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The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

July 24, 2012

9/10 Occupied Gothams

Trilogies just don’t get much better.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after Batman put the kibosh on all of The Joker’s “disappearing pencil” tricks and kill-me/kill-you antics. The late Harvey Dent is still remembered as a hero, Batman’s on the lam and is nowhere to be found, and Bruce Wayne is holed up in his manor while Gotham enjoys its nonexistent crime rate. Life is pretty good until some musclehead with a muzzle named Bane shows up and begins plotting Gotham’s destruction from the underground up. As his plans take shape and Wayne Enterprises starts crumbling under its investments in a potentially catastrophic form of renewable energy, Master Bruce suits up with the help of some unlikely allies to save Gotham once more…hopefully without dying in the process.

If superhero trilogies have taught us anything over the years, it’s that superhero trilogies should just die. Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman III, Blade: Trinity – all great ways to ruin a good time, and exactly the reasons why I wasn’t more excited for this than, oh, I don’t know, Earth. Not to say I wasn’t excited, but with something this big, some lowered expectations are in order. All the same, we could go half glass-full, look at those sorry stats and say, “Well, there’s no way in Hell this could possibly be worse.” I don’t need to go into it, we all know those movies sucked. But thanks to our now-tarnished memories of Spider-Man 2, X-2, Superman II, and Blade II (I guess), it was hard to think back and say anything other than, “Why, God? WHY?!

To be honest, this thing was set up to fail in many of the same ways as its predecessors. Too many villains means too much going on, they couldn’t have hyped this up more if Morgan Freeman got replaced by Don King, and honestly, where do you go after Heath Ledger and a sequel that’s generally regarded as the greatest superhero movie of all-time? Yes, the red flags were flyin’ and my hopes were a-waning, but amidst all my skepticism and reservations, a voice of reassurance echoed through:

Trust, Aiden. Trust in Chris Nolan.

And those, boys and girls, are some words to live by.

As far as that first concern is concerned about all the good guys, bad guys, and random A-listers that have been added to the mix, it takes some getting used to. Without going into details and thus drafting the longest run-on sentence to ever grace a movie review, lots of characters means lots of sideplots, all of which get introduced early and only get further explained on a borderline need-to-know basis. It’s effective in that it keeps you in the dark and makes the big reveals that much bigger, and it would be a whole lot harder to overlook if the cast wasn’t so damn good. But for the first hour and change, this was one tough cookie to keep up with, so much so that I even thought about giving it a 7. I have my reasons.

The way this script is structured, it feels more reminiscent of Inception than it does the last two movies in this series. It brings an inordinate amount of content to the table, takes an inordinate amount of time getting everything in its right place, and then when the stage is finally set, it starts doing what it came to do. Now, among many other things, the beauty of The Dark Knight was how organically its plot flowed and the fluid pace at which The Joker kept playing the deck up his sleeve. If The Dark Knight was like speed chess in the park that escalated to Russian roulette every ten moves, The Dark Knight Rises is an untimed, world tournament match, but with a roided-up Bobby Fischer on end and a virus-ridden Deep Blue on the other. It doesn’t have that same “Pop quiz, Hotshot!“-adrenaline rush going for it, nor does the story feel seamless as it continues to unfold. And as a result, the complaints started piling up.

What’s up with Marion Cotillard, and why is she knocking boots with Bruce? Since when did Batman give a rat’s ass about renewable energy? What’s with Matthew Modine, and why is he such a dick? And seriously, why is Bane building an army of mole people?

For a while there, it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t doing much to redeem itself either. But then pieces found their squares, strategies were set in motion, and the complaints started disappearing. Not disappearing in the sense that the movie became so freaking good it simply negated everything that wasn’t good about it, but it actively started resolving issues and tying up loose ends that I initially thought were results of unusually shoddy writing. More than anything, this is what’s kept me grinning like a fanboy idiot over this movie in the days since I’ve seen it. It’s all about the last hour or so with this one, and I really don’t know what else to say about it other than that it flat-out effing rocks and totally redeems itself. Probably not the most highbrow way to describe it, but that’s what I keep muttering to myself every time I think about it.

Man, let me tell ya’, when Bane finally gets things rolling, he steamrolls that sucker in the most utterly soul-crushing, how-the-Hell-can-you-possible-undo-the-damage ways that I have never seen before in a movie. I don’t care how many Chitauri rolled up in The Avengers, ’cause let’s face it, things ain’t so bad when you’ve got the Norse god of lightning on your team. But this right here, this is some Empire shit. Kind of hard to watch considering that no New Yorker likes watching their home town get terrorized up the wahzoo, but hey, if you’re gonna end a trilogy, you gotta go epic.

The point: this is why you trust in Chris Nolan, because Chris Nolan knows what he’s doing. Dude is batting 1.000.

Adding to that, I feel like it’s unusual to find a film maker who clearly has such a respect and appreciation for the source material available to him. There was a whole lot of Year One in Batman Begins, there was a whole lot of Killing Joke in The Dark Knight, and now we’ve got his spin on Knightfall and No Man’s Land to play us out. I love how true he stays to the characters, how he turns them into believable people with eclectic wardrobes rather than the caricatures they started out as. I love his dynamic between Alfred and Bruce, and I loved how he wrapped everything up by making the first two movies such a big part of the last one. What Chris Nolan and his team have done to legitimize this genre and this character away from that of Hollywood cash-cow, popcorn fluff over the course of seven years is nothing short of invaluable and has changed the game for good. This is the kind of respect and appreciation that would do a whole lot of good for video game adaptations, but alas, another rant for another day.

I mean, come on, remember what a joke Bane was? Remember that, once upon a time and not too long ago, Batman was as cartoony as they come? Dolphins were throwing themselves in front of torpedoes, Ahnold was going mental on the ice puns, and, lest we forget, Bat nipples. But now Bane is more daunting and terrifying than he’s ever been, there’s not a cringe-worthy one-liner to be found, and the entire cast is phenomenal. More importantly, all of their characters do in fact become integral to the story. Really thought Anne Hathaway was gonna be the odd villain out as I had no idea how Catwoman was going to play into all of this, but she might be the best one of the bunch. Tom Hardy was a damn fine pick for Bane, but she was Selina Kyle through and through. Pretty fantastic how they worked in Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard as well.

Aside from being an outstanding superhero movie in its own right, the thing that strikes me about The Dark Knight Rises – along with the other two entries in this trilogy – is how outstanding it is as a movie, period. It’s almost hard to categorize it as a superhero movie because that’s not the way it’s approached. Instead of going the usual route by adding humanity to a superhuman story, it’s a decidedly human story and that rises (zing!) to extraordinary heights. The characters – costumes and all – have never felt like they were pulled from the pages of a comic book, and the world they live in is a mirror of our own. After all, that’s what’s so great about Batman to begin with: that he isn’t Kryptonian, that he has all the same strengths and weaknesses we do, that he’s more than just an archetype.

On its own merits, even if the plot could have benefited from Ockham’s Razor once in a while, The Dark Knight Rises is as satisfying and invigorating as they come. As the final entry in the series, it’s the perfect swan song to one of the greatest trilogies ever put to film. In an industry that’s only gotten more comfortable with rehashing old stories for the sheer sake of turning a profit, it’s not often to find one that’s not only necessary, but reinvents the wheel in the process. Unless there’s a legion of Batman & Robin fans I don’t know about, this was just what Batman needed, and if nothing else, that’s what we should remember it for.

Folks, what is not to love?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. ridinggreenpoint permalink
    July 24, 2012 10:41 am

    Not only did the plot spin on Knightfall and No Mans Land but also Dark Knight Returns, with an older retired Batman returning to the game, gets beat down by the new stronger and faster bad guy and then organizes an army to fight his goons. So many great nods to the comics.

    • July 25, 2012 11:31 am

      Good point, can’t believe I forgot about Dark Knight Returns. Been forever since I’ve read it though, and that sucker is awfully text-heavy if I’m not mistaken. All the same, Chris Nolan fucking rocks.

  2. July 24, 2012 3:30 pm

    I love your articles about movies. I found this website with great Movie Reviews at: Let me know what you think.

    • July 25, 2012 11:25 am

      Thanks! Unless I’m mistaken, isn’t that your own website that you found?

  3. Schlagdawg permalink
    July 24, 2012 10:18 pm

    So Aiden, if you were going to make a list of best trilogies all-time (consistent quality over the course of the three films being the most important factor i.e Godfather trilogy probably doesn’t make the cut due to #3), where does this rank? Which trilogies make the top five? Just something I’ve been wondering myself.

    • July 25, 2012 11:22 am

      That’s tough, because Jedi ruined Star Wars’ chances, and I wasn’t even the biggest fan of The Godfather Part II let alone III. But as far as top fives go, I guess it would look like this:

      Lord of the Rings
      New Batman Trilogy
      The Dollars Trilogy
      Evil Dead Trilogy
      Bourne Trilogy

      Although I do still need to finish the Three Colours trilogy. Will get back to you on that one. How about you?

      • Schlagdawg permalink
        July 25, 2012 2:08 pm

        I was wrestling with Lord of the Rings vs. Batman for the top spot. Even though I like Zimmer’s work, the soundtrack for LOTR is awesome-er. But does LOTR have any acting performances equal to the Joker/ Christian Bale? And then I thought about the difference in source material between the two (i.e. books vs. years of comic story lines to twist together)… I’m fine with them being 1A and 1B in the top five.

        As far as the others, I agree with Bourne, haven’t seen Dollars, Evil Dead, or Three Colours but on my to-see list. Possible additions/at least in top 10: Indiana Jones & Toy Story.

      • July 31, 2012 5:03 pm

        How the hell did I forget Toy Story…
        Might have to swap that in somewhere, maybe Bourne.

        It’s a tough call between Batman and LotR, and you really have to nitpick to find a victor. Lots of things to consider, but I agree, 1A & 1B are fine spots for them to be in.

    • May 14, 2013 1:02 pm

      I agree with LOTR #1, then DK trilogy #2. My list would be:
      Lord of the Rings
      Dark Knight
      Star Wars (original)
      Indiana Jones
      Jurassic Park ??

      Then somewhere down theres would be Toy Story and MAYBE Iron Man. If IM2 wasn’t so darn stupid I would probably put the trilogy in the top 5

      • May 14, 2013 1:19 pm

        Yeah, Iron Man 2 really screwed the pooch for that trilogy. And that’s a mighty fine list if I do say so myself. Can’t say I’ve seen the third JP movie though, haven’t exactly lost sleep over it either. You jazzed for JP4 next year (or at least I think it’s coming next year)?

  4. Branden permalink
    July 25, 2012 12:56 am

    I had the same problems with the movie. I thought this movie was better than Spider Man Redux, but not be much.

  5. Rob permalink
    July 26, 2012 3:26 pm

    Totally agree with your feelings on the pacing of the movie versus the second one. I’d love them to release an extended cut (if there is one). I don’t care if it pushes the movie over 3 hours so long as it rectifies the pacing.

  6. July 28, 2012 12:06 am

    Reblogged this on Ryaandavis.

  7. August 5, 2012 3:16 am

    I’ve just seen TDKR this afternoon. It’s a great film.
    Having a coffee and looking around the net to see what other people thought, I’m really struck by how many people have fixated on the flaws. How many plot holes? 5? 9? Any advance on 37 and a half? It’s not utterly watertight – how DID Bane learn the location of the Applied Sciences warehouse? – but the nitpicking seems way over the top. We can probably blame Prometheus for some of that.
    I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises. And I honestly didn’t expect to. Where “Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy” was concerned, I felt there was too much emphasis in the pre-publicity on Nolan and not enough on Knight. As the movie ended, however, I was content. Nolan had brought the story to a satisfactory conclusion. He hadn’t trashed the Batman mythos the way that (for example) the makers of John Carter did. The surprises were, for me, good surprises. Joshua Gordon-Levitt’s character was an intelligent introduction of the comic Robin into the realistic Nolan depiction of Batman’s world.
    What can we do with Batman after Christopher Nolan? Eventually someone will give us an answer. But we won’t be waiting for it as an antidote to a bad bat-memory, and for that more than anything, I say: Well done, Mister Nolan.

    • August 8, 2012 9:05 am

      It did have its share of nitpicky plotholes, but at the end of the day, who cares in light of everything else that was so great about it.

      And as for all the hype leading up to it and my own concerns with how much Nolan was taking on in terms of extra characters and A-list actors, you really do have to trust in Chris Nolan. Loved what he did with Gordon-Levitt’s and Cotillard’s characters. Hard to imagine the series continuing on from here at this kind of quality, but since there’s no way it won’t be continuing, let’s just hope we can trust in the next guy/gal who takes over. On the upside, there’s still a ton of material to draw from in terms of the Batman mythos.

      And I agree. Well done, Chris Nolan.

  8. August 8, 2012 9:48 am

    Great review. I’d give it the same grade you did, as I was not one bit disappointed by how the trilogy was ended:


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