The Dark Knight Rises

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 27 July 2012
Category: Reviews Comments View Comments


Bruce Wayne is broken (and broke) and Batman has forsaken Gotham, though it hardly matters as the city has triumphantly combatted crime and sees itself liberated as a result of the legacy of Harvey Dent. This is Gotham, however, and a new villain who considers himself to be the true liberator of the people is heading to town in director Christopher Nolan's conclusion of the Batman trilogy.

The Dark Knight RisesIt's been a four year wait for the conclusion of the highly praised Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale. Unusually the second film improved upon the first so expectations have been high for The Dark Knight Rises to end the series in a spectacular fashion.

A suitably dramatic action sequence lays the groundwork for the story that's about to unfold, then follows with a series of scenes in which the principal characters - some new, some familiar and welcome - are introduced. There are occasional brief flashbacks from the second film, The Dark Knight (2008), to aid the viewer but unless you have seen it already they are likely not meaningful. However this does not matter too much. It helps to have seen the other two but it's not necessary as you can deduce the key issues without really needing to know specific details.

In any case, within minutes a new story begins to emerge, demanding rapt attention and, if enough attention is paid, fans will be treated to subtle nods to the previous movies as well as the comics (Knightfall in particular) as the trilogy heads for its epic conclusion.

The Dark Knight RisesThe story recommences eight years after the events depicted in The Dark Knight. The Dent Act, inspired by Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), has been enacted and as a result crime has been curbed in Gotham, which is no longer the dark, gritty city constantly under criminal siege. Dent is upheld as a hero, his legacy almost worshipped, while police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) continues to allow the truth of Dent's descent into madness and the emergence of his Two-Face persona to remain secret. Gordon feels that the revelation will destroy everything that has been built and that the public is not yet ready to hear and accept the truth.

Batman, meanwhile, has taken the blame for Dent's crimes and has vanished. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse in his manor, physically and emotionally broken. With, in his mind, nothing to live for - his imagined life with Rachel Dawes having come to a dramatic end in the previous film - he merely exists.

Two key characters from the Batman universe are introduced to movie-going audiences in this film - Bane (Tom Hardy) and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), better known as Catwoman - and they become catalysts for the re-emergence of Batman and the re-awakening of Bruce Wayne. Both characters fit effortlessly into Christopher Nolan's interpretation of the Batman universe but to my mind they are but echoes of their comic-based counterparts and therefore unsatisfying in that regard.

However, I've never felt that the casting for this run of the franchise was ever correct - close, in many cases, but never perfect. (In contrast, it felt as though Peter Jackson had pulled all the characters straight out of my head for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and I was always immensely pleased with the outcome of the casting choices.) While I grew to be content with most of the characters as portrayed, due to the skill of the seasoned actors cast in the various roles, I was always particularly disgruntled with the franchise's interpretation of the Scarecrow, my favourite villain, though not particularly with Cillian Murphy's portrayal.

The Dark Knight RisesIn this third movie Bane, in particular, is irksome. He has a formidable physical presence but it still isn't enough to embody the essence of the comic version of the character or provide the extra weight that an on-screen villain requires and, worse, he spends every scene he's in blathering on pompously, with Tom Hardy sounding remarkably as though he's embodying Ian McKellen channelling Gandalf who's speaking through a metal pipe. It's incredibly distracting and, to some, also occasionally incomprehensible.

Anne Hathaway fares a bit better as Catwoman but, as with Bane, it still feels wrong. I managed, however, to reinterpret her internally as a new character, rather than being bogged down by thoughts of her being not-quite Catwoman - Bane, at this point, already trying my patience in this regard - and from that perspective I enjoyed her performance although her stabs at feline femme fatale come off as petulant rather than sultry sensuality.

The other noteworthy newcomers to the cast are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as rookie cop John Blake; Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a member of the Wayne Enterprises board; Matthew Modine as deputy commissioner Peter Foley; Ben Mendelsohn as Bruce Wayne's business rival John Daggett; and Burn Gorman as Daggett's assistant Stryver. Each of these roles is crucial to the storyline and the respective actors do an excellent job in their portrayals with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, in particular, excelling and deserving more screen time.

The Dark Knight RisesAn excellent result of having cast such skilled actors in this film is that there are a few key scenes with fantastic emotional resonance that, for me, really set this film apart from its counterparts released in the past few years, such as the Avengers, which felt like a testosterone-fuelled boys' club of little substance. Though some may find that these scenes slow down the pace too much I found them to be welcome breaks from the action and well considered additions to flesh out characters and build a universe in which characters we care about are brought to life, feel, and think. At one point Bruce Wayne has a particularly poignant conversation with his butler and father-figure Alfred (Michael Caine) that is really pivotal to understanding their inner motivations and it is one of my favourite moments in the movie. Alfred also makes a number of astute observations throughout that really give you pause for thought regarding the contrast of being alive, versus living, and the importance of finding purpose and meaning. The movie is over two-and-a-half hours long but the filmmakers still considered these scenes important enough to include and I really appreciate that they did.

In terms of the technical aspects of the film I think the score, by Hans Zimmer, is not only the best part of the movie but some of the best work he's done in years - along with the score for Inception, another Christopher Nolan movie. The music is often understated, with prominent bass providing a soft undercurrent to a scene before the remaining instrumentals swell to enhance, though never overwhelm, the emotional resonance or enliven an action-packed moment. The music lingers in your mind well after the film is over, eventually forcing the residuals of Bane's peculiar cadence out of your head, which is a relief.

The Dark Knight RisesThe sound design and sound editing, too, are superb. I noticed it especially in the first screening I attended, in which the volume in the cinema was set just right (these days, an anomaly rather than the norm). The dialogue and action volumes are matched well and are never overwhelming and the actual sound design is well executed, notably when it comes to "The Bat", a new vehicle at Batman's disposal, and lots of rumbling bass underlying action sequences but, again, never overwhelming them. In the second screening the cinema's volume was too loud and it was amazing to see what a (negative) difference this makes to the work that the sound designers do, with subtleties - and much of their hard work - disappointingly drowned out by the assault on your ears.

The special effects are noteworthy in that, bar a few minor examples here and there, they don't stand out. It's not to say that they aren't spectacular - they certainly are - but they're integrated so seamlessly that you don't stop to think "wow, how did they do that?" because they've left you immersed in the movie, as they should. I am less enthused about the production design's location choices and the related cinematography, however. The less gritty Gotham, especially in the shots depicting the winter months, is stark and bland and unappealing, having lost its attractive noir edge, and I missed that immensely. Batman and Gotham are a package deal and both need to be depicted correctly for the whole to be fulfilling.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to the series though I personally did not like the choice of ending that plays out in the last few minutes. It doesn't affect the culmination of this film's storyline but the final moments of the trilogy's larger story could have gone one of two ways and I think the wrong choice was made - but this is something that can be debated at length, much like the meaning of the ending to Inception.

There are a few plot problems and mistakes, but they are minor, and there are some major deviations from the comics universe and rather loose interpretations of beloved characters, both of which are likely to irk hardcore fans, but the final product is a solid piece of stand-alone filmmaking that flows well, dramatically builds tension as it reaches the climax, and concludes in a relatively satisfying manner.

The review screening was courtesy of Nu Metro and the second screening was courtesy of Nokia and MTN. The Dark Knight Rises opens on circuit in South Africa today and is already on circuit in the US.

Tags: #screen, #speculative_fiction Opinion
Rating: 8/10
In One Word: Satisfying

Key Facts: The Dark Knight Rises
Year: 2012
Running Time: 164 minutes
Genre: action, crime, science fiction, speculative fiction, superhero
Format: Feature; Widescreen 2.35:1; Colour
Language: English
Country: USA
Director: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale ... Bruce Wayne
Gary Oldman ... Commissioner Gordon
Tom Hardy ... Bane
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... Blake
Anne Hathaway ... Selina Kyle
Marion Cotillard ... Miranda Tate
Morgan Freeman ... Fox
Michael Caine ... Alfred
Matthew Modine ... Peter Foley
Alon Moni Aboutboul ... Dr Pavel
Ben Mendelsohn ... Daggett
Burn Gorman ... Stryver
Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan (screenplay)
Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer (story)
Bob Kane (Batman characters)
Kevin De La Noy ... executive producer
Jordan Goldberg ... co-producer
Benjamin Melniker ... executive producer
Christopher Nolan ... producer
Charles Roven ... producer
Dileep Singh Rathore ... line producer: India
Emma Thomas ... producer
Thomas Tull ... executive producer
Michael E Uslan ... executive producer
Original Music: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Wally Pfister ... director of photography
Film Editing: Lee Smith
Casting: John Papsidera and Toby Whale
Production Design: Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh
Art Direction: Toby Britton, Kate Grimble, Zack Grobler, James Hambidge (supervising art director), Naaman Marshall (supervising art director), Jonathan Kevin Ong, Tom Still, Gerald Sullivan, Su Whitaker, Dean Wolcott, and Robert Woodruff
Set Decoration: Paki Smith
Costume Design: Lindy Hemming

[ full cast and crew ]

On The Internet

[ The Dark Knight Rises Official Movie Trailer: YouTube link ]

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