Movie Review > The Dark Knight Rises

Note: The movie’s been out for nearly a month now, so I’m not going to bother worrying about spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t click on the jump. You’ve been warned. –PG

The first trailer for the game Arkham City featured the song “Short Change Hero” by the band The Heavy. I’m a sucker for a well-made trailer, and I think the Arkham City trailer was a great thematic combination of music and visuals. The chorus features the line, “This ain’t no place for no hero” — possibly the best one-phrase summation of the theme of Christopher Nolan’s entire Batman trilogy.

By that I don’t mean that Gotham is an irredeemable hive of scum and villainy that any decent person should stay away from, which the song implies of Arkham City. Rather, the Nolan films seem to constantly question whether Gotham really needs someone to dress up like a bat and fight crime. I can’t help but think it does, though, what with the super-secret criminal organization bent on its destruction,* and that seems to be Nolan’s vaguely reluctant conclusion as well.

The Dark Knight Rises is the third film in the so-called Nolanverse, and it does suffer from Third Film Syndrome – too many ideas, too many characters, and too many story threads to tie up. It’s the least of the three films, but given how good the first two are, it’s not really that bad. It’s no X-Men: The Last Stand or Spider-man 3.

In some ways, Dark Knight Rises feels like a sequel to Batman Begins rather than The Dark Knight. It’s like Nolan veered off into a street-level, dirty little alley of a movie before returning to the (somewhat) lighter tone of the first film. I say this despite the fact that the circumstances for Gotham, its residents and its hero have never been so dire as in this film.

DKR borrows from a number of famous Batman storylines, including Knightfall, No Man’s Land and a little bit of Dark Knight Returns (particularly the moment where Batman, back in action after eight years, rockets past a couple of cops on the Batpod and the older cop says to the rookie, “You’re in for a hell of a show tonight, kid” or something to that effect), while bringing the Ra’s Al Ghul plot from the first film to a close. I can’t say I was too surprised by the “twist” – this movie is crammed with clunky foreshadowing, and the post-coital moment where the World’s Greatest Detective idly notes Miranda Tate’s scar is the worst of them – but it did bring the story full circle.

This was also the first Nolan Batman film where Batman sometimes seemed like the hero from the comics – particularly the scene where he and Catwoman fight their way through the sewers, and most of the fight scenes. It’s to Nolan’s credit he lets us see the fight scenes this time, rather than tossing up half-second close-ups of flying fists and elbows.

Bane’s voice seems to have been a tolerate-it-or-hate-it thing for most people. I would rather Bane have been Hispanic – Nolan robbed one of the most iconic Hispanic comic characters of his heritage – but at least they kept his intelligence. If anything, the Stephen-Fry-as-Jeeves voice seemed like an ill-advised attempt to replicate the iconic success of Heath Ledger’s creepy Joker voice. Nolan seemed to want to highlight the contrast between Bane’s manners and his brutality. Does it work? Not quite, I’d say. The voice became something of an unnecessary distraction.

One thing that did bother me, just as it did with Batman Begins, was the crazy science fiction MacGuffin the last act is based on. Rather than just have Bane steal a Russian nuke or something, Nolan has to weave in the tired “limitless energy source that could change the world” cliché we’ve already seen in Spider-Man 2 and both Iron Man films. Batman racing to stop the bomb is very similar to the race to stop Ra’s Al Ghul similarly nuts plan to vaporize Gotham’s water supply with a super-microwave that would evidently vaporize water in pipes but not human blood.

I feel like I’d have to see the movie again to decide how much I like it. There are some fantastic scenes, particularly the brutal first fight with Bane. Anne Hathaway’s presence as Selina Kyle adds two things to these movies that we rarely see in any Nolan work: humor and a strong female character who actually gets to do something. I can’t say she’s a better Catwoman than Michelle Pfeiffer – that may not be possible – but she’s a sexy, charismatic cat burglar and a decent romantic foil for Bale’s Batman.

Speaking of, there’s probably a bit too little of Batman/Bruce Wayne and a bit too much Officer Blake, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt is his likable self and does a good job in the role. That said, put me down as one of those who doesn’t need to see the future adventures of Robin, or whoever he becomes. Let the franchise take a few years off and then reboot.

* On a related note, I’ve never really understood how The Dark Knight‘s theme of “escalation” makes sense when said “escalation” is going from guy with limitless resources who nearly turns the city into a living hell of rioting psychotics versus a facepaint-wearing hobo who stabs a few people and tries to blow up a couple ships. On a side note, I was watching The Dark Knight recently and realized that as the Joker is standing around waiting to get picked up at the very beginning, he has his mask off, which means all the passers-by can see his clown paint. I suppose the Joker never cared about witnesses to his crimes, though.

Comments now closed (34)

  • Joker also blew up a hospital and a police station. The hospital was evacuated but the station sure wasn’t. He blew up a lot of stuff actually. He managed to hold Gotham hostage (a recurring theme in the nolanverse) but it was more by instilling a sense of chaos. He was definitely not just a common thug.

    • I just assumed that he didn't have his makeup for the bank heist, anyway, since he wanted to make sure his hirees didn't realize who he was.

      • But he did – remember when he takes it off in front of the FBI guy from Prison Break and says, "I believe what doesn't kill you only makes you stranger"?

    • Oh, definitely not. But I still don't think he represents "escalation" from Ra's Al Ghul's efforts, except for the fact that he was crazy enough to dress up in a costume. However, unlike Ra's, the Hoker did arguably exist as a response to Batman.

      But if you accept that, then the events of DKR aren't really "escalation," but rather just a continuation of the plan from the first film.

      • I would argue that Joker was an escalation. One of the reasons is that Joker was not a nameless, faceless criminal entity. I bet most of the police force in Gotham have no clue who Ra's Al Ghul is, or that it was his organization behind the fear toxin and microwave emitter. The people of Gotham had no idea that they had anything to be afraid of until the league of shadows pulled the trigger on their plan and scared the heck out of the city for a whole evening before being stopped.

        Joker addressed the public, caused random acts of violence and destruction, and gave the city something to fear for many months. He also pulled all the crime families together with one goal in mind, to kill the Batman.

        So, escalation? Maybe, maybe not. However Joker definitely had a bigger effect on the public and the police force.

        • Joker being escalation is borrowed from the comics Post-Crisis, where Gotham went from mobsters to supervillains with gimmicks. It doesn't work when the Joker shows up right after Batman has already faced Ra's al Ghul. There's a reason why in different tellings of the Batman mythos Ra's is one of the last major baddies introduced: he's on a global James Bond-villain level. So yeah, the movies try to make it work but it really doesn't because in all fairness Ra's would demolish whatever the Joker could do in no time flat, "chaos" be damned.

  • Great review, personallly i wasnt a huge fan of this film and had a lot of minor criticisms. It wasnt a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, it just wasnt the great epic finalie that i 1) hoped for, or 2) everyone i know claims it to be.

    Finally, Can someone PLEASE answer me why bane was shocked to see the firey bat signal on the bridge? If he was working with Talia (and with Talia when the fire started), and Talia was With Bruce earlier in the day before he got his batman gear, wouldnt she tell Bane that Bruce/Batman, the one man who might be able to stop them, was back? I refuse to beleive Talia didn’t know that Batman and Bruce Wayne were 1 and the same, and it just seems like a MASSIVE plot hole. aside from Bruce Wayne fixing a broken back with old man punches, push ups and a rope in 3 months.

    • Yeah. I have a feeling if I watch the film again, the whole Miranda Tate/Talia thing will seem even more problematic. That probably bothered me the most. Maybe it will turn out that it works somehow, but I have to see it again.

  • Oh btw, spoiler, Batman totally gives catwoman a pearl necklace at the end of the movie!

  • A) yes, the joker never cared on the exit. he only cared enough to scheme his way in, then all bets were off.

    B) officer blake was named robin, but it was pretty clear to me, IF they continue his story, that he was set up as batman. he didn't get the keys to the robin cave.

    C) anne hathaway blew michelle pfeiffer out of the water man. she toned down the sexy, true, but she captured the person so much better, there's no comparison for me. the scene w/ the rich guy's goons try to turn the table on her was friggin magic. michelle could not have pulled that off if you'd have promised her extra points on the fabulous baker boys blu-ray release.

    D) the bomb/power supply was indeed a sad macguffin, proving that nolan is indeed human. i can't help but wonder when he reaches the m night schyamalan point where we stop believing he's the film messiah and realize that we've bought tickets to the same movie for the 4th time. cuz i think it's coming… soon.

    E) Bane's voice was modeled on an irish traveler who was a bare knuckle boxing champ… filtered through the mask of course. i found myself feeling like there several scenes where the audio didn't match bane's body language… i don't know if it was my viewing alone having an audio sync problem, or (since no other characters/scenes had that problem) if bane was supposed to, as a social "outsider" he didn't develop the same body language the rest of us did? anyway, i'm fine w/ them altering the voice, just like i'd be cool if they made a black wonder woman… i'm not convinced his ethnicity is as central to the character as his background, which they likewise revised to no one's consternation… so i guess i don't get the hullabaloo. i liked tom's performance overall, he had a great air of menace, and carried himself w/ the confidence of a true world beater.

    F) i was not as happy w/ the fight scenes as you were apparently. i'm an mma fan, so i like seeing all the fight. we didn't get that, and it's a movie, these guys aren't real fighters, so i don't expect that per se… but man, i watch some of the old bruce lee flicks and i'm impressed by how many of his fights were done in distant shots w/ continuous filming, so like a real fight, you saw the whole thing. i wish they had done that, since bane's not at all about flair or flash, he's about beating some ass. there's no other super power there, he just beats some ass. so please, for the love of all that's precious and good… show him beating him ass!!! long, continuous shots of him destroying a platoon of cops and then stomping batman like it's a weekend hobby.

    G) i feel like this was a much better movie that people are giving it credit for. i do, truthfully, think it was better than the dark knight, because people only remember the heath ledger portions of that film, which were excellent, but the whole subplot w/ the asian businessman/crook? that was shit. utter shit. i don't think DKR had that same sub-par sub-plot. i think, as time passes, and especially once the re-views start coming in from the dvd release, the overall perception of this will exceed the other two entries in the franchise… sans ledger's joker, which was far away the best material filmed for these… films.

    thank, thank you, three times thank you for posting this… i've been DYING to discuss this film w/ other people, but have tried to be as respectful as i can of those who haven't seen it… but discussing a movie without spoilers is a giant pain in the tits. let me wrap my rant here by saying this movie, while very good all the way around, this was the frickin michael caine show. holy CRAP was he perfect. i feel like, in this movie, he won the roll away from michael gough, who up until now i felt was the perfect alfred. but man, caine was a tour de force. he made me cry, twice.

    • "anne hathaway blew michelle pfeiffer out of the water man. she toned down the sexy, true, but she captured the person so much better, there's no comparison for me."

      I could not disagree more. For all the cartoony silliness of her origin and the distracting self-consciousness of her feminist catch-phrases, Michelle Pfeiffer's Selina Kyle is an absolutely haunting character. Watch the scene where she dances with Bruce; she is so convincing as a woman losing her sanity that it is almost uncomfortable to watch. Hathaway was just sort of there, for me at least.

    • I totally agree about Anne Hathaway. I thought she was surprisingly good in this. I mean, I have seen her – and liked her – in other films, but she was fantastic in this.

      And this: "i can't help but wonder when he reaches the m night schyamalan point where we stop believing he's the film messiah and realize that we've bought tickets to the same movie for the 4th time. cuz i think it's coming… soon." Agreed. I actually thought DKR was a better, more focused (no pun intended) film than Dark Knight – which, despite having some brilliant elements (including Ledger's amazing performance), felt like a clumsy, cluttered mess to me. I think people will get tired of Nolan's tinkering around in his toy box of philosophical symbolism and half-baked psychobabble.

      And I too was troubled by Bane's voice. Frequently, when he was speaking, I was taken out of the movie by just how 'off' it sounded. Not only did it seem not to match Hardy's actions, the way the sound was handled in the mix, it didn't seem to exist in the same physical space as the action. And, yes, the ridiculous voice itself seemed like a caricature of every over-the-top Daniel Day Lewis performance rolled into one.

  • You know Bane’s dad in the comics is a blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy from Britain, right?

    • King Snake, yes. Fully aware of that long before this movie. I still wish Bane had been portrayed as Hispanic, at least culturally. It's not a huge criticism, I like the way he was portrayed in the film.

  • I liked DKR a lot, and Nolan's whole trilogy as a whole…but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to a reboot. I would love to see a Batman we haven't seen in movies yet: one that could move, that was agile and could turn his neck and wasn't always armored-up. And that was a detective, and would never quit no matter what. (How many Batman movies have him throw in the towel? Too many.)

    Think less Frank Miller, more Jim Aparo or Marshall Rogers or Alan Davis or Norm Breyfogle…!

    • Yes! Couldn't agree more. Wasn't that talked about at some point? I seem to recall Brubaker mentioning once that, after the success of Smallville, someone was interested in producing it.

  • I thought it was a very mediocre movie, for pretty much every reason Poe states – goofy plot (and this is the third major terrorist plot against Gotham in as many movies, can't we get something different?) poorly executed Talia "twist", too much Blake (who felt like a Nolan pet character) and not enough Bats, and a ridiculous Bane voice that just robbed his scenes of any drama. Also, boy was the ending to his story anti-climatic – he gets blown apart by a bat-cannon and never heard from again. And Talia dies in a car crash. Just not what I was expecting there.

    It wasn't a bad movie, and, like Poe said, it was no SM3 or X3. I just don't think it was this titanic send-off that everyone says it was. I definitely don't want to see Nolan's universe continued. Also, is anybody else put off about how this supposedly realism driven universe (Catwoman is never called such by name) is undermined by the central premise – a billionaire in a batsuit beating up criminals, not to mention all the ludicrous League of Shadows plots? That always just bugged me when people would say stuff like Robin is too unrealistic to be accurately portrayed in Nolan's movies, but a crazy billionaire flying around in the snowspeeder from Empire Strikes Back totally fits.

  • I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm curious. After Avengers, no other superhero movie is needed this year.

    But to be honest, I'm more than a little sick of Batman. TDK remains, IMHO, an average movie with too much Joker and not nearly enough Batman, and I've never been a fan of superhero movies taking things too seriously or trying too hard to be "realistic".

    Also, all the hype around Nolan easily keeps me away. Don´t even mention the Ledger hype after TDK…

  • I have three problems with the film, all of them minor.

    A) How does Bruce get from the prison to the heavily secured Gotham with no supplies in less than a day?

    B) I get the “no Joker double or cameo out of respect for Heath” but a throwaway “This is where the Joker is” line would have been much appreciated since he’s clearly got Arkham patients like Scarecrow running around. The Joker he set up in the 2nd film is not one that would have kept his nose out of that situation so a token line of dialogue to explain why he was nowhere to be seen would have been nice.

    C) Bane’s lines are a little too obviously redubbed. In the plane his voice track is clearly overlayed over the sound of the wind that’s muffling everyone else’s voice. And throughout the rest of the movie Hardy clearly delivered his lines in a mumbling style, not the grand oration that comes out. You can tell just by watching his jaw when he talks. It doesn’t move nearly enough for him to be shouting or speaking loudly.

    Still, I loved the movie.

    • I get the feeling that the Scarecrow scenes started with the Joker in mind. The Joker as a mock judge seems to make more thematic sense. Plus it happened in that one animated series episode.

  • The story borrows more from Batman: The Cult (an under-appreciated classic) by Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson than No Man's Land. Not only did Starlin and Wrightson's story come first, but it also includes the story ideas of 1) Gordon shot and in the hospital when Batman stops by to tell him he's back to take care of business, 2) an army of the downtrodden take over Gotham,and 3) not to mention the very specific image of law enforcement infiltrators being publicly hung.

  • I'm hoping for a Reboot. I'm tired of the dark and gritty moping of the last three movies. Did I enjoy Nolan's trilogy YES. Do I want a Robin as Batman movie NO. I know it will never happen but I would like the next Batman to more like the one we got in Arkham Asylum & City. Nolan's Batman could never be part of the Justice League. The Arkham Batman would fit right in.

  • I loved this movie, I loved the voice and accent, I wasn't blown away by the fight scenes but I enjoyed them, I thought Anne Hathaway was a fantastic catwoman who was neither better nor worse than Pfeiffer, but refreshingly different. I hate to say it, Poe, but your opinions on the site are getting pretty consistently negative, and it's kind of a downer.