There’s two things you need to know about “The Dark Knight Rises.” Comparing it to “Marvel’s The Avengers” is pointless as they’re two vastly different takes on a superhero blockbuster. If you like great movies you’ll love “The Dark Knight Rises” just as much as “Avengers” — just in another way. Secondly, “TDKR” doesn’t reach the heights of the genre-challenging masterpiece that was “The Dark Knight,” but that was as flawless a movie you’ll ever see so there’s no shame coming up short to that lofty standard.
That said, “The Dark Knight Rises” is the kind of spectacular edge-of-your-seat epic that will have you hooked right from its jaw-dropping opening sequence and dare you to resist the urge to applaud once it’s finished.If I ever come close to Director/co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan, I’m going to give him a very long, awkward hug for making such an amazing Batman movie trilogy.
One reason is his genuine appreciation and respect for the source material. He uses some of the best, most challenging Batman comic books stories and somehow is always able to rise to the challenge of making movies you won’t want to end.
Just as “The Dark Knight” heavily drew inspiration from the acclaimed Batman tale, “The Long Halloween,” Nolan and brother/co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan adapt the classic story lines “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” for “TDKR” — a very ambitious undertaking as the complexity of juggling both required physically breaking Batman and laying waste to his home base of Gotham City.
You’ll need to see “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” to appreciate this one, but those movies are great and if you haven’t, you really need to watch them anyway just on GP.
It’s been eight years since “The Dark Knight” and Gotham has seen a drastic reduction in crime, but not without a cost. The weight of maintaining the lie of protecting fallen hero Harvey Dent’s image has worn on Gotham’s defenders.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, “The Fighter”) has gone into seclusion, rarely seen by anyone save his loyal confidant/butler, Alfred (Michael Caine, “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) and has abandoned his crime-fighting alter ego — The Batman. Bale, as always, commits to the physical requirements necessary for the role with a gaunt and weathered appearance and using a cane to convey that Batman has definitely seen better days.
Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy”) suffers more from an emotional standpoint as he’s conflicted with wanting to tell the truth of Dent’s fall from grace, but fearful of the negative repercussions of tarnishing Gotham’s “White Knight.”
Neither is prepared for the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy, “Inception”) — a former disciple of Batman’s mentor Ra’s Al Ghul — intent on carrying out Ra’s plan of destroying Gotham and its citizens for their unchecked decadence.
If The Joker was the hurricane running amok in Gotham in “The Dark Knight,” Bane is the precision laser strike attacking with ruthless efficiency. Donning a bear-trap-like mask that obscures most of his face, Hardy has limited ways to convey emotion, but he makes Bane a terrifying presence with the simplest gestures and an air of superiority of a man convinced he has no equal. Add in the nightmarish voice distortion and Bane truly becomes a memorable movie villain, so much so that the inclusion of Batman ally/villain Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, “One Day”) feels unnecessary.
Besides, Marion Cotillard (“Inception”) is way more intriguing as Wayne’s mysterious love interest/business partner Miranda Tate.
Hathaway is game, but she’s unable to make Kyle seem like anything more than a distraction from the better subplots, like the young cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50”), who has his own theories on Dent and Batman’s true legacy.
As Bane begins his assault on Gotham, Bruce slips back into the cape and cowl. Armed with The Bat — an attack helicopter courtesy of Waynetech developer Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, “Red”) — Batman thinks he’s ready to handle Gotham’s latest would-be conqueror.
But the long hiatus has dulled Batman’s skills and he finds himself no match for Bane’s physicality. Left broken and humbled, Bruce is helpless as Bane takes over Gotham, leaving it in a state of anarchy that can only be overcome if The Dark Knight rises once again.
Nolan is aided once again by an amazing score by the franchise’s unsung MVP — Hans Zimmer — who provides that extra oomph to make a strong scene powerful and helps make the audience feel a part of the experience and less like they’re just watching a movie.
While “The Dark Knight” was more of an actor’s showcase for Bale, Oldman, Caine, Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Heath Ledger, Nolan ups the action ante for TDKR. Each fight builds to the next so the best one is actually the climatic final conflict, not midway through the film.
It helps that Nolan understands how to convey the magnitude of his story, so even though you’ve seen the trailer with the sinking football field it’s still impressive. When The Bat soars through the sky, you’re not thinking, “that’s great CGI!” but are completely buying into this flying attack helicopter plowing through tanks and weaving around skyscrapers to avoid heat-seeking missiles.
Nolan shoots much of the Gotham post-Bane occupation during the day. It’s a subtle metaphor for Bruce having to emerge from the shadows and enter the light to save Gotham from the shroud of darkness left from “The Dark Knight.”
In a bit of a gamble, Nolan stages the film in a manner to build up to Bruce becoming Batman twice, but both times it’s amazingly effective and really makes you invest in Bruce’s hero journey.
This is the last hurrah for the Nolan/Bale pairing on Batman and it’s hard to see how they could have gone out any stronger. “Marvel’s The Avengers” just got some real competition for the best blockbuster of 2012. If for some reason this wasn’t on your summer must-see movie list, it’s time to change those plans and check it out as soon as possible.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10