The final film in a trilogy has so much at stake going for it. Not only do they have to tie everything together in a satisfactory way, they must do so in a way that justifies everything that has been built up towards the conclusion. With Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, the stakes were raised so highly, both canonically and critically with 2008's The Dark Knight. While the film ended in a manner that set itself up for a third and final entry to Nolan's brilliant take on Batman mythos, it's hard to deny that Heath Ledger's spectacular portrayal of Batman's greatest nemesis, The Joker, would be hard to follow.
Did The Dark Knight Rises bring proper closure to everything Nolan and company has pieced together? More importantly, was it better than The Dark Knight? The answer may surprise you.
The Dark Knight Rises
[Note: The next paragraph involves a basic, spoiler-free summary of the plot. I recommend skipping over it if you want to enter the film with a clear mind.]
Eight years have passed since Harvey Dent was killed and thusly immortalized by the city of Gotham. With Batman victimized and accused of Dent's murder, he nor Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) have been seen since. During that time, Gotham has changed dramatically with the enactment of The Dent Act, which heavily cuts down on organized crime, essentially justifying Batman's disappearance. However, he is forced to make a return after the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) attacks the stock exchange. With the help of the cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Wayne discovers a more complicated, intricate plot than what Gotham and Batman have ever faced before.
With The Dark Knight Rises purported to be Nolan's final film in the franchise, he definitely raised the bar in all manners of speaking, both in terms of story and cast. Besides the Batman staples of Bale, Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Nolan brought in the aforementioned Hathaway, as well as a few Inception alumni in Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), and aforementioned Hardy. Simply put, this was the most talented cast Nolan has put together for any of his Batman films.
However, specific praise goes to Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of JGL, but his depiction as a Gotham City police officer was one of the highlights of the film. In a film where superheroes and supervillains are waging a city-wide war against one another, it's hard for a lowly officer to rise above it and steal the spotlight. Yet Gordon-Levitt stepped up to the plate and delivered. Sure, this could be due in part to his surprisingly substantial screen time, but it's hard to justify using such a talented actor in a minor role.
Likewise, Hathaway's depiction as Selina Kyle/Catwoman was another standout performance. Primarily known as a drama actress, she shows off her action chops in The Dark Knight Rises. She's all high kicks and crafty maneuvering, yet still graceful and sexy. I guess that basically sums up the typical Catwoman, right? I've been following Hathaway's career for awhile now and it's great to see that she can more than adequately turn in an amazing action role. While not trying to make a very pointed "attack" of sorts against The Avengers, I feel that Hathaway has more of a future in action films than Scarlett Johansson does.
Despite The Dark Knight Rises being a superhero film, the action is somewhat lacking. Or rather, the action scenes aren't as prevalent throughout, as the film has more of an internal struggle, psychological tone to it. Bruce Wayne seriously questions why he is Batman, why Gotham City needs Batman, and whether or not he can successfully be Batman once more. There are chases and brawls, of course, but the main conflict is not really Batman vs. Bane (despite some of the most important scenes involving the two), but Bruce Wayne vs. himself. While I enjoyed the change of pace, those that are expecting constant explosions may feel let down.
Visually-speaking, the film is sound. The opening scene was absolutely amazing, with Nolan drawing inspiration from a certain film to set the tone. You may have seen images of "The Bat," Batman's flying vehicle. Despite what Inception may have made you think, Nolan has a penchant for using physical imagery rather than computer-generated imagery, so the scenes involving The Bat were composed thanks to wires and other manners. In this day and age of over-prevalent CGI, to have something as large as The Bat physically shot was a great change of pace that helped establish the universe's realism. Also, it goes without saying, but audiences owe it to themselves to watch the film on a true IMAX screen.
Where the visuals are great, the sound editing is atrocious. When the first trailer was released, the internet was in an uproar over the mixing of Bane's lines. Unfortunately, the volume levels are still off. It could potentially just have been my theater's sound system, but I honestly couldn't understand 75% of what Bane was saying. It's not that his volume levels weren't mixed properly (although a bit of a filter would help), but the fact that they were just set too high/loud. Nolan specifically stated that he would only slightly alter Bane's voice, but whatever he did wasn't enough. It could perhaps lead to an indirect boost in ticket sales when audiences are forced to return to second and third showings to truly comprehend what he's saying. I'm joking about his intentions, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's exactly what happens.
Furthermore, a lot of hype will surround Hardy's depiction of Bane and whether or not his performance will be able to overshadow Ledger's Joker. In short, he doesn't; it's not due to any shortcomings of Hardy's performance, but because of how amazing Ledger's performance was. The Nolan brothers certainly made an attempt to pen a script worthy enough to close the trilogy off by creating a larger threat than The Joker. While Bane does prove to be a larger foil to Batman, both physically and psychologically, he just feels more like a cog in a larger system, whereas The Joker always felt like the true menace. Since the stakes are higher, the scope has to be enlarged to incorporate that. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow The Dark Knight Rises to be as tight of a film as it could have been.
Does The Dark Knight Rises successfully bring closure to Nolan's trilogy? In short, yes it does. However, because of the nature of The Dark Knight and how amazing that film was, The Dark Knight Rises falls in comparison to its predecessor. Yet, it's still highly-recommended, especially with how much audiences have invested into the series going into this final film. What Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, and the rest of the cast have done with their Batman trilogy was create a universe and character that I've felt truly interested in that almost seven decades of comic books were never able to do. If this is truly Nolan's last Batman film, it's safe to say that his run will stand the test of time as one of the best Batman projects of any media.
Matthew Razak: The Dark Knight Rises isn't The Dark Knight and it is all the better for it. Instead of trying to top his previous film Christopher Nolan did the only thing that would actually work: he made a completely different movie. Dark Knight was a character study and Rises is an action movie; both are really good, but just in different ways. The long running time means a lot goes on in the movie, and possibly a bit too much with the female characters falling by the wayside. However, the film is still a fantastic conclusion to the trilogy and a seriously impressive feat. See it in true IMAX if you can. 82 -Great