Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

It’s here. What almost certainly amounts to the most anticipated film of the year has finally hit screens worldwide. I’ve seen it twice and I will admit that the second viewing made me change the score I was going to give it.

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Starring:
Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
Director:
Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception)
Rating: M
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TDKR_Poster

It is finished. The most critically lauded superhero trilogy of all time is done and dusted, wrapped up with considerable skill by visionary director Christopher Nolan, who rebooted the Batman film license back in 2005 with Batman Begins. The Dark Knight Rises is a visual, audio and psychological tour de force that demands to be seen by any self-respecting film fan. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the second film in said trilogy, 2008’s The Dark Knight, it comes incredibly close and won’t hurt Nolan‘s already very impressive resume.

Despite the fact that all three of Nolan‘s Batman films focus on a similar group of characters, each has its own distinct tone that mines from a different sub-genre of action movie. Begins is a superhero origin story without much “super”, packed with dirt and grime and dripping with gothic undertones. Knight is a thrilling heist flick featuring one of the most arresting villains ever seen on the big screen and a killer mid-movie twist. Rises is an investigation of economic turmoil and the moral shades of grey it can promote. It is a tale of fantastical revolution both relevant to our uncertain modern times and inspired (as Nolan himself admits) by classic works such as Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities and Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis.

It is a thinker’s film covering acres of emotional ground, though it packs plenty of bombastic action set pieces as well. For every awesome Batpod drift turn and airborne missile chase, there’s a powerful emotional sequence featuring exemplary character acting. The dark knight himself does have some new toys to play with, one of which is a direct nod to the ever-present accessibility of digital information in today’s society, but it is Nolan‘s characters that remain the most engaging part of the viewing experience. One relatively early scene in particular packs quite an intimate punch, as Christian Bale‘s Bruce Wayne and Michael Caine‘s Alfred go toe to toe verbally in a dull corridor. It is a powerful reminder of the acting chops of both performers and it left me reeling.

The two major newcomers to the franchise leave a real impression as well, as they needed to given the hype stakes associated with TDKR. Tom Hardy is genuinely intimidating as Bane, no mean feat considering most of his face is covered by a mask for virtually the entire movie. Using only his eyes, his voice and his walk, Hardy crafts a villain more than a match for Batman both physically and intellectually. Anne Hathaway‘s Selina Kyle (essentially Catwoman, though the movie never uses that word) is the film’s biggest surprise, at least in my opinion. She plays a dual role: desperate realist thief with ambiguous morals and costumed badass with silken confidence and a snappy wit. The believable way she switches between the two sells the character and adds another layer to the film’s intrigue. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard handle their new civilian roles with aplomb as well.

Speaking of layers, TDKR‘s score is a wonderful part of the reason why it works so well as a concluding chapter of the trilogy. Hans Zimmer‘s musical variations on the film’s main motifs leave audio clues to certain plot points while driving home others in spectacular fashion. Bane’s theme, for example, is an ominous chant that is re-arranged at different points throughout the film to reflect adrenaline, despair and then hope. There are two especially affecting uses of music though: the first, during a central underground action sequence, is a clever absence of score altogether, and the second is a timely reprise of the main theme from Batman Begins in all its swelling glory following an emotional triumph.

If there is one worthwhile complaint to be levelled at TDKR, it is its run time. At almost three hours long, the film is quite an odyssey in itself and this leads to some weird pacing issues. Though it moves pretty quickly for such a long story, it also takes perhaps a little too long to establish all of its many plot threads early on. This draws some (ultimately inconsequential) plot holes into sharper relief later in the piece and also means that at least two major characters have to take an extended break from screen time. Rabid fans of The Dark Knight, which managed its slightly shorter length impeccably well, may notice this more than others. The issue barely affects the way everything comes together in the end, though, which is very, very nicely.

A handful of memorable cameos from the first two films. A selection of throwaway one-liners referencing Batman’s comic book universe. A bevy of plot twists serving the devoted fan of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as well as the attentive regular cinema-goer. Plenty of reward for repeat viewings. One hell of an ending. These things and more add to Christopher Nolan‘s superb directing of acting talent, action set pieces and musical application to deliver a fitting conclusion to what must now rank as one of the greatest cinematic trilogies of all time. The Dark Knight Rises is a movie event that I feel privileged to be able to watch in my own lifetime.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Masterful direction of action and dialogue, strong performances, emotional and twisty story, wonderful application of music, satisfying closure
Bad:
A little too long
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5 VsP H E N O M E N A L

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