Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

There are two star ratings for this one. I went back and watched it a second time, and felt the need to address a couple of things.

That gale-force wind blowing outside your window is merely Christopher Nolan letting out a sigh of relief now that he’s officially finished with the “Batman” franchise. He has dealt with – and exceeded – unreasonable expectations from the moment he signed on to direct 2005’s “Batman Begins,” so you have to think that he is ecstatic to be moving on. Indeed, it appears that Nolan himself knew when he began work on “The Dark Knight Rises” that there was no way that he could one-up the relentless thrillfest that is “The Dark Knight,” so this time, he didn’t even try; instead, he chose to make a Big Statement about society as a whole, and shoehorned Bruce Wayne and friends into it. He may have stuck the landing – and he did – but it comes at the end of a very, very long routine. By the time it arrives, the audience is exhausted from watching. And not in a good way, like it was at the end of “The Dark Knight.”

Eight years after Batman took the fall for the crimes committed by former do-gooder district attorney Harvey “Two Face” Dent, Gotham is still enjoying a relatively crime-free existence, though the truth about that night’s events still eats at police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), meanwhile, has become a recluse now that the city no longer needs his alter ego, and Wayne Enterprises has suffered greatly as a result. Bruce abruptly finds himself back in the game, though, when a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) nicks some valuables from one of Bruce’s vaults. Selina doesn’t realize at the time that her job was a small part of a much larger plan devised by bulked up terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) to destroy the city in general, and Bruce in particular.

Most movies have a ‘B’ story that goes side by side with the ‘A’ story, but “The Dark Knight Rises” has an entire alphabet’s worth of sub-stories. Along with Selina and Bane, there is Bruce’s relationship with lifelong butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Jim Gordon’s guilt, righteous policeman John Blake’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) frustration with the force’s lack of results, and the blossoming love affair between Bruce and environmental rights activist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). That makes for a lot of plot, which is compounded when one of the characters receives an origin story to boot. And yet, while the movie would have greatly benefited from a shorter running time, it’s difficult to say what, if anything, should be removed. Everyone plays a vital role in the end, and to diminish their screen time in any way would jeopardize the impact of the third act.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Dark Knight Rises” is how unsurprising it is. Nolan usually has three or four tricks up his sleeve when shooting a film, but this time around, he has one, and the studio used it in the very first trailer cut for the film (the football stadium scene). He did add a new wrinkle with the Bat Bike, but there really isn’t anything here that Nolan didn’t do better in his first two “Batman” films (the flipped semi truck, the train crash, the hospital, etc.). It’s as carefully considered and well executed as those movies, but it’s all been done.

Sad to say, the acting follows suit, even with four Oscar winners in the cast. Bale is, well, Bale as Bruce Wayne, and Anne Hathaway was an inspired choice to play Selina Kyle (she’s a high-stakes grifter as opposed to Michelle Pfeiffer’s spurned secretary), but Gordon-Levitt is given very little to do as the impatient Blake, and Tom Hardy has to act with his mouth covered, which makes it difficult to do much acting. Matthew Modine, meanwhile, is pretty awful as a complacent lieutenant. It’s tempting to talk about Marion Cotillard, but…no.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is arguably Christopher Nolan’s weakest movie, but let’s put that in perspective: it’s still better than the best “Transformers” movie, and for all of the things that don’t work, give Nolan credit for not taking the easy way out. He aimed for something big, and that’s good; unfortunately for him, he bit off more than he could chew.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

P.S. I watched “The Dark Knight Rises” a second time, and it’s funny how much different the movie felt from the very beginning, once I knew where it was going and how it was going to get there. People who write about music don’t write their reviews based on one listen; they’re allowed to absorb the album and get to know it on an intimate level. People who write about movies, on the other hand, tend to regurgitate rather than absorb. We get one shot at forming what we hope will be an opinion that we can live with for the rest of our lives. This is one instance where I will readily admit that I didn’t get it quite right the first time.

This is not to say that the movie is a masterwork – Nolan leans on some plot devices that border on hoary, it could have benefited from some nips and tucks in the run time, and Bane is simply not as interesting of a character as the Joker – but take a step back, and the movie makes more sense. To those who saw “The Dark Knight Rises” and were disappointed, I say: I get it. But before you run to Twitter about how it’s the worst movie ever (it’s not, by the way), consider giving it a second chance. If anyone has earned that, it’s Christopher Nolan.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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