Before digging into the film at hand with this review, we must say one thing. All of our thoughts, love, prayers and everything else we can remotely say are going out to those involved, remotely or directly, with the heinous shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado this weekend. Someone changed forever, and in some case took, the lives of those he shot (12 of which he killed, wounding 59), their families, the community, the theater, and frankly, this entire country with his actions. Cinema is second for right now. As great as the film may very well be, WHICH IT TRULY IS, this is far more important. Me personally, and I think I can safely say a lot of people, around this nation are angry, upset and sick at and by this situation. I can’t imagine what people directly affected by this are feeling, so all I’ll say is that we are all thinking of everyone involved and hope that for everyone, the cinema is still the place that you go to escape. I know that as long as I can remember, the theater has been as safe a place as my home. No jokes, no witty one liners, no analysis about this. Just anger. Just sadness. Just confusion. Thoughts and love are with all those involved.
Now here’s the review, as pointless as this day has made it seem.
Over a half a decade later, and while the road to this finale may have been fraught with rumors, vile Rotten Tomatoes commenters and some huge box office numbers, Christopher Nolan’s lovingly titled Dark Knight Trilogy comes to an end this weekend, as what can only be described as 2012’s biggest film. Helping to revive an entire generation’s love for comic book characters (along with the help of X-Men and Spider-Man) and their film adaptations, Nolan’s trilogy has always been leading to this point. Ending with our hero becoming the one that he may not want to be, but the one we need, 2008’s Dark Knight has always been pointing to this conclusion. A hero must always rise, right?
Oh, and what a way to rise, and what a way to leave cinema with one of the medium’s great action franchises.
Set eight years following the conclusion of Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises finds our hero, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a recluse, almost a shell of his former self. When a masked behemoth of a man, Bane (Tom Hardy) hits Gotham like a 99% wrecking ball, Wayne and his icon of an alter-ego, Batman, must fight one last time to save the city he so dearly loves. With the help of the always faithful Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), a young ‘hothead’ of a cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a few other characters who may or may not have vindictive motives, the caped crusader, like any good symbol, has one more fight left in him. And it’s a hell of a fight.
When discussing the finale, it’s nearly impossible to avoid mentioning the first entrants. Throughout his take on Batman, and truly his entire filmography, Nolan as a filmmaker has suffered from similar issues. Stilted final acts, cumbersome exposition and a dry, almost non-existent sense of humor, All of these issues (while having roots in this feature) are nearly unseen. Truly Nolan’s masterwork, it is his hand that is the strongest aspect, of not only this film, but the entire franchise as a whole.
Just look at the immense number of moving parts one must deal with. Two prior features, a character the entire world knows, a series of supporting characters who are all given, throughout the franchise, their time to shine, and a new handful of names that play out to be even more important than one could imagine. A lesser filmmaker would have given the film a haphazard final act, wrapping up a few arcs, leaving the viewer completely guessing as to what follows the final scene. Not Nolan. Not this film. Save for the dispatching of one character that is nearly despicable in how unfulfilling that narrative ultimately becomes, each member of this cast is given a final goodbye, and in the case of a few, a more than welcoming hellos to possible future outings. The script, yes, features a tad bit of exposition, particularly that dealing with the themes of the film, but for a nearly three hour long film, the first and final acts feel part of a film half its runtime. The second act, and it’s scatterbrained narrative leaping, is the film’s biggest flaw, nearly falling on its face in the lead up to what is an otherwise fulfilling conclusion to a film, a franchise, and a cinematic era.
Visually, Nolan is on the top of his game. Always a stylish filmmaker, Nolan amps up the action here, to levels not seen by the director, concluding with his attempt at taking on the recent onslaught of almost entirely action third acts in action films. Lacking the grand scope of something like The Avengers final sequences, Rises is a far more urgent and vital film, giving us a similar city’s downfall, but instead of aliens, steeping the film in a brooding sense of reality, a feature of this trilogy that has forever changed comics, comic films, and in many cases, action films in general. DP Wally Pfister’s strongest outing to date, the film’s dark toned photography is utterly stunning, and Nolan’s camera is as plaintive, well framed, and perfectly used as ever. An event film of the highest order, epic feature films are truly not made like this anymore, and frankly, this writer doubts if any franchise will be able to do what Nolan has done with his Bat trilogy for some years to come. Oh, and it only looks better in IMAX, easily one of the best uses of that format to date, particularly for feature narrative films, of which this is the pinnacle within that format, adding a tone and a mood to Nolan’s already visceral and vital framing and Pfister’s photography.
And as much as mainstays Pfister and Nolan truly were, the cast is equally as important. Thankfully, the lot of the returning cast, and a majority of the new faces, give their best work in the franchise to date. Bale has always been a rather intriguing Batman, but far more interesting a Bruce Wayne, and thankfully, that’s how he spends a majority of his time in this film. The dichotomy between he and the caped one is stark, but throughout this film, you are beginning to sense that the walls between the two parties are coming down.
Michael Caine as Alfred is Oscar-worthy, despite spending a half of the film off screen, as he gives one of the most on point performances, tonally, in this entire franchise’s run. The relationship between he and Bruce is slowly changing, and when the proverbial stuff hits the fan, it becomes the film’s most emotionally affecting moment, and possibly the franchise’s strongest sequence. Hardy plays a menacing Bane, despite spending the entire film (save for one shot) behind a mask, adding an air of attitude and massive charisma to a tough character. From a head nod, to the way he saunters about with his thumbs in his vest, you sense a true physicality behind the performance, giving what is akin to a voiced over silent performance, unlike anything we’ve seen in quite some time. Hathaway is great here as Selena Kyle, and, as always, the film’s rock Oldman as Gordon, is the film’s strongest performance. He adds in immense grace to a film that is otherwise dark as the night sky, giving us what is truly the entire franchise’s emotional center. Toss in a supporting cast including the likes of Morgan Freeman and even a top-notch Matthew Modine, the film’s cast is superb.
While the film’s second act falters, dragging what should be an all-time great lead-in to a capping of an era, and the screenplay doesn’t aid it very much, Dark Knight Rises is a film of the times, for the times. An ambitious, bombastic and in many cases long-winded meditation on Nolan’s go-to themes such as evil and heroism (paired perfectly with Hans Zimmer’s brilliantly schizophrenic score), but it’s also a grim and pitch-black look on corruption and with obvious tinges to the Occupy Movement (it’s tough to not at least mention it, so there, I did it), it rings as true as ever. Oozing ambition, The Dark Knight Rises is long in the tooth, but it’s also gorgeous, vital, visceral and most of all, it’s truly an important film both cinematically and culturally.