Editor’s note: This review is meant to be spoiler-free, but it does reference material seen in the previous Nolan Batman films and “The Dark Knight Rises” trailer.
This film is like the “through the looking glass” version of what was presented in “Batman Begins.” In other words, it returns full circle to be a twisted mirror opposite of that first origin story film (Hint: Definitely do not see this film unless you’re aware of the plot of at least “Batman Begins”). In the first film, Bruce Wayne was a bright, rich man playing the role of a philandering playboy. He was overly cocky, initially disinterested in his company and hellbent on revenge for his parents’ death. The police and the citizens were corrupt and hardly worth saving at the film’s onset. In this film, we return to Gotham in a time of peace, roughly eight years after Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes in “The Dark Knight” and disappeared. The people of Gotham have cleaned up their act, but now, we’re faced with a sad, reclusive Bruce Wayne. He’s moved on from letting revenge control him, but is weighed down by age and a sense of duty to live in punishment for Dent. He’s disinterested in his company, but for different reasons than his naivety displayed in the first film. Bruce Wayne has lost his spark even before meeting Bane. Bane was just the pebble that shattered already fractured glass.
Enter the young, idealistic cop, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Continuing the flipped mirror image theme, Blake’s story is eerily similar to Wayne’s. Both were orphaned at a young age as the result of violent crime, grew up in the same orphanage and went on to fight crime. Yet in seeing their similarities, we also really see just how much Wayne has changed. Though Wayne has stopped believing that Gotham needs Batman, Blake passionately differs. This character is a fiery heart to the film and fueled by the same ache of revenge that Wayne used to feel. Even when things look their bleakest, Blake is still fighting and believing in his hero. The story of Blake is by far the most fascinating and engaging storyline in the film. You think you’re watching the story of the superhero Batman, but really you’re watching the story of a regular guy caught up in super events. But as Batman himself is wise enough to point out, heroes come in all forms, even as a kind man wrapping a heartbroken boy in a coat.
Bane (Tom Hardy) is a formidable foe and though Ledger’s Joker is hard to top (because really what’s scarier than unpredictable crazy), the cold, calculating Bane does his bad guy job and he does it well. The Darth Vader voice effect mixed with a difficult to understand accent did make it a little frustrating to keep up with what Bane’s plan was as he was laying it out in the opening of the film, but it hardly matters. You didn’t really need to understand his dialogue to be scared by that guy and know that his piercing gaze meant bad news.
In fact, once the movie got past the complex and confusing opening 20 minutes of the film and had everyone in place and ready for action, it was practically perfect. My only complaints were minor. There were some out of the blue romances that the film would have been stronger without. Some characters felt flat in the busyness of the ambitious plot lines. Anne Hathaway is handed some cheese lines, which she handles surprisingly well as Selina Kyle (they never call her Catwoman). In fact, the complaints only exist because of the high bar already set by this saga. So even with a few rough edges to the movie, the whole last half of the film was a spectacular, bombastic journey that not only provides satisfying closure, but leaves plenty open for the imagination to continue to dream about Gotham adventures. I don’t want to say too much about the end of the film at risk of giving something away, but there are plenty of twists and even things that I thought were more fact than rumors that still managed to take me by surprise.
One surprising thing that I can talk about (and this isn’t a spoiler, just an adjustment) is how much of this film takes place during the day. In the prior films, Batman is an agent of the night and fights in shadows. But as Bane is quick to point out, the shadows don’t belong to Batman anymore, they belong to him. It was yet another big flip from the dark night scenes of the first films, but the fights against the stark white sky in a bleak Gotham managed to keep a grim atmosphere with an almost ironic sense of hope. The Nolan really thought a lot about the look of the film and the gritty imagery is really fantastically done. It’s worth noting that much of the film was shot using IMAX cameras and it is worth seeing on that big screen.
Finally, the score really helps carry the film and prevents it from ever reaching a lag. The infamous chant heard in trailers seems to initially be Bane’s anthem – often playing in dark, haunting chords whenever he’s on screen. But when it is later revealed that the chant means, “Rise,” the melody becomes something more.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is a fitting title for this film, but just like the “Rise” theme, it means a lot more than you think. And while it is bittersweet to say goodbye, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a great note to go out on.