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***We ran Max’s review of The Dark Knight Rises on Monday. That review, which follows this paragraph, is the same, but we’ve added more thoughts from the Player Affinity Movies Team at the bottom of the page.
In a relatively short amount of time, much has been said about The Dark Knight Rises, opinions ranging from bloated and meandering to grand and stunning. Our first initial review noted that the entry was the “Return of the Jedi” of Nolan’s trilogy.
The short of it is that, yes, The Dark Knight will remain the crown jewel of Nolan’s trilogy, but that doesn’t mean “Rises” is a step backwards in terms of quality (like “Jedi”). Instead, it puts its massive, Bane-sized foot down as the conclusion to Bruce Wayne’s story arc established by Christopher Nolan and company in 2005’s Batman Begins and does so in a method that is as intimate as it is grand. It isn’t The Dark Knight, but it ranks ahead of Batman Begins and provides a remarkable ending to the Nolan trilogy.
If there are any complaints of the film, the first word mentioned is “pacing” and admittedly, the first half hour does stumble a few times (despite a dazzling opening sequence introducing Bane) as it settles us back into Nolan’s Gotham and catches us up with Wayne, Alfred (Michael Caine, in strong form) and Gordon (Gary Oldman). For a movie running nearly three hours, a sense of dragging rarely comes even in its fractured opening act. Once Bane makes his move on Gotham (notably at the Stock Exchange), things are continually moving/barreling forward.
Like any Nolan film, there has to be a theme at the center of the story to connect back to the human condition. If Batman Begins focused on fear and The Dark Knight centered on chaos then The Dark Knight Rises is all about pain and suffering. How do we confront it? How do we endure it? What are our breaking points? How do we move forward, if we can at all? Nearly all of the characters involved suffer some form of pain and loss, and the manner each of them deals with it make for an engaging ensemble.
Which is what “Rises” is — an ensemble film. In a relatively short amount of time, Nolan has established himself as a burgeoning master of sprawling casts and characters, giving each of his players time to grow and shine in their own way, even if “Rises” comes down to three main players: Batman, Bane and Catwoman. The heart of the movie belongs (thankfully) to Bale’s best turn as Wayne/Batman. One of the biggest complaints of detractors of The Dark Knight was how the film took the focus off Batman and threw the spotlight on Heath Ledger’s legendary turn as The Joker. This time out, Bale is front and center, bringing the arc of Wayne’s journey to a close with depth, power and respect for the character he helped revitalize. Naysayers of his “Bat-Growl” won’t be happy, but frankly, get over it. His journey from self-imposed exile to Gotham’s renewed dark defender runs deep, notably in scenes between Wayne and Alfred.
Having to follow Ledger’s Joker is a tall order that can’t be matched, but Hardy still makes a fantastic impression as Bane. Existing in Nolan’s universe, Hardy’s Bane is not the steroid-infused Venom addict of comic-lore, but a hulking presence with a methodical mind matched by his brutality, masked with a slightly genial voice and (sometimes) polite mannerisms. Despite having the bulk of his face covered for the film, Hardy shows he can do more with his eyes and voice than many actors of his generation can do with their entire face. Unlike Wayne at the start of the film, Bane has every confidence of who he is, his plan for Gotham and the motivations behind him. Uncovering Bane’s origin through the film only amplifies Hardy’s performance in a way audiences couldn’t get with The Joker. It probably didn’t help that Joker kept changing his origin story.
The third spotlight shines brightly on Hathaway’s turn as Selina Kyle/Catwoman (though she’s never called Catwoman in the film). Arguably the most controversial casting in the film, many doubters are likely to eat their words once Hathaway breaks onto the screen, dripping with charisma. Given how much of the film is about pain, her turn as Kyle offers some much needed playfulness in the film’s first act. Though she (and others) fall slightly by the wayside during the second act, she never feels like she has truly disappeared and we’re always glad to see her when she does. She’s isn’t Michelle Pfeiffer, but neither is anybody else. This is Nolan’s Bat-verse and within it, Hathaway’s Catwoman makes great sense and use of her talents, sex appeal and relationship with the Batman as she and Bale have excellent chemistry.
One other new addition to the cast worth mentioning is the beat cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), where I found I had the most problems with the film’s pacing. Sharing a similar ideology to Batman, Blake is a rookie “hot-head” who finds it increasingly difficult to fight crime under the restrictions imposed on him as a cop. Levitt is in great form, though it feels like much of his storyline could’ve been done by Selina Kyle. Blake’s presence in the film feels like it was only done to serve something in the third act that is likely to piss comic-fans off as it feels a touch tacked on. He isn’t a bad a character nor is it a bad performance, but Blake’s inclusion in the cast of already colorful characters feels bland and a bit forced by comparison, killing some (but not too much) of the momentum that builds in the film’s second act.
Like any Nolan film, you have characters that stand around exchanging dialogue that is less conversational and more idealistic/philosophical. Yet “Rises” feels less like a debate of ideologies (see Batman Begins) and more of an all-out brawl of both bodies and souls. You’ll still get your monologuing, but don’t be surprised if it ends with someone’s bones cracking. Despite not having any blood or Tarantino-esque imagery, the violence of “Rises” is high and it doesn’t take much for your mind to fill in the gaps of how much blood would be running in the streets during the film’s climax.
On a technical note, if you are able, this film has to be experienced in IMAX. With over an hour of footage shot using IMAX cameras, the scope of Nolan’s vision is matched by the literal scope of the film’s opening, Batman’s first encounter with Bane, Bane’s attack on the city and the film’s climax. In short, they’re sheer joys to experience on a screen six stories tall.
Like “Begins” and “Knight”, “Rises” is not a perfect film. It has it’s share of plotholes and there may be one too many threads at play that affect the film’s opening pacing. But while The Dark Knight elevated the series (and comic films in general) to that of a crime saga, The Dark Knight Rises is much more of a graphic novel-style approach, which can make it seem worse than its predecessor — an unfair judgement.
On a singular standpoint, Nolan and company have crafted a true epic. On a trilogy standpoint, “Rises” combines the themes of Batman Begins with the scale of The Dark Knight, turning them up to 11 in the process. In the end, The Dark Knight Rises pays great respect to the Batman mythos while providing a grand ending to the first truly great comic film trilogy. Bravo, Mr. Nolan. Rating: 9/10
Sam’s Rating: 8/10 – Sam wrote the intial review of The Dark Knight Rises, which you can read here.
Simon thought: “As an epitaph for the journey now crowned The Dark Knight Trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s epic is satisfying, ambitious and grand – and also the worst of the three. However, that’s as far from an insult as possible; consider it the least able to find its path without a map. What makes The Dark Knight Rises so special is how gorgeously it slips into place in the trilogy. In the process of wrapping up events, it’s able to make itself and its predecessors all the more stunning as an overarching achievement. Great performances throughout (from newcomers and existing players) a gorgeously realized bleakness unlike anything you’ve seen in a superhero film and some immensely gratifying final scenes make The Dark Knight Rises a film you won’t soon forget.” Rating: 8.5/10
Julian thought: “The Dark Knight Rises promised to be all that and a bag of chips. Unfortunately, it feels only like the chips — and they’re stale. As the film begins, Bruce Wayne has locked himself inside his gargantuan house but must confront his decisions as Bane threatens Gotham. He must also deal with thief Selina Kyle and her deceits, businessperson Miranda Tate and her zeal for clean energy, and his levelheaded butler Alfred and his severely mixed messages about his own psychological dilemmas. If that makes “Rises” sound like something of a mess, you’d be correct. Even with its brilliant new additions – Anne Hathaway slyly bringing Selina Kyle to life, Marion Cotillard giving another underrated performance as Miranda Tate, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cop whose presence feels peculiar even after certain reveals – the film is exponentially bloated, only handling the Bruce Wayne vs. Batman dilemma inside Wayne’s mind with brilliance mostly thanks to Christian Bale’s great leading work. Other aspects are murky at best and incomprehensible at worst. Despite its stellar ensemble cast and gorgeously shots from Wally Pfister, Rises fails to live up to its title due to its messy story.” Rating: 5.5/10
Steven thought: “With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has chosen to complete his trilogy rather than deliver The Dark Knight a third adventure. It’s this sacrifice that makes the film the poorest of the three as an individual film, yet so satisfying. The more you put this epic, high-stakes and constantly engaging finale into context, the better it gets. The trilogy is nothing without it, and that’s what this film celebrates — the completion of Nolan’s vision for Batman. The jumbled storylines and plot contrivances are as big as the film itself, all of them working toward the ending that has been carefully selected as the proper to note to end the trilogy on, and boy, does it ever. That’s likely how The Dark Knight Rises will go down in history.” Rating: 9/10
John thought: “With The Dark Knight Rises, the stirring finale to the wildly successful post-millennial Batman trilogy, Nolan laughs in the face of staggeringly high expectations and gives us perhaps the grandest of all superhero movies. The movie itself is this big, hulking monster—not unlike its main villain—but its flaws are masked by unparalleled scope, genuine unpredictability, and an obvious passion on the part of the filmmakers, the cast, and those viewers who’ve been with the series for seven years now. The performances are top-notch all around, with Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy standing out. And the action is more intense than ever before, as Batman/Bruce Wayne is forced to emotionally unmask himself to take down his most dangerous enemy so far. This is the end, folks, and it’s a better, more satisfying end than we could have ever hoped for.” Rating: 10/10
Kieran thought: “The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest link in trilogy, but the difference is marginal. Although it is sad to see the series end and there is a lot I would have liked to have seen in the Nolan-verse, Nolan needs to be commended for elevating the blockbuster to intelligential levels and for bringing back physical effects for action scenes. There are plenty of ideas for people to sink their teeth into as well: the continuing use of fear, the way of hope can be used, identity and how movements and ideologies can be hijacked. There are little titbits that add to the experience upon a second viewing. To me Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a clear influence, using many ideas and story elements from the graphic novel. Hardy, Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt were all great additions to the series, particularly Hardy, who was a compelling villain, offering Batman his greatest physical threat. There are problems, some plot holes and Cotillard suffers by being giving dialogue simply for exposition, but The Dark Knight Rises is still one of the best movies of 2012.” Rating: 10/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating