The Dark Knight Rises (2012): 4.5/5 stars*

*I am so, so tempted to give it a straight-up 5/5 stars, but I feel like I’m just being biased due to my undying love of Batman (my entire Facebook bio for the past five years has simply read “I’m Batman.”). I reserve the right to adjust up (or down, I suppose) upon subsequent viewings.

 

Last week the final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was released. Obviously, the main topic of conversation since then has been the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, which is understandable and appropriate. However, upon seeing the film again this morning I still have a lot of feelings, so without further ado here is my entirely biased opinion on the amazing finale to an amazing group of films about my favourite superhero.

(I will note that absent from the previews this time around was the trailer for Gangster Squad, which Warner Brothers has rescheduled for release in 2013 due to its pivotal theatre shootout scene. However plenty of Coming Soon films to anticipate remain, including the latest installment of the Bourne series, starring Jeremy Renner’s arm muscles, and a rather charming trailer for Disney’s Wizard of Oz prequel.

Not so charming are the trailers for Jack Reacher and The Watch. Tom Cruise, Ben Stiller, and Vince Vaughn are numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the list of “actors who need to take a long, hard look at their recent career choices”)

This is, in my opinion, the best Batman film and perhaps the greatest superhero movie. First, the characters. While Nolan’s Batman films have always strived to stick close to realism, there’s a certain amount of fantasy that always appears in comic book plots, so it’s important to have well-drawn characters to engage the audience, and in this TDKR excells.

Gary Oldman is up there with Robert Downey Jr, Christopher Reeve, and of course, Heath Ledger when it comes to actors perfectly cast in their comic book roles. This film is Police Commissioner Gordon’s biggest and most complex role as he struggles with maintaining stability in Gotham in light of what he knows about the Batman and Harvey Dent, and Oldman brings the same weary gravity to this part as he did to last year’s Oscar-nominated turn as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Much was made of Bane (Tom Hardy’s) voice when the film’s trailer was first released. While there are still moments when he is difficult to understand due to the mask that obscures his mouth and nose, the overall effect is chilling. Of course, no Batman villain could compare to Heath Ledger’s joker, but Hardy does an admirable job. Bane is frightening, chaotic, and, at times, pitiable.

However, the real star of the rogue (or is she?) gallery is Selina Kyle. I admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the casting of Anne Hathaway (especially with Marion Cotillard on board, who I thought would’ve made a great Catwoman). But Hathaway proved to be more than a match for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, sexy and snarky and able to outplay hero and villain alike. As far as the rest of the cast, Cotillard was excellent even if her role was small (though that was understandable due to the plot), Bale, Morgan Freeman, and particularly Michael Caine are reliably great, and Joseph Gordon Levitt is a nice addition to the cast as headstrong cop-turned-sidekick (aha) John Blake.

And the plot, sure, it’s ragged in places, and there’s one plot point that shares at least a passing resemblance to the other big comic book film of the year, The Avengers (sorry, Spiderman). But it’s also as epic as the first two Nolanverse Batman films, and even more complex. In many ways, it feels like director Nolan combined the best elements of Frank Miller’s Batman comics, updated for today’s world (to the point that some reviewers have drawn parallels to the Occupy movement and Rush Limbaugh accused the film of being anti-Romney). And the fight scenes are some of the most intense I’ve ever seen in a superhero film–Batman is known for his use of gadgets and technology, but there’s plenty of serious hand-to-hand combat.

The film is full of minor references to the comics as well as the bigger story lines. Also, one of the most notable things about Bane’s storyline in the comics canon makes an appearance in an intense, thrilling way, and although there are many changes to various characters’ backstories, everything fits into the gritty, dark universe Nolan has created. However, some of the darkness has been replaced with melancholy, as Bruce Wayne prepares to say goodbye to Gotham and to his life as the Batman. And as a goodbye to the audience, The Dark Knight Rises is a perfect conclusion to one of the best sets of superhero films in cinematic history.

Random Observations:

  • I loved the use of sound. The way Bane is silent compared to Batman during their first fight and the start of the football game especially.
  • So many actors from sci-fi tv shows I watch! Nestor Carbonell (Lost) returns as the mayor, plus Fredrick Lehne (Lost, Supernatural), Burn Gorman (Torchwood), Robert Wisdom (Supernatural)
  • It felt very fitting and respectful that the word “Joker” doesn’t even appear in the film, but it’s always nice to catch a glimpse of an old villain, as Cillian Murphy again makes an appearance as Crane.
  • I keep wanting to refer to the film as The Dark Knight Returns (rather than Rises).
  • I should mention that I am one of the few people who prefers Batman Begins to The Dark Knight, although objectively the latter is a better film. For what it’s worth.
  • For the most part I didn’t find the foreshadowing too heavy-handed even if it was a bit predictable, but I literally rolled my eyes at the “you should use your given name” scene. You made Inception, Chris Nolan, you can’t think your audience is *that* stupid.
  • Speaking of, I wonder if Leo DiCaprio felt left out of this Inception reunion, as Murphy, Hardy, Cotillard, Caine, and Levitt all starred in the other Nolan-helmed film (and Ken Watanabe was the decoy Ra’s al-Guhl in Batman Begins).
  • To quote Mindy Kaling, “Good Chris Nolan, put a mask over Tom Hardy’s face, yuck, so happy I don’t have to look at it”
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