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Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Premise: The final entry in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Picking up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) lives as a recluse but the emergence of super villain Bane (Tom Hardy) compels him to return to his Batman identity.

What Works: The Dark Knight Rises is an epic finale to Christopher Nolan’s Batman series and it is a terrific film that manages to bring together the many themes and ideas of this trilogy. If there is one thing that has characterized this series it has been the intelligence and self-awareness of the filmmakers. In these films they attempt to make pictures that deliver the action and drama that audiences expect of superhero films while also concocting stories and characters that deal with interesting and relevant issues such as the difference between justice and vengeance, the value of heroic symbols, and the consequences of vigilantism. The Dark Knight Rises is extremely entertaining and despite running just shy of three hours in length it is very exciting in the way that a superhero film ought to be. But while delivering the fun of an action-adventure, the filmmakers also draw together the themes of the series by revisiting the ideas, characters, and concepts of Batman Begins and connecting the two ends of the trilogy in ways that make the series as a whole more meaningful. This is accomplished primarily through Bane, the super villain played by Tom Hardy. Like Batman’s showdowns with Ra’s Al Ghul of Batman Begins and The Joker of The Dark Knight, the combat between Bane and Batman in this film goes beyond punches and takes on a symbolic meaning, dramatizing the ongoing struggles of this series. And like its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises is a film that uses characters of fantasy to dramatize very real human struggles. This leads to the other element that distinguishes The Dark Knight Rises: its continued focus on Bruce Wayne/Batman. Batman was upstaged by the villains in previous sequels (especially Batman Returns and Batman & Robin) but the filmmakers of The Dark Knight Rises keep their focus firmly on their hero and this film continues to develop his character in ways that are impressive not only for a superhero film but for any piece of drama.

What Doesn’t: Final chapters of film sagas, even those that are successful such as Return of the Jedi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, or The Return of the King, tend to be a little clunky and the same is true of The Dark Knight Rises. Like many finales, it goes for an epic scope and suffers under the load of characters, subplots, and set pieces. The filmmakers of The Dark Knight Rises have set ambitious goals for their film and while they mostly achieve them, the script employs a lot of coincidences and inconsistencies and suffers from a few glaring plot holes. None of them are detrimental to the film but it suffers from comparison to its predecessor. One of the distinguishing characteristics of 2008’s The Dark Knight was its tension; that film was a thriller that was masterfully assembled and drove unrelentingly toward the final confrontation. The Dark Knight Rises is more loosely structured and some of the subplots are incomplete. This is most notable in the film’s treatment of Catwoman. Actress Anne Hathaway does a very good job in the role, bringing wit and intelligence to the character, but the script underwrites her transformation and her relationshp with Batman. The ending of The Dark Knight Rises is likely to divide audiences in much the same way that endings to Christopher Nolan’s other films like Inception and Memento have done so. That is part of the distinctive stamp that Nolan has put on his Batman films but cynics might say the film is leaving space for a fourth installment.  

Bottom Line: Despite some flaws, The Dark Knight Rises is an impressive finale to this Batman series and brings it to a satisfying close. Taken altogether, Christopher Nolan and his filmmaking crew have created a triptych that ranks with the original Star Wars films, The Lord of the Rings, The Man with No Name series, and Toy Story among the great film trilogies.

Episode: #398 (July 29, 2012)