The Dark Knight Rises (Movie Review)

Please allow me to state up front that I am a lifelong Batman fan, and have been a bit of a comic book geek since I was a young teenager. I loved Tim Burton’s Batman (though I was underwhelmed with Batman Returns), and shuddered through Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (though now I watch them for laughs). I was excited to see what Chris Nolan would do with Batman Begins, and felt that The Dark Knight was the highest bar that could be set for a comic book movie, or even any movie. (Check out my review here). So coming into The Dark Knight Rises my hopes were quite high. I will attempt to share my opinions of this film without revealing too many spoilers.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman has gone into hiding and Bruce Wayne into seclusion. He has been devastated by the death of Rachel and from taking on the sins of Harvey Dent in order to give Gotham City relative peace. For a time Commissioner Gordon and Batman’s lie has worked, allowing the courts to deal organized crime in a crippling blow. But Gordon is about to be forced out, and the villain Bane is on his way to Gotham to enact a plan of systematic destruction, undermining the very fabric of civilized society that exists in Gotham. Bruce realizes that Batman must come out of retirement, despite his deteriorated physical state from years of torturing his body in serving Gotham from the shadows. Ultimately Batman is faced with some hard choices about how to be the hero that Gotham needs (not the one that simply carries the weight of someone else’s sins).

The movie ties up the Nolanverse Batman story very nicely. Probably the biggest issue I had with The Dark Knight was that there was so much eagerness to engage in lies to cover up the truth so that peace could be obtained. Here in The Dark Knight Rises we see the ramifications of those decisions, and when those lies come to light it actually makes things worse than if they had been honest at the beginning. There are some times when I could see some exhaustion from Nolan (much like I witnessed in Sam Raimi’s third Spider-Man film), and there is a lot of material crammed into the film. It starts slow, but does build into a fantastic finale.

Christian bale and Gary Oldman turn in stellar performances, with Bale showing a regression back to the emotional fragility he had in Batman Begins, utter despair at some situations he is faced with in the story, and even some small amount of playfulness when interacting with Selina Kyle and Alfred. Oldman shows us a man at the end of his rope, distraught over his decisions and wishing that he could take back everything that he has done to get Gotham to the point that they are at now. Anne Hathaway and Tom hardy were wild cards for me going into the movie, but I was pleasantly surprised. Anne handles Selina wonderfully, balancing fear, confidence, and a desire for a fresh start. She straddles the line between thief and hero with grace. Hardy is imposing as Bane, and even though you cannot see anything more than his eyes, he does a fantastic job of conveying the limited emotions that his character is asked to portray. He is calculating and immensely intelligent, as well as brutal when he feels he needs to be. I am glad that they re-dubbed his voice since the first trailer came out, and even though it is jarring at first, the voice carries a very creepy vibe that fits his character wonderfully. Even though I feel he is vastly underused, Michael Caine gives a masterful performance as Bruce’s surrogate father and conscience. His story makes perfect sense, but I longed to see more from him. Marion Cotillard’s character feels like nothing more than filler at the beginning, but as she becomes more involved in the story I really felt that she was a perfect choice for that particular role. And of course I would be remiss if I did not mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role. His character is one created exclusively for the story, and I love his passion and how John Blake (Levitt’s character) interacts with both Bruce Wayne and Batman.

I have seen some complaints that the fight scenes between Batman and Bane are weak at best, but I felt that they were filmed very well. There is no backing music in the first fight, and Nolan provides some very real body blows that I felt in my seat. And in final confrontation between Batman and Bane we see bane’s fury unleashed. In both I felt that Batman was in very real danger of losing. Hans Zimmer’s score fits very well with the mood of the movie. I have been listening to almost nothing else since last Tuesday, and though it felt weak and repetitive without context, it really does back the story up quite well. The action and effects of the film do not stray too far from reality (Nolan bends the rules, but does not break them too often), and though they are full of spectacle, they do not distract from the story. Nolan even manages to pick up on loose threads from Batman Begins that I did not realize were loose threads. Though the movie tests the boundaries of 2:30+, I really feel that Nolan needed to have such a long running film in order to fit everything in. And Nolan keeps up his penchant for twists, turns and surprises, one of which I (as a comic book fan) should have seen coming and did not. His characters are real, the emotions flow naturally, and the amazement and wonder that the movie produces are still with me as I type this review 3 days later.

There are a lot of themes that spring up in the movie that would make for great discussion from a Christian point of view. For instance, Bruce Wayne has retreated inside himself, and at one point in the movie he loses virtually everything. He feels like he has done all he can and rather than search for other ways to contribute (Alfred attempts to convince him to share his intelligence with the world rather than his body). Bruce and James Gordon both live every day remembering a lie that they told in the hopes of saving the city. But that lie has cost them both so very much that it has crippled both characters. Selina Kyle is searching for redemption and a fresh start, wanting to be able to leave her sinful past behind. Alfred desires to see his surrogate son step out of the shadows and find real joy in life, offering his many gifts to the world, not just to the police department. John Blake has come up from a very rough childhood to be an honorable police officer. He gives more than those around him, and has a real commitment to justice and the truth. Alfred has to deal with a lie of his own from The Dark Knight and states that he wants to allow the truth to stand for itself. Batman is faced with decisions about heroism and sacrifice that have to be answered in order to save Gotham from very real danger, and Batman even shares with Gordon that heroism is not always in the large gestures, but often is found in the smaller ones. There are also the themes of wealth, what to expect when society loses its footing, and what a commitment to justice looks like.

All in all, I find this film to be a fantastic finale to Nolan’s trilogy. Though it is unfair to compare it to The Dark Knight, it stands as a terrific film in its own right. I can see grand references to no less than three major Batman comic storylines (Knightfall, No Man’s Land and The Dark Knight Returns). It was the first midnight showing I have ever attended, and it was well worth my time and money. In fact, I plan on seeing it at least twice more in theaters, and will be waiting at midnight in the store to purchase the DVD. There are very few drawbacks to the film, and the good far outweighs the weaknesses. See it, and share your thoughts in the comments!