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MOVIE REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

With it being seven years in the making, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy finally comes to a close with The Dark Knight Rises. The third act in what is arguably the best set of Batman movies to grace the silver screen opened this weekend to what seems to be insane numbers at the box office. But, was this due to the outstanding hype that surrounds any film Nolan works on? Or did the movie actually earn the craze that it is receiving? Well, I’m here to give you my thoughts and my thoughts alone on the film. Which means that none of the questions I posed above will be answered. Hey, you asked for it when you came here. It’s too late now, sit back down, take your hand off of the mouse and just let the review take you to places that are probably not as eerie and strange as I am leading you to believe with this long-winded intro. What were we talking about? Oh yeah! BATMAN!

Just a fair warning, this is a very SPOILER HEAVY review. So, if you haven’t had the chance to watch the movie yet, I suggest you check it out before reading any further.

Where we last left off in the story of The Dark Knight, things were not looking too bright for the Batman. As a result of a devious scheme by The Joker, Bruce lost the one woman he loved, Rachel Dawes, and the knight in shining armor known as Harvey Dent fell hard from his pedastal and threatened to kill Commissioner Gordon’s family. Batman interfered and in the process killed Harvey Dent, who was now known as Two-Face. Batman realized that the city needed a real hero who wasn’t afraid to show his face, so he told Gordon to paint the scenario to the media in favor of Harvey Dent, saying that he died protecting his city and that Batman had killed him. Taking the blame on himself, Batman vanished into thin air.

And, that pretty much brings us to the present. It’s 8 years after the events of the previous movie and both Bruce Wayne and Batman are nowhere to be seen. But, the city has been cleaned up quite a bit due to initiative called the Dent Act, pushed forward by Gordon. The citizens of Gotham City once again feel safe and confident in their Police Department. But this also means that during a time of peace, war dogs like Gordon are no longer needed or seen as necessary to carry out the law. This dynamic seemed very interesting to me. Gordon has been fighting hard for years to clean up the streets of Gotham. He knows the tricks of the trade and has a keen sense as a detective. So when the crime has been toned down significantly, he finds that old habits die hard. And everyone else around him feels like he’s overreacting. As we’ll see later in the film, this proves to be a grave mistake on everyone else’s part, except for a  police officer by the name of John Blake.

During a function dedicated to the memory of Harvey Dent, a congressman goes missing and Gordon follows the trail to the undergrounds sewers of Gotham. He is captured and shot by Bane but found by Blake, who he promotes to detective since he finds him the only cop who gives a damn nowadays. Realizing that they would need help in facing Bane, both Gordon and Blake try to convince Bruce that he should return as Batman. But, without the will to live after Rachel’s death and with his body in shambles and unable to even walk, Bruce refuses.

The one thing that bothered me throughout this movie was Blake’s attempt at convincing Bruce to don the cape once again. It sort of came out of nowhere that he knew who Bruce really was. He mentions that he knew exactly who he was as soon as he saw him, that he knew the face of someone who lost their parents and were angry about it. But, it made it sound like he just knew what kind of person he was. There wasn’t much in the way of explaining how Blake deduced that he was in fact Batman. It was almost like I missed some side-story attached to the film. Knowing who he really is by the end of it, it makes a bit more sense as to how Blake put two and two together. But, I feel like the execution of that scene jumped a few minor details that would help us figure out how he knew from the start but no one else did. Maybe I missed a crucial line or something that would clear that up straight away. Hopefully, you guys can help me in that department.

So, Bruce pretty much refuses, but with his company down the drain and Gordon in the hospital, he had to do something. He goes to visit and gets a bit of encouragement to go after Bane. He tries and barely escapes unscathed, and this infuriates Alfred who is tired of seeing him suffer. He leaves in hopes that it would lead to Bruce coming to his senses and giving up a life of crime-fighting to lead a normal life. That’s harder than it looks though.

With a rival businessman, John Daggett, vying for complete control of Wayne Enterprises and Bane plotting to drain the funds of the company and steal all of his artillery from  “Applied Science Division” of the company, Bruce has no choice but to hand over full control of the company to Miranda Tate, who has been interested in expanding the alternative energy research that was shut down by Bruce after he realized that it could be weaponized and unleashed on the city.

Bruce is lead to Bane’s location through a trail that Selina came across, but quickly realizes it is a trap and has to face Bane head-on. Bane reveals that he’s been a few steps ahead of Batman, using Daggett’s construction firm to execute the heist on Batman’s artillery. He also reveals that he has taken Ra’s al Ghul’s place as leader of the League of Shadows and intends to finish what Ra’s started. Batman tries his best to take down Bane but he proves too powerful. Bane breaks Batman’s back and sends him to the unescapable prison to which he was born from and has in fact escaped. Bruce Wayne/Batman is left to once again find the will to live and fight for both himself and for his city of Gotham.

After the massive success of The Dark Knight, there was a ton of pressure placed on this final installment of the trilogy to be spectacular. And, to be honest, it was for the most part. It stayed with the tone of the previous films while attempting to go above and beyond in terms of plot and character progression. There may have been a few moments that seemed a bit out of place or a bit of a stretch, but given the amazing overall product of the movie, those few qualms can be overlooked in most cases.

One big question that was probably on everyone’s minds was how the hell Nolan would top a villian like The Joker from The Dark Knight? As far as superhero movie villains go, Heath Ledger’s Joker is up there with the greats, if not above that. I felt that his Joker had the perfect mix of whimsical, chaotic humor and bone-chilling psychosis. It was definitely a performance to beat, for sure. Many say that is what made the movie, and I tend to agree. A lot of times with movies, whether the protagonist is a superhero or just a normal guy, he’s only as tough as his villain. The Joker was a more than formidable opponent, so when Batman finally cornered him in the end of The Dark Knight, it made him look ever the more badass.

Now, we have Bane, a man born in what is said to be an inescapable prison. Throughout the movie, you are lead to believe that at a young age, he became tired of living in the depths of “The Pit” and climbed his way out on his own solely on the strength of will and fear of death. Overcoming that, he sought the training of Ra’s al Ghul and became a lethal assassin to boot. So, as the movie goes on, Bane is seen as this completely unstoppable force, a man determined to complete his mission, without concern for who got in his way or who it effected. Also, despite his horrible portrayal in the movie Batman & Robin, Bane is supposed to be quite the intelligent person. Even though Batman is resourceful and always planning, Bane seems to have things already figured out and knows how to prevent Batman from foiling his plans. If you look at it in a certain way, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises has a lot of similarities to The Joker of The Dark Knight, except that he is also a massive killing machine.

Now, towards the end of the movie, we find out that Bane actually was not the child born inside of “The Pit” but actually it was Miranda. She turns out to be Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, Talia, and Bane was the one who aided her in her escape. Miranda came back for Bane after finding her father and they both trained under The League of Shadows. Now, knowing this tidbit of information does sort of take away a bit of the menace that Bane posed throughout the film. If it was just left at that, I think it would have been a huge disappointment. But, when Miranda activates the nuclear bomb and tells Bane to stay behind to hold off Batman, you can see in his facial expression (well, of what face you can actually see around the huge muzzle), that he truly loves her and is willing to sacrifice himself for both her and the mission. I think this sort of recovers a bit of his character for me in the film. It shows that even though he may not have been the child born from the depths of prison, he still had major motivations for his actions. And, it’s not like he isn’t still a complete badass. He still survived the prison and he still trained under Ra’s al Ghul. Thus, still a killing machine worthy of giving Batman loads of trouble.

Speaking of Miranda, or rather Talia, she was by far the least developed character in the movie. The moment we first see her at the function, she just appeared to be another side character interested in Bruce’s money. She just seemed to be around at the perfect time. I know this is all set up for her big reveal, but a little more of a fleshed-out character would have been nice. She offers her services with the Nuclear program, steps in as primary shareholder for Wayne Enterprises, is suspiciously right there during Bruce’s darkest hour, and then she is revealed to be the mastermind of the whole operation right after betraying him. It just all felt like it was there solely for convenience. Maybe people more familiar with the comics knew who she was, but for me it seemed completely out of left field for her to be Talia. It was a cool reveal, it just seemed like one of the less convenient plot points in the movie for me.

Now, Anne Hathaway did a spot-on portrayal of Selina Kyle in my opinion. She had the conniving yet sensual demeanor of Selina down while adding a bit of her own to it. I’m not exactly a fan of her previous work, I think the only movie I remember seeing her in was Get Smart. But I totally bought her as Selina, true and through. I’ve seen people complain that she was a bit too campy with the one-liners to fit in with the grounded world that these movies built, but it didn’t bother me much. If I can buy the fact that a guy is flying around the city in a bat costume, I can deal with a few cheesy lines. It helped bring some lighthearted humor to an otherwise very grim and dark movie.

All of the recurring characters carried on just as they should from the previous films. Alfred was just as worrisome of Bruce’s well-being as ever, even to the point of leaving him in order to prove a point. I thought his story about visiting a small coffee shop in Europe every year that Bruce had disappeared in Batman Begins in hopes of seeing him across the restaurant with a wife and child, living life the way he thought Bruce should was quite touching. And, the payoff at the end made it all the more meaningful. Lucius Fox was not in the movie as much as he was in the previous two, but his presence was definitely felt throughout. I mean, come on, its Morgan freakin’ Freeman, the man doesn’t need many scenes to be heard.

We also have John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who portrayed a convincing successor to Commissioner Gordon’s role in the first two films. His character’s main motivation was a great sense of justice spawned from a life as an orphan, with his parents taken from much in the same fashion as Bruce’s. Like I said before, it didn’t make sense how he figured out that Bruce was in fact Batman. It made even less that he was in fact to be Robin. It is revealed through a desk clerk that his full name is Robin John Blake, which seems like a bit of a cop-out for a reveal. Granted, if his name was Tim Drake or Dick Grayson from the beginning, everyone would know that he was Robin. Maybe John Blake was one of the Robins in the comics? I’m not sure, from the research I did on good ol’ Wikipedia, I couldn’t find a Robin of that name. So, I guess I understand hiding the name for the big reveal at the end and tacking the name Robin as a first yet neglected name. It worked at the time, but looking back, it just seemed tacked on.

And, that leaves us to the main dude, the numero uno compadre, Bruce Wayne, otherwise known as the Dark Knight, or Batman, or by the name of the actor Christian Bale if you want to get technical about it. At the start of this movie, he is a broken man both physically and mentally. He has lost most of the cartilage in his body from years of jumping off of high buildings and fighting psychos. And, he has lost the will to live due to the death of his love. So, the movie sees him try to find the reason why he became Batman in the first place. In the beginning, he thinks that just putting on the mask and jumping on a bike would do the trick. But without the motivation, he was only a fraction of the hero he once was. It took Bane breaking his back and taking over the city from under him to realize that he needed to fight for what he wanted. He gets his back fixed by an old doctor in the prison (apparently punching someone in the back REALLY HARD does the trick) and trains to attempt his escape. After many failed attempts, an old inmate reveals the reason why the child was able to escape from the prison: fear. Talia didn’t use a rope when climbing the walls of The Pit or making the big jump, so she used the fear of dying to feul her will to succeed. After realizing this notion, Bruce lets go of us inhibitions and allows himself to feel true fear for the first time. This allows him to also escape from the prison, as well as become able to fight as the Dark Knight again. This showed some similar growth that he experienced in Batman Begins, but sort of in the reverse. I thought it was a good way to make Bruce work harder than ever to get his strength back. I just wished there was more shown of this process. A good portion of the movie doesn’t even have Bruce or Batman on screen. So, when it comes time for him to be “enlightened”, it happens relatively quickly. More footage of this process would have helped bring this point home a lot harder, though it was still done pretty well.

And lastly, let’s talk about the action in the movie. Now for me, I’ve always been more of a fan of the big action set pieces in the Nolan Batman films rather than the hand-to-hand combat. But, that’s just a problem I have due to watching way too many martial arts movies. But, the fight scenes in this movie weren’t bad. It still felt like he was still restricted heavily by the suit, but they did a good job of fashioning his fighting technique to very close-quarters with few wide motions. There was this one move where he sort of hits people with the claws on his forearm, and for some reason those always looked awkwardly pulled off. But, other than that, Batman fought like Batman. Anne Hathaway seemed to pull of some nice moves of her own when it wasn’t a stunt actor.

Where I think Nolan really shines as far as action scenes go are the big set pieces he likes to pull of in his films. From Bane stealing a plane out of the freakin’ sky, to Batman and Selina chasing after a nuclear weapon, Nolan knows how to film chase scenes. With wide, sweeping shots of the action, it really establishes the setting for the scene as well as give you scope. Also, its very refreshing to see a director not afraid to pull the camera back at times to give you a bigger picture. Whether its his Batman films or Inception, Nolan knows how to film action scenes to seem grand and highly engaging.

A big question a lot of people ask each other is whether this was a better film than The Dark Knight. Well, right now, it’s sort of hard to say for me. I thought The Dark Knight Rises was an excellent film and I felt as good about it coming out of theater as I did when I saw The Dark Knight back in ’08. It may take a few more viewing to have a definitive answer. But, I will say that The Dark Knight Rises did not disappoint the hype surrounding it. It had a well-grounded story with interesting plot twists. The characters for the most part seemed well fleshed out and meaningful to the story being told. And, the action were incredibly well-shot though the choreography in some of the fight scenes felt a tad lacking. If for some odd reason you had any inhibitions for seeing this movie in theaters, I suggest going to see it anyway. If there is any way to sell you on how good this movie is, it’s by seeing it in the theater rather than on your flatscreen at home. Watch The Dark Knight Rises!

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