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Review: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Nolan Rises To The Occasion

Above: Christian Bale and Michael Caine return as Bruce Wayne and Alfred in "The Dark Knight Rises."

Christopher Nolan's Batman saga comes to an epic conclusion with "The Dark Knight Rises" (opening July 20 throughout San Diego). Spoiler-free review follows.

Christopher Nolan is one of the filmmakers -- along with Sam Raimi and Guillermo Del Toro -- who helped raise the level of expectations about comic book adaptations. These guys weren't making comic book movies, they were making movies about stories and characters they loved that just happen to come from comic books.

Back in 2000, there was talk of making "Batman Year One," based on the Batman comics co-written by Frank Miller and serving up a darker vision of the caped crusader created by Bob Kane in 1939. That production stalled but the collected comics known as Batman Year One still provided inspiration for what transformed in Batman Begins. The 2005 film rebooted the "Batman" franchise and gave us an origin story, showing us how Bruce Wayne became the Dark Knight. In 2008, Nolan delivered "The Dark Knight" and kicked up the comic book genre yet another notch. Both of Nolan's films were a very long way from the delightfully cheesy “Batman” of the 60s TV show with Adam West, and different too from Bob Kane’s 1939 creation. Nolan continues to darken the tone with his final installment in his Batman saga, "The Dark Knight Rises."

Nolan seems less the fanboy than Del Toro or Raimi. His comic book adaptation looks very much like a respectable Hollywood drama – just one with some kick ass action and a leading man in a cape. It's always refreshing to see a director tackle a comic book with the intent of elevating the genre rather than with a sense of condescension. So this final installment has an epic scale and feel, and makes you feel like you have been on a long journey with this character and his struggle with what it means to be a hero.

Christian Bale returns to the bat suit.

Warner Brothers

Above: Christian Bale returns to the bat suit.

In "The Dark Knight Rises," one character talks about revenge and a slow knife that is patient for satisfaction. That describes Nolan as well. He may not be seeking revenge but "The Dark Knight Rises" reveals that he's had a plan in place from the beginning and he didn't care if anybody understood what he was doing. Seeing this final film makes you appreciate the careful planning that has gone into this extensive story arc spanning more than half a decade of production. There are things laid out in "Batman Begins" that only pay off now in "The Dark Knight Rises," and that's nice and satisfying.

I know that before I went to see "The Dark Knight," I avoided seeing any footage or reading anything that might give too much away. So I respect the fact that people may not want to know too much. But here are the basics that were already laid out in the trailers. It's been 8 years since "The Dark Knight" ended with Batman fleeing the scene of Harvey Dent's death. Gotham is enjoying an upswing after the dark days before Dent's campaign to clean up the city. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) have both pretty much disappeared from the scene, and Commissioner Gordon (the always great Gary Oldman) is trying to maintain law and order as well as the burdensome lie that Batman was responsible for Dent's demise. But as the trailer suggests, a storm is coming, more like a hurricane in fact and it's name is Bane (an imposing Tom Hardy). Selena/Cat Woman (Anne Hathaway) gets thrown in to offset the testosterone as does Miranda (Marion Cotillard). Returning are Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred (Michael Caine), and new is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). And that's all I'll say.

I love the addition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the mix and I think we all know why he was really cast.

Warner Brothers

Above: I love the addition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the mix and I think we all know why he was really cast.

The film clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes but doesn't feel like it. It's heavier on exposition than "The Dark Knight" but then maybe that's because there's no explaining the Joker and Bane, and his accompanying storm require a little more clarification. There's definitely a sense of tapping into current real world uncertainties and anxieties, and the story goes dark before we see any light. Nolan teams once again with David S. Goyer on the screenplay, which only falters toward the end. I felt shortchanged but the final showdown and the multiple endings are just a little too neat and cute, and don't match what comes before. Ending the film a few shots earlier than it does would have made a huge difference to me.

The acting is almost all top-notch. We get some surprise returns that are quite enjoyable, plus all the regulars that have proven their worth in the previous two films, especially Oldman, Freeman, and Caine. I love the new addition of Gordon-Levitt, he has a hardened idealism and fresh energy that's a nice contrast to the more battle weary characters. Bale is solid as Batman and Wayne, and seems to have toned down the Batman voice. Of course the most exciting new addition is Tom Hardy as Bane. Hardy, who probably won the role based on his performance in "Bronson," is a force to be reckoned with as Bane. I've heard he's not that tall an actor but in the film he feels like he's a massive, menacing mountain of a man. He's not as much fun a villain as Heath Ledger's Joker, but he is a formidable opponent and riveting on screen. Hidden for almost the entire film behind a mask, Hardy still delivers a forceful performance.

Face off: Tom Hardy's Bane takes on Christian Bale's Batman and we do wonder who will actually win.

Warner Brothers

Above: Face off: Tom Hardy's Bane takes on Christian Bale's Batman and we do wonder who will actually win.

The only casting that annoys me is Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman. I will confess to not liking her as an actress to begin with so you can take my criticism with a grain of salt. Cat Woman needs to be dangerous and sexy and Hathaway is more adorable and cute. Cat Woman also needs to have a certain maturity and to have gone through some rough times; Hathaway still acts young and privileged. She may look nice and lanky in her black kitty suit but I just don't buy her as Cat Woman. She's also unconvincing at the action. It doesn't help that the part is underwritten as well. There's not much to her and Hathaway can't fill in the gaps. She strikes me more as Hello Kitty Girl than Cat Woman but she's not bad enough to ruin the film. Hopefully, Nolan was only joking when he said Cat Woman deserved her own franchise. Each time Hathaway came on I kept thinking what it would have been like if Michelle Rodriguez or Asia Argento (both of whom would have a more interesting physicality for the part) or (here's a wildly eccentric choice) Tilda Swinton had taken on the role -- any of them would have been more interesting to me. But then Nolan doesn't have a knack for female casting as he does for males. The women are always the weakest links in his film -- Katie Holmes in "Batman Begins" and Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Dark Knight" were okay but unexciting.

Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway as Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle in "The Dark Knight Rises."

Warner Brothers

Above: Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway as Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle in "The Dark Knight Rises."

Nolan is not really an action direction, so there's not the kind of action that takes your breath away as you would find in Hong Kong films but then Nolan's films demand something more rooted in the real world. The much publicized and discussed fight between Batman and Bane is very much a hand-to-hand combat style of in your face fighting. It's grueling and painful. The effects, with the exception of the scene at the football stadium, are impressive and I am looking forward to seeing the film a second time on a genuine IMAX screen.

"The Dark Knight Rises" (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language) brings the Batman saga to a fitting and satisfying conclusion. "The Dark Knight" is still my favorite film of the trilogy, probably because of Heath Ledger's performance. But "The Dark Knight Rises" returns the saga to Batman (the Joker kind of stole it from him in the previous film) and to his struggles and choices. Kudos to Nolan for having the vision to imagine these 3 films as one story, and to meticulously plan and execute them. It's quite an achievement, and he invests his comic book story with some genuine weight, emotion, and intriguing themes about what it means to be a hero, super or merely human.

Companion viewing: "Batman Begins" (I highly recommend re-watching this before seeing "The Dark Knight Rises"), "The Dark Knight," "Batman" (1966), "Bronson"

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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | July 25, 2012 at 12:15 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

I agree with most of what you've outline. While I liked Hathaway, I thought casting her in the role of catwomen was being too generous. Catwomen is a very unique character and one that I think was not portrayed properly in this film. I was surprise at the length of the movie itself but it didn't feel long at all while you're watching it. That is because the film moves along very nicely and keeps you glue to your seat expecting the next scene.

This is not to say I like the film. In fact, I thought the film could have done a lot better with a lot more. For starters,

1. Batman's voice is even more horrible in this film to the point of being incomprehensible. I'm not sure why Beth thinks otherwise. It is really made bearable due to the limited lines Batman has in the film.

2. Anne Hathaway as Catwomen doens't work. She doesn't have the body type, attitude and personality of what you expect from catwomen. Michelle Pfeiffer does a better cynical job of the part.

3. Action is almost zero in this film. It's all about the mood and characters. I'm not counting explosion and such but the interaction/fighting between main characters. And when there are action the choreography is so pathetic it makes me want to laugh. Batman is mastered is many martial arts and these sad fighting scenes are just horrible to watch. Most of it is 1-2 punching, that's it.

4. Having batman with all these cool but outlandish toys was good and for some already overboard, but then having them litter the city (not to spoil things too much) was definitely too much. The cycle while very cool defies physics in ways that you just either forget about physics or moan continuously :)

5. Joseph Gorden's character is really lacking and I think the reason behind this is on purpose due to the ending. We do get a good glimpse of how he is as a person but really not enough to go by. Still, his very very subtle growth throughout the film they are done very good. In fact, I doubt most would even notice this at all.

6. The movie doesn't build up to anything, not that I can see. It doesn't build up to Superman, League or the next. I might have missed something but the ending left me hanging dry. It was too weak imo but then if there were character tie-ins, like Superman and such, it would have made the mood less dark, much.

7. The villain was predictable as was the bomb. This made a good portion of the film semi-chore to get through. But as I've said, the story moves along pretty nice and the mood is just astounding and dark.

8. The ending left me wondering about the movie staying true to the comics. I was dishearten at the end. I think there's going to be another reboot because I don't think this arc is ever going to work out to great success. There are too many differences between the two it's hard to like and not like.


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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | July 25, 2012 at 12:15 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

9. Crisis is limited to Gotham city although the film felt like it could have expanded more. What I mean is that it purposely cuts off any outside influences so what you're watching remains in Gotham. This is bad for several reasons. First is that the film pans out and makes it feel like it's a huge crisis and it is but then draws you back to the center of the city. Any hope you may have thought of from the outside, whether that's from military, law enforcements or other super hero tie-ins is mooted. The film addresses this by blowing up the bridge and commanding a trigger bomb.

10. The bomb has a blast range of 6miles around. When you see where it went off think to yourself that zone and miles from the blast area will be a dead zone for years to come. Something to think about I guess.

What I liked about the movie,

1. Bane. Absolutely wonderful portrayal and acting. While not entirely accurate Tom does a great job with it to outshine any issues you may have.

2. The mood and realism of the movie. Just like the first, it quickly becomes something that could happen in real life rather than in the comics. It is very well done.

3. Acting. Most of the actors played their role pretty good. The only issue I had was with Catwomen as her character is what Beth already said, for the most part childish and inexperienced.

4. The cycle. This thing is just awesome :)

All in all I would recommend the film because it does a wonderful job of setting the mood and tone. If anything, this will alone glue you to your seat, at least it did for me.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | July 25, 2012 at 4:39 p.m. ― 4 years, 8 months ago

Wow! Thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful commentary.

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