What is arguably the most anticipated comic book movie of the past decade arrives in theaters this week. Christopher Nolan’s final film in his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, has an unbelievable amount of hype behind it, and there’s been a great deal of wondering if his third film in the franchise will be able to not only live up to expectations, but deliver a competent and complete finale to a (so far) stellar series. After seeing the film last night, it’s clear that Nolan hasn’t lost his touch, and though The Dark Knight Rises isn’t without its issues, Nolan’s swan song is easily the most impressive Bat-film to date.
Read on for our 100% spoiler-free review of The Dark Knight Rises.
The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
Simply put, there are a lot of elements at play in The Dark Knight Rises. With Nolan officially leaving the character after this film, there is a lot of ground for him to cover in giving his final say on Batman. Building on the character as he’s previously been established in the Nolan-verse in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, there is undeniably a consistent growth and maturation of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne across all three movies. TDKR presents a big challenge though, as there are more characters with more motivations than Nolan has previously had to juggle. The weight of too many plot points just about buried the conclusion of The Dark Knight, and too much of TDKR relies on the silly decision Batman makes to take the fall for Harvey Dent’s death at the end of Dark Knight. I have to give Nolan credit for sticking to his mission statement, misguided as it may be, but there are points in TDKR where relating back to that poorly thought out plot point from the previous film confuses the events of this one.
As great as it was to watch Nolan deliver a tour de force of a finale, The Dark Knight Rises runs a little long. Certain sequences in the middle of the movie aren’t nearly tight enough, and leave you wondering if Nolan’s self-editing switch had been turned to “off.” Merely tightening up three or four sequences in the film would have shorted the run time by anywhere from 15-25 minutes. The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, and at times really does feel like an eternity. The first and third acts absolutely fly past though, which is great because the movie doesn’t waste much time getting started, and the conclusion will have you on the edge of your seat for the entire duration. It’s unfortunate then that so much of the second act drags, but the overall film isn’t ruined by the pacing.
With a cast as talented as the one Nolan recruited for The Dark Knight Rises, it’s easy to see why he wanted to spend so much time with each and every character. Christian Bale is excellent, as always, as are Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. New additions like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard add a new perspective to the world we haven’t yet seen. Gordon-Levitt is unfortunately the bearer of one of the film’s more head-scratching scenes, but outside of one brief, maddening moment, he’s a youthful breath of fresh air in the darkened city. Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway both deliver strong performances. While I certainly can understand some people having an issue with hearing Bane’s dialogue, I found Hardy’s take on the character to be quite good, even if the Nolan brothers’ plotting makes Bane’s message a little mixed at times. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is nearly note perfect, and she effortlessly portrays what makes Catwoman so attractive and compelling.
Christopher Nolan has grown into a rather good action film director over the course of these Batman films, and The Dark Knight Rises does not disappoint in that regard. Though Nolan goes easy on the throttle for nearly 2/3 of the movie, the last 40 minutes are as tightly wound and explosive as anything Nolan has done before. The scale of the final conflict is massive, and Hans Zimmer’s score accentuates each and every moment with a sense of urgency and awe. The final moments of The Dark Knight were impressive for being tense and rife with drama. The final moments of TDKR deliver a full-on spectacle that fans have been waiting for since the trilogy began. There are still Nolan-esque character moments scattered throughout The Dark Knight Rises, but this is easily the most “summer blockbuster” Nolan has ever gotten. And that’s a good thing.
As swan songs go, The Dark Knight Rises is as impressive as any film in recent memory. Sure, the movie isn’t as tight as it could have been, but Nolan’s last word on Batman will go down as one of the definitive takes on not just the character, but superheroes in general. The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t just live up to the hype, it surpasses it. A better conclusion could not have been given, and Nolan’s final film is not only accessible to newcomers, but rife with moments longtime fans will get a lot of joy seeing on the big screen. I feel bad for whoever has to take up the next Batman film, as once the credits hit, Nolan effectively drops the mic, and storms off stage without uttering a single word.
The Dark Knight Rises is rated PG-13, and arrives in US theaters July 20, in both regular and IMAX screenings.