Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Chris Bumbray's take)
PLOT: Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up his cowl and is living as a recluse- while Gotham City rebuilds itself under the guidance of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Batmanís forced to re-emerge after a masked mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy) begins committing random acts of terror throughout the city. But, in his dogged pursuit of Bane, and his preoccupation with jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Batman- after years of inactivity, makes a the fatal error of underestimating his new opponent- plunging Gotham City into a nightmare from which it may never escape.
REVIEW: I donít think anyone could argue that Christopher Nolanís take on the Batman saga has raised the bar against which blockbusters are judged. More than a hit, THE DARK KNIGHT was a pop-culture phenomenon. A follow-up was inevitable, but Nolan took his time to craft the conclusion to his trilogy. As a result, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES feels like an organic, natural end to an incredible series, and easily maintains the level of excellence weíve come to expect from not only the series, but from Nolan himself.
As you read this review, bear in mind that I was unable to see TDKR in IMAX, so when I tell you that it ruled me, youíll know that this isnít a knee-jerk reaction to whatís bound to be incredible eye candy on the giant IMAX screen. From the moment Hans Zimmerís anarchic, signature Dark Knight theme kicked in on the soundtrack over the opening logo, I was right back in Nolanís Bat-universe, which is right where I like to be. I went in with impossibly high expectations, but damn if Nolan didnít exceed them all.
If you re-watch the first two films before heading into TDKR, youíll get a lot more out of what Nolanís doing here. The focus here is where itís always been- squarely on Bruce Wayne. The villains and the action are secondary. While he was already good enough to be the best Batman we ever had in the other films, here- Baleís performance is even better, with him going through the wringer, emotionally and physically. Itís hard to get too much into it with heading into spoiler territory, but his arc here is positively epic.
Bringing the film in at just under three hours allows Nolan to give the Batman legend the epic finish it deserves, and like BEGINS, we get extended amounts of time with Bale out of the cowl. The entire midsection, following his initial battle with Bane is easily my favorite part of the film, with Wayne forced to rebuild himself physically and emotionally while trying to survive in a place that could literally be called hell on earth. If you enjoyed all of the League of Shadows stuff from BEGINS, this section will be a particular treat- with it culminating in a final revelation about the group that leads into the epic forty-five minute finale thatís such a pulse-pounding cinematic rush that I was literally out of breath by the time the credits rolled.
Like the other films, TDKR is also an ensemble piece, and everyone gets their due. Tom Hardy as Bane will no doubt suffer from the fact that everyone will be comparing him to Heath Ledger as The Joker, but to both Hardy and Nolanís credit- no attempt is ever made to shoehorn him into that mold. Yes, Ledger was great- but lightening doesnít strike twice. Rather, Bane is more in the mold of Liam Neesonís Raís Al Ghul, with him, in a way, being Batmanís freakish, evil alter-ego. If Bruce Wayne had stayed with the League of Shadows, he might have ended up like Bane. Hardy brings not only a truly demented sense of dedication to the part, but also a primal physicality that makes it believable that he could own Batman in a fight. Hidden behind a mask, Hardy has to do the majority of his acting with his eyes- which take on a cold, dead look- utterly devoid of any emotion- which is chilling. As for his voice- have no fear, Bane is easily understandable throughout (the opening was almost surely re-looped) and sounds a bit like his own BRONSON by way of Darth Vader.
Probably the best addition to the saga though has to be Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (whoís never called Catwoman)- a jewel thief whose dealings with Bane put her squarely on Batmanís radar. Sensing something within her that distinguishes her from the people she works for, Batman tries to bring her into the fold throughout the film, and Hathawayís performance is brilliant. Kyleís main motivation, above anything else is self-preservation, and unlike Pfeifferís approach to the part, sheís not unhinged in the least. In fact one could say sheís the sheís a lot saner than Bruce Wayne. Hathaway brings a lithe, ďcat-likeĒ grace to the part- that perfectly complements Bale and Hardyís brute force. Expect Hathaway to walk away from TDKR with mass-praise from both fans and critics.
Another new addition to the series is the luscious Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, who provides Bruce Wayne with a much needed, flesh and blood love interest. A billionaire philanthropist in her own right, her initial scenes opposite Bale are charming, with her figuring in a major way into the devastating conclusion.
All of the other key players from the franchise are back for TDKR. My only criticism might be that Alfred gets the shaft a bit, with his screen time being limited in this installment- but thatís only because I love me some Michael Caine. While he may not have much in terms of quantity, in quality he makes his presence felt, and his relationship as Wayneís surrogate father takes on an added dimension, with Alfredís increasing horror at the physical and emotional ravages Wayne suffers throughout being particularly affecting.
In terms of importance, the player to get the most screen-time is probably Gary Oldman as Gordon, who, along with his protťgť- John Blake- played by a really solid Joseph Gordon-Levitt, becomes a kind of Charles De Gaulle figure once Gotham falls into Baneís hands. Morgan Freeman is also back as Lucius Fox, although like Caine, he takes a bit of a backseat in this entry. Thereís only some much you can do in three hours, and if Nolan gave everyone his due- this film would have come in at four hours plus (which would have been fine with me).
Suffice to say, at 165 minutes, TDKR is packed to the brim with enough drama and spectacle for three movies. But- what I like most about these films is the fact that Nolan tends to hold back a bit on the action until the storyline has evolved in a way that gets us invested to the extent that when the action hits, it hits hard (and I do mean hard- as this really pushes the boundaries of PG-13). As such, the hand-to-hand bouts with Bane, and the final battle for Gotham City rank among the best action sequences of the last few years. Meanwhile, Hans Zimmer (co-composer James Newton Howard sits this one out) provides one of the best scores heís ever written, with it sounding a bit like an industrial take on John Barry. Truly, his work with Nolan has led to the best work of his career, and if you donít rush out and get your hands on the soundtrack after- you donít know good film music (I wish Zimmer would score a Bond film). Meanwhile, Wally Pfister, even in conventional 2:35:1 prints pulls off some incredible shots- although I wonít really be able to judge his work until I see the IMAX version.
In the end, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is everything that I hoped it would be and more. Looking at my ratings for the last few Nolan films, I notice that they have a knack for earning perfect scores- and thatís not going to change here. More than any other modern director save for maybe Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson and Nicholas Refn, Nolan has a talent for making exactly the types of films I crave. He brings a sense of art and spectacle to the blockbuster that calls to mind past greats like Stanley Kubrick and David Lean. While he may be done with the Batman series, I have a feeling Nolan himself is only getting started- and I canít wait to see what he does next. In the meantime, we can be grateful that we have yet another classic to obsess over.
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|Extra Tidbit:||My deepest condolences to the friends/families/victims of the shooting in Colorado. Truly a horrible thing that casts a terrible shadow over a great film.|