The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Review

Director Christopher Nolan brings his acclaimed, groundbreaking take on the 'Batman' legend to its epic conclusion in, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.
'Rises' picks up 8 years after the tragic events of ‘The Dark Knight’, which left our hero Batman (Christian Bale), a fugitive from the law, after he courageously took the fall for the murderous actions of the crazed and disfigured D.A, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Hollow and broken Bruce now lives a recluse existence in his mansion, shunning society after the death of his true love Rachael (Maggie Gyllenhaal). As for the people of Gotham, they are enjoying a time of unprecedented law and order, due to the use of a strict law (The Dent Act) that denies known criminals of parole, all of whom now reside in the maximum security prison Black Gate.

Of course the time eventually comes for that peace to be broken, as the mysterious masked psychopath known as Bane (Tom Hardy) sets his sights on Gotham and its people. Through various nefarious plans, he intends to cripple the city and ensnare its entire police force in a deadly underground trap. Can a broken Batman rise to this arduous challenge? Or will the fire engulf the entire city? 
After successfully reinventing the idea of what a Batman movie could be with 'Begins' (2005), Nolan took the character to even greater creative heights with its sequel 'TDK'. A movie many critics and fans consider to be the greatest superhero/comic book adaptation of all time. 'TDK', tore down many preconceptions and further advanced the genre, earning the first Oscar for an actor in a comic-book movie, with Heath Ledger 's iconic portrayal of The Joker.

Instead of bowing out while still on top - like many thought he should - Nolan finally agreed to complete his trilogy, except this time under considerable fan pressure. While the movie was in production, every aspect became overtly scrutinized, from casting to costume, every decision met with prejudice. Even after the films completion, 'Rises' became steeped in further controversy, as unseen levels of hostility met those who dared write any negative comments in regards to the film. Resulting in reviewers receiving numerous death threats from angered Bat fans, - most of whom hadn't even seen the movie - as well as inciting the rage of the most dreaded of all Internet trolls, the 'Nolanites'. The final horrible end to all this controversy came on July 20, when a gunman walked into a midnight showing of the film, in a theatre in Aurora Colorado, and opened fire on the audience. He managed to kill 12 people and injure 58, before he was apprehended by police.
Was 'Rises' doomed to controversy regardless of its content? Even without the outward interferences could it mange to break the most dreaded of all movie curses? The superhero trilogy curse. A plague that has infected every hero franchise without exception, since the dawn of the genre. A hex so heinous it brings a pained expression to any comic-book movie fans face, who will instantly start shaking their head in order to rid themselves of remembrance. So far there has yet to by a satisfactory and complete comic-book trilogy, that has not brought an end to the franchise without total humiliation.  From the abysmally silly shenanigans of 'Superman 3', the offensive Bat nipples of 'Batman Forever', "I’m the Juggernaut Bitch" of  'X-3' and the ugliest of all hero scars the Peter Parker street strut and final 'emo transformation in 'Spidey 3', cringe! With this legacy of shame looming large, has Nolan managed to avoid these past traps, or has his franchise floundered just like the others? 

Before I answer that question, lets first take a look back at what Nolan has achieved with his previous entries in the Batman 'movieverse'. They are two of the greatest and most successful cape and tights movies ever made. Featuring such innovative ideas as plot development and character arcs, elements that are too often forgotten in hero movies. This one-two filmic punch, brought a sophisticated edge to the term blockbuster not seen since the glory days of Spielberg. They weren’t the usual blue tights, tongue in cheek 'Superman/Spiderman' films, no, they were about a real person, with genuine, almost psychotic issues, fighting for justice, in a time of injustice. Sacrificing all his privileges to ensure his city was saved from the criminal organisations that robbed him of his parents. Of course, that’s not to say these were tedious high brow cinematic endeavors, that could only be understood by learned academics. No, that's what worked so well, they managed to bring lightness with the weighty themes. Showing a grown up confident swagger, while still essentially being huge, commercial blockbuster films. It may be hard now to remember, but at the time, both Warner Bros and Nolan were taking a big risk, as this new grounded take could have easily tanked with unappreciated audiences.
Helping Nolan in this mammoth task of delivering a satisfactory conclusion to his trilogy, was Brother Jonathon. The pair having first worked together on the structurally astounding 'Memento' (2000) a film based on a short story by Jonathon. 'Memento' is a prime example of the Nolan's greatest strength, weaving a complicated multi layered plot, into a compelling movie experience. Nolan expertly handles his brother's tale, knowing not to add unnecessary car chases, or action scenes, instead he lets Guy Pearce's Leonard Shelby's investigate plight, be an imaginative puzzle, wrapped around the always moving, forwards, backwards story, that twists around the audiences like a snake. It's this level of understanding pace and character arcs, along with relevant themes that really benefited the Nolan Batman movies. Here, brought to epic scale with their most ambitious plot yet.

I remember reading an interview with Nolan close to the release, he spoke passionately about wanting to make 'Rises' as rich and expansive as possible. He remarked about spending a lot of time watching classics like 'Metropolis' (1927), 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962) and reading such heavy tomes as 'A Tale of Two Cities', which he felt was a big influence on 'Rises'. So for better or worse we have the most story heavy 'Bat' flick yet, with characters and their arcs, fighting for every ounce of screen time available. This includes the introduction of new villains Bane, Talia Al Ghul, as well as allies like the slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle, Joesph Gordon Levitt as Tim Drake, and not to mention unfinished plot strands on Jim Gordon, Harvey Dent, Lucius fox and of course Bruce Wayne, The Batman himself.
When the announcement first came that Tom Hardy would take the role of Bane in TDKR, fans were left a bit dumbfounded. It wasn't necessarily the casting of the always impressive Hardy, but more the presence of Bane. How could a character like the brutish venom addicted Bane, fit logically in Nolan's gritty, realistic take on the Batman legend? The comic book inspiration has had only one really significant role in the Bat universe, as the instigator of the epic 'KnightFall' storyline, that brought about the infamous, 'Breaking of the Bat'. Nolan actually follows the 'Knightfall' story closer than many expected, using Hardy's Bane in a similar fashion, as a psychical tool to bring Batman to his knees, before the inevitable redemptive return. As for that unusual voice Hardy infuses in the character, to me it sounds like, an asthmatic Patrick Stewart, doing some sort of twisted Bela Lugosi impression, gotta say I'm a fan. It's this kind of over the top crazy addition that these movies need, not another safe bet by the book villain that plagues other such films. This adds a nice off kilter edge to Hardy's portrayal, which is suitably deranged, buffed, bruised, and lethal, commanding the screen as the verbally dexterous villain, who dazzles with his knock down visceral brawls with The Batman. Finally bringing some of the most accomplished fights scenes yet in a Nolan movie, these bust ups offer a true psychical threat for our hero, that has been sadly missing in the series thus far. The fight scenes in the previous Nolan movies - as they do partly here - have always been a source of contention for me. As they feature Batman taking on one armed thug at a time, as the rest of brutes dutifully wait one by one to attack, without opening fire on our hero. Had these fights been shown clearer, with a wider shot their true ridiculousness would be painfully revealed.

Possibly the most controversial addition to the cast has to be, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, simply named Selina Kyle here. Since the announcement of her involvement, it has generated some of the most hated out-cries from Bat fans. To them, Selina should be a strong, capable woman who can match Batman, both in strength and wit, little did they know Hathaway possessed all these qualities in spades. To her credit she never once buckled under the immense pressure built on the net, instead she kept her mind focused on the unenviable task. As well as the enormous pressure of filling the shoes, whip and claws of the iconic interpretation previously brought to the screen by Michelle Piffer in Tim Burton's fondly remembered, Gothic  sequel Batman Returns (1992). This was the performance to beat - lets just forget the Halle Berry incarnation shall we - and many, myself included, never thought the rom-com heavy Hathaway would rise to the challenge, how wrong we were. In fact her performance is so good, so committed, that she is one of the best additions to the franchise. Her Selina is all about others interpretations of her, how men see her as a victim, how Batman sees her as a troubled criminal, while in truth we never see the true woman behind the mask, she remains a mystery and is all the better for it.
Where Hathaway and Hardy met with contention in some form or another, Levitt and Marion Cotillard have been welcomed with open arms to the 'Nolanverse' by fans. Levitt's cop, like Cotillard's Tate were linked to many characters, before the final reveal, and for once Bat fans were actually right in spotting Nolan's rouse. While Levitt's Drake is a composite of many characters in the 'Knightfall' story line, it seems strange he would make that extra push and flat out call him Robin.

As for Cotillard's Miranda Tate, she was never going be anything else than Talia. It's just a pity her screen time is so sparse, like others from Oldman's Gordan there just isn't enough time to properly flesh out her role. This leads off balance leads to one of the worst moments in the film, the cringing rain soaked fire place love scene between her and Bruce. This brought to mind a similar tryst in the godawful 'Daredevil' movie and anything that brings that to mind id never good. Had Tate been closer to Wayne it might have made more of a narrative sense, as it is, it just feels completely uncharacteristic for both them, especially the broken Wayne, who is still mourning over Rachael.
Bruce Wayne/Batman has always played second fiddle to the villains in previous Bat movies. Not so in 'Nolanverse', as he was adamant that his films were essentially about Bruce and his journey from privilege to orphaned crime fighter, not the rogues gallery of colourful advisories. When 'Begins' was announced Bat fans were immensely pleased to learn the Dark Knight Mantle would be taken up by Bale. Who at the time had been making a name for himself as a sort of chameleon actor, who could lose himself within any role. 'American Psycho' (2000) would be a key turning point in Bale's career, finally earning him the respect he had been struggling to receive for years. His performance in 'Begins' brought an engaging pathos, to the plight of Bruce Wayne's transformation into Batman, along with an added edge of dangerous unpredictability.

Unfortunately somewhere along the way Bale has found himself out of favour with the people who called themselves fans. Starting with his bored and unengaged turn in 'Terminator 4', which led to the public joke of Bale’s melt down "You want me to trash your lights?". Since then he has struggled to reclaim his once bullet proof acting rep. This was further incised by his rough, barely audible interpretation of the Batman voice that seemed to reach even further inaudible depths in 'The Dark Knight'. Thankfully 'Rises' gives both Bruce and his alter ego the catharsis that has been sorely missing from non Nolan Batman features. Bale's scenes with a visibly shaken Alfred are some of the strongest of the series, giving a hefty dramatic lift to the ending funeral  and questionable, open ended reappearance.
While I see 'Begins' as the truest to the source material, its sequel and particularly 'Rises', are far removed from the Batman legend. For one, I don't think the comic-book incarnation of Batman would ever  hang up his cowl, no matter what he had lost. Nolan like Burton chooses instead to make his own telling, rather than adhering to the comics. 'The Dark Knight' was a crime thriller that dealt with corruption and politics, that just happened to have the character of Batman in it. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, on the contrary it’s a fantastic film, it just could have easily survived without Batman at its centre. On this account 'Rises' does return to the more 'comic-booky' feel of previous Bat films and I think this is where a lot of critics and some fans started to have a problem.

You see, Nolan was kind of the instigator of his own downfall, he publicly stated that these new Bat films were a realistic, true to life interpretation of the Batman. He spends a good portion of the first film, detrimentally explaining how Batman acquires each of his fantastical gadgets, and his moulding into the ethereal legend, he becomes. Then, like all good films the sequel had to expand to bigger and more awe inducing sights, it was here that the realism started to slip, and we're treated to reality bothering moments like the sky hook sequence, that’s always seems more Bond than Bat. This is particularly evident in the final 'sonar eyes' scene that ends the film, this sequence I think acted as the final nail in the realism coffin.
Instead of pulling things back, Nolan again ramped up the unbelievable, adding even more gadgets, vehicles and intruding wilder scenarios, characters and villains. Truthfully at this point the realism is most definitely gone, this is evidenced by the likes of the leg bracelet, that magically restores his cartilage, even when he's not wearing it, handy that. Bane's mask, ehh how does it work?  The unexplained super strength of Selina Kyle, the pit prison that can be climbed out of, complete with conveniently incarcerated chiropractors, and back fixing ropes. These elements just don’t sit right with this supposed realistic slant, hell it works for Batman and comic-book cinema, it's just that Nolan backed out of his promise. And then there's the matter of the Boy Wonder!

Like many, I had been following these movies since the beginning, soaking up every interview, every article, so yeah I remember what Nolan and co said, and I defiantly remember something along the lines of NO ROBIN! That's right, no sidekick, yet here he is, they could have used Jean-Paul Valley or Terry McGinnis, but no, Gordan Levitt is now Robin. Not even Dick Grayson, just plain old Robin, in case by calling him Dick we wouldn’t get it, thanks for pandering Nolan. I’m not against the character in the least and Levitt is one of the best elements in the movie, it's just why go back on your own ideals. It's these kind of cheesy, hokey half ideas that unnerve and grind in what could have been a complete and satisfying end. While there are out right moments of utter cringe like other mentioned trilogies, thankfully the good out weights the bad, but 'Rises' does come dangerously close to failing.
While the movie does have some serious story and concept problems - hey what blockbuster doesn't -  it just seems like a lot of these could have been easily fixed, had a little more thought been implemented. Still, to answer my own question I made earlier in this review, yes I do think Nolan has brought the first and completely successful superhero franchise to a close. That through the directors strict instructions will not have a sequel, or spin off, but will remain its own entity, free from further molestation. This will be the films greatest asset in time as expectations settle, 'Rises' will be looked on more favourably, without unreasonable hype. If you were left with any lingering doubts from your first viewing, I would heartily recommend revisiting the movie, as its dense themes and ideas need that second and hell even third viewing to fully sink in. 'Rises' like its name meets the challenge that Nolan set for himself  when he started, while it pales in comparison with its predecessor, it's still a moving, fantastical end to a spectacular series of films, that will not be easily outdone.