While this review is written spoiler-free, certain elements of the plot are discussed or touched on briefly and carefully. Elements of the film that are revealed explicitly in trailers are mentioned for context, but should you wish to stay in the dark about the film entirely, proceed with caution.
The last film in a trilogy is a difficult film to make. On the one hand you have a director that is practiced at bringing the world of the previous films to life and a cast that easily settles into the characters they have spent the previous two films inhabiting. On the other hand, there are fan expectations, the need to be bigger and better than the previous two iterations and the extra responsibility of tying up the franchise.
The Matrix Trilogy suffered horribly after the first film, but particularly with Revolutions. Spider-Man 3 is a film best left ignored. The plot of Return Of The King ends 20 minutes before the credits roll. Even Return Of The Jedi has problems in the conclusion, particularly in the reworked version.
The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan’s last film in his Batman trilogy, suffers under the weight of its own ambition, but like its hero, manages to overcome its obstacles through sheer force of will. It’s a success, but one that stumbles along the way and ends up just shy of greatness.
It’s been 8 years since the events of The Dark Knight and Gotham City has been without a Batman for just as long. But a new evil is rising in the form of Bane, a terrifying mercenary whose endgame is unclear.
The series has always benefited from a strong, capable cast and this installment is no different. Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne as a broken, damaged person both physically and mentally. Michael Caine returns as Alfred Pennyworth, the series’ moral compass. Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman also make return appearances. But the real strength in the cast comes with the new additions.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stands out as John Blake, an officer on the GCPD who came up in the ranks during Batman’s absence. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is virtually the films only source of levity and the actress is equally capable of being a charismatic femme fatale one moment, but is equally capable of the physical presence required of her character.
Tom Hardy has the biggest challenge as Bane, who must be terrifying, cold and calculating, without being able to use the entirety of his face to convey his emotions. As a result, much of the fear Hardy instills is due to his substantial physical presence. It works, but at times the dub work on his voice is distracting.
In terms of actual filmmaking, Nolan is at the top of his game from a technical standpoint. Much of the film is shot on 70 mm IMAX film and it shows, not just in the visual quality and size of the frame, but in the film’s actual staging and blocking. At its best, The Dark Knight Rises feels like an old Hollywood epic, both in terms of its scale and the number of extras employed for several of the key scenes.
The biggest shortcoming is an uneven script that buckles under its own weight. The series has always dealt with larger themes and this one is no different. The first film focused on Bruce Wayne’s journey to become Batman. The second, on the consequences, both good and bad, of becoming Batman. And The Dark Knight Rises focuses on what happens when he chooses to stop. Each narrative has additional themes that mirror post-9/11 events, such as the ethics of spying on American citizens in The Dark Knight, but this film deals directly with the threat of actual occupation.
Throw in additional comments on the recent Occupy movement, the purpose of legend creation, and a redemption story both for individual characters and ideologies, and you have a pretty full plate. The problem is that with the expanded and added narrative weight, some of the plots aren’t given the room needed to expand and properly resolve.
The pacing is a bit off as well, especially during the first act, which struggles to introduce all of the new pieces onto the board, check in on the existing characters, and set up the action to come. The pacing issues persist throughout, even down to the film’s conclusion.
That said, when The Dark Knight Rises succeeds, it does so breathlessly. It is a huge film in both scope and scale and when the film fires on all cylinders, it is unparalleled. Shortcomings aside, The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to a trilogy that elevated the superhero genre to even greater heights.