainly still maintains the compelling motivation to terrorize Gotham. Really, Talia is more two-dimensional, as she simply seeks revenge against the man who killed her father.
More than anything, I was pleased with Batman’s “death.” I never believed the rumors that Nolan was going to kill the Batman. Paying tribute once again to Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman faking his own death is the only way in which he can retire. Developing John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) into a “Robin” was a natural way to keep the torch aflame while still having a true conclusion to the trilogy that was hopeful instead of grim.
Just as I was pleased to find that Batman was not tritely killed off, I was also pleased there was no reference to the Joker. After the death of Heath Ledger, the Joker needed to stay relegated to the one film (even though there are lines in The Dark Knight signifying otherwise). It would have been classless to try and wedge him into this story. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, had Heath Ledger not tragically passed, if the Joker have made a better “judge” than Jonathan Crane (a.k.a. the Scarecrow).
Some minor annoyances: While I could easily overlook these at the midnight showing, upon seeing the film a second time, these definitely made Rises a lesser film than The Dark Knight.
Did Sean Connery and Darth Vader have a lovechild? Because at times, that is what Bane sounded like in the movie. I don’t know why Nolan goes so overboard on the voice work. Also, if the Stormtroopers are known for their poor markmenship, the League of Shadows should be known for their hesitation to shoot. There are several scenes where a Shadows goon just stands there waiting to be hit by Batman. Why not pop off a few rounds harmlessly into Batman’s armor? But as unbelievable as that was, the most unbelievable part of the film was seeing Hines Ward run a kickoff back for a touchdown. Even if the ground was exploding, the judges from Dancing with the Stars could tackle Hines Ward. Finally, compared to the two prequels the plot was choppy and the dialogue was periodically stilted.
The Verdict: So while it isn’t as good as The Dark Knight, I still give The Dark Knight Rises four out of five Nerdskulls.