The Dark Knight Legend – the three films collectively – is many things. It’s the best superhero film series ever, in part because it functions well even outside the narrow confines of the superhero genre. It’s one of the best modern film series period. It’s one of the largest and sure to be one of the most enduring pop cultural phenomenons in history. But it’s also a statement, one that Christopher Nolan has made very well. That statement is “Batman” – more so than even the comic series that the films are based upon, these films capture the core essence of one of pop culture’s greatest icons. The Dark Knight Rises is the exclamation mark at the end of that statement.
This review will be entirely free of spoilers, out of respect to those who, not being the obsessive rabid fan that I am, did NOT see the film at midnight. I will be posting a second, spoiler-laden discussion of the film sometime later for those who would like to see that. In the meantime, let’s talk about the film.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: The Dark Knight Rises is not better than The Dark Knight. Where The Dark Knight has the benefit of being a self-contained tale, The Dark Knight Rises has to juggle the task of bringing the Batman legend to a satisfying close. And while it does that in spectacular fashion and in a way that should leave nobody disappointed in the proceedings, it feels very much like part of a series. It’s not necessarily a fault with the film that it depends so heavily on its predecessors, but because of that it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Nolan’s exceptional second entry into the franchise.
That said, the film does a lot of stuff really, really well. Let’s hit the big points, starting with the biggest surprise: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Hathaway has proven to be a somewhat inconsistent actress; while she has the talent to pull off incredible performances, she can sometimes give off the impression that she’s merely dialing it in. Naturally, I was wary going into the film that this would be the case, particularly with the trailers depicting some doomsaying from her character. I am happy to report that Hathaway’s performance is one of the highlights of the film, and is easily my favorite depiction of Catwoman on film. An interesting combination of controlling, clever and yet vulnerable, Hathaway is in many ways similar to Black Widow from this year’s The Avengers – but her less than heroic nature provides for a much more interesting character arc across the film.
Another surprise: Michael Caine. It’s not that we shouldn’t expect much out of the veteran actor – he’s done very well as Alfred in the first two films. But here, Caine manages to be incredibly moving to a degree that I had not expected. He’s given much less screentime than in previous films, but he does so much more with that screentime here than he did in Begins and Dark Knight. His role of dispensing advice to Bruce during the trials of the films is not quite the role he plays in Rises – but it’s best that way, and I shouldn’t say why in a spoiler free post.
I’d love to say a lot about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s turn as the Nolan-created police officer John Blake, but beyond saying his performance was typically wonderful, talking much about the role and what Gordon-Levitt brought to it would quickly divulge into spoiler territory. Look for more on that in the upcoming spoiler post.
Bane. Bane is fantastic. He’s the Bane that you know and love, the ruthlessly intelligent and physically terrifying Goliath that is every bit Batman’s ultimate match. He is not the mindless zombie Bane from Schumacher’s Batman and Robin – he is the perfect match for Wayne, and is a wonderful screen presence. Though the mask that covers his face ultimately makes it a bit difficult to give the character much development, Nolan works around that with an intriguing backstory to complement his present day menace.
If there is a major problem with The Dark Knight Rises, it is this – and it’s going to sound insane. It’s too short. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it doesn’t have enough time to do what it needs to do. It makes great use of its time – the last hour in particular is a wonderfully adrenaline fueled push toward the endgame – but the first hour and 45 minutes are rushed and cluttered to get there. It’s not too difficult to follow and it doesn’t sacrifice much character development, but the film could easily benefit from a few additional scenes here and there. I may be in the minority, but the film didn’t feel overlong to me at all – adding some time to flesh things out as it heads toward its ultimate and exciting conclusion would be a great benefit.
The Dark Knight Rises is a perfect conclusion to what is the best representation of what Batman is. While it may be rushed and rely a bit much on its predecessors, its one of the best rides you’ll have at the theater this year, and likely for a few years to come. Nolan is still the master, and he’s made a film that can stand proudly with its acclaimed predecessors.
* * * *