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Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Updated on August 22, 2012

I saw The Dark Knight Rises opening night but it’s taken me the weekend to write this review. The general reason is that I haven’t been able to decide how I feel about the film. Since others have been quick about filling the internet with their opinions, I’ve been able to think about the movie as both a stand-alone and final of a trilogy. It hasn’t been easy, but I think I’ve figured out how I feel about the film.

It’s okay.

I think that’s been my biggest problem. I’m a passionate person and I tend to have strong, if irrational, feelings. I want to claim that the movie is either the worst thing to happen or the greatest superhero tale of all time, but I can’t. The things that are bad about the movie aren’t so bad to detract from the best parts, even if the best parts never truly reach silver screen heaven. I already know, from reading other reviews and talking to some people that most will love it, but say it’s not as good as The Dark Knight. They’ll be right, but not because the previous film is amazing, but because The Dark Knight Rises has simple problems that affect it as a movie, rather than a piece of the series.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman

The story takes place eight years after The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne has given up being Batman. Right there, I began to have issues because it seemed like the end of the second movie was to set Batman up as someone to be chased. Perhaps my expectations were wrong, but having Batman simply quit seems like a misunderstanding of the character. Batman Beyond gave us age and compromise as the reason, but The Dark Knight Rises simply gives us misdirection.

From there, the movie worked to restore my faith and I was satisfied for the first hour. Christian Bale is as great as ever as Batman, proving that he’s still the best actor to take the role yet. My biggest problem with the old movies is that they could never find a balanced actor. Michael Keaton could play a good Batman but not Wayne, Val Kilmer did a decent Wayne but a bad Batman, and George Clooney was terrible in both parts. Bale is able to play the perfect Wayne and a great Batman. He continues in this movie and it’s been one of the most consistent things about this trilogy.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman

Anne Hathaway proves she’s a better choice for Selina Kyle than we gave her credit for, even if she’s not perfect. She’s seductive enough, she plays a worldly Kyle well, but she’s never the strongest Catwoman there could be. I don’t know why they never call her that, by the way. They don’t mind names like Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow or Bane, but the idea of someone being called Catwoman is too much for Nolan, I suppose.

Tom Hardy as Bane
Tom Hardy as Bane

Tom Hardy is scary as Bane. Not scary like the Joker, in that you never know what he’s going to do, but scary in the same way nature can be terrifying. I feel like being in the same room with Bane would be like standing next to a grizzly bear; you can only hope he doesn’t tear your head off. His plans, which only make sense half the time, aren’t the real issue. Bane is a physical presence that Batman can’t take down with his fist. Bane is trained, he’s gigantic and he’s read his Knightfall homework. The first confrontation between Batman and Bane is hard to watch, as Batman is humbled in a painful way. I like seeing my heroes challenged, but anytime they're beaten up, I have a hard time watching. I won't lie, I winced more than a few times during the fight.

This is going to get painful.
This is going to get painful.

It’s from here, after Batman fights Bane, that the movie stumbles. Christopher Nolan is a director with an almost perfect sense of pacing, but The Dark Knight Rises seems to missing that element. The second act drags and it’s an unfamiliar feeling in this trilogy. The movie spends little time on Batman and focuses more on Gotham and the side characters we’ve met along the way. I don’t mind seeing Jim Gordon or John Blake play a bigger part but the movie isn’t about them. When the main character of a movie is absent for almost an entire act, something is wrong. If another movie tried this, they’d be torn apart, but Nolan will more or less go unscathed from this, since the masses are so easily pleased. I wanted to see Batman, not Joseph Gordon-Levitt, rise.

Fortunately, by the third act we get our hero back and the movie kicks back into high gear. The third act is great, with a great confrontation between Bane and Batman that gave me chills. The twist and reveal about certain characters might mean little to some viewers, but, as a Batman fan, I was thoroughly pleased. The chase near the end was one that had me on the edge of my seat and I was getting pretty emotional near the climax.

The movie and trilogy end in a weird way. There’s a winking at the camera moment that I was supposed to be pleased with but only annoyed me. In a way, it felt like the worst kind of pandering; acknowledgement but embarrassment. Batman’s fate, which I won’t spoil here, is one I was satisfied with, feeling like this series had earned they’re take on the character. The big legacy moment at the end wanted to be cool, but I just couldn’t get into it. Some will leave thinking it was the best thing since Gordon called Batman the Dark Knight, but not me.

I don’t want to sound like I hated this movie and my criticism seems to be winning out. There were parts of this movie that were wonderful, that had me cheering and smiling. Seeing a rusty Batman get back into the swing of things was fun and I liked the cameos that came along the way. It was perfectly acted, the score was great and Bane was a good villain whose voice isn’t as much of a big deal as has been made. The problem, for me, is that it wasn’t as satisfying as the first two films. It starts less than great, gets good, drops for an hour, and then picks up for the final. To get to my favorite moments, I’ll have to sit through two hours of an okay act.

I hate being this critical about the movie and it’s hard just to write it. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are some of my favorites; I never tire of watching the first one and the sequel deserves its reputation. To be bored, for a whole act, is almost unthinkable with these movies. Perhaps, with a shorter track time and more Batman, I would have loved this movie. As it is, it was okay. I’ll own it, and watch it a few times after, but never as much as the others. Compared to the third part of other trilogies, this is far beyond the standard. Compared to the others in its own series, it stumbles.


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