Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

(Published in Issue 12 of my publication In Retrospect)

The final instalment to Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the attacks of The Joker and Two-Face from 2008’s The Dark Knight when a new terrorist leader, Bane (Tom Hardy), overwhelms Gotham’s finest, including Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). When jewel thief Selina aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) threatens that a storm is coming, Bruce Wayne a.k.a the caped crusader that is Batman (Christian Bale) must resurface from his years of solitude to protect a city that has branded him an enemy. With Bane intending to destroy everything that Bruce has his name to, he must enlist the help of his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and his business manager Fox (Morgan Freeman), and put his trust in a new colleague Miranda (Marion Cotillard) to rise again.


Claimed by most to be one of, if not the, best film of the year, The Dark Knight Rises has been one of the most anticipated superhero films this summer, and it certainly lives up to its hype. Personally, I don’t think that it’s the best of this summer’s blockbusters nor out of Nolan’s trilogy itself, but it’s still a bloody fantastic film; it just falls short to a few minor flaws and a run-time that seems like it’s never going to end, but all can be forgiven.

Unlike its rival Avengers Assemble there are no witty jokes or comical characters to base its entertainment appeal. Instead, The Dark Knight Rises is a serious and deeply motivated film that has intense characters, a political and in some places religious backdrop, a mix of thriller and police drama genres, and a sense of reality that many superhero films don’t manage to capture.

However, what it does lack is an emotional core, at least until the very end when all of Bruce’s moral lessons are learnt. This is largely because the first half of the film is all about Bruce in his crippled state and consequently going through a couple of lengthy recoveries. Whilst these scenes show a great strength in Bale’s acting, unfortunately, this makes his character hard to engage with. Marc Webb’s superhero film from earlier this the month, The Amazing Spider-Man managed to capture this emotional depth with its main character brilliantly, which makes it harder to care about Bruce’s fight with the real world when the once wimpy Peter Parker has managed to do it better.

I understand that a large part of the film is Bruce battling with the public’s unwillingness to accept him back into society, but it wasn’t played out well enough to emphasise with that rejection. Instead, it was only too easy to side with Bruce’s ever-faithful butler Alfred and want to walk out half way through because of how tiresome his self-loathingness becomes. It is Alfred that manages to bring a sense of emotional engagement back in to the second half of the film, aside from the main premise of Batman rising and winning us over once again, as you can really feel empathy for his character because of his love for this fictional family and his attempts to hold them together.

The main problem with the film, however, is its length. At nearly three hours long, The Dark Knight Rises can only be deemed epic for about half of this time. The first hour and a half or so has its qualities – the introduction to Bane especially is pretty impressive – but a lot of the scenes becomes easily forgotten and far too dragged out. The length is unforgivable when much could have been cut down, but that is again only until the second half of the film when it really picks up in both plot and character engagement.

It is easy to forget the film’s flaws though as there are many surprises that will soon get you edging towards the edge of your seat again. The film has a great script, brilliant characters and, whilst its fighting scenes are sometimes a little too long, The Dark Knight Rises has everything you would want from a superhero film. Hans Zimmer‘s score is outstanding and the visual effects are excellent too. Together they make a piece of cinema gold and, for that, there are no other criticisms.

One of the greatest things about Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that all three films include an excellent cast list. Christian Bale in the lead role is one of few Batman portrayals that I really enjoy. In this film, especially, he managed to make me both love and hate him and, by the end of the film, he managed to really captivate the audience’s affection.

As the new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy) is an excellent addition to the cast and after the problems that arose when making the film, he did sound amazing. He may not come close to Heath Ledger‘s Joker but that wouldn’t be a fair comparison. As one of three villains in the trilogy, however, he is just as terrifying as the rest.

It is a huge shame Ledger couldn’t be part of the final instalment, it would have been great to see him star alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again. Levitt, however, stole the spotlight in his own way. Working alongside Gary Oldman on the police force, there’s a reason that we have a respect for this law enforcement team in this film.

Marion Cotillard is also definitely worth a mention too, and Anne Hathaway played her part excellently, even if I did have my doubts at first. Both were brilliantly cast and it was great to have a pair of strong-minded female leads in the trilogy.

Flaws or no flaws, there’s no denying that The Dark Knight Rises is an epic conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even if it may not be quite as satisfying as The Dark Knight or Batman Begins on a whole, it certainly has its moments and is probably the best end to a trilogy there has ever been, which says enough in itself.

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