Review: DARK KNIGHT RISES - Satisfying, Complicated, Great?

 

So how the hell to write a review of Dark Knight Rises? It isn't easy.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first:

It's epic. It’s undeniably brilliant technical filmmaking without a misstep in the actors' performances. It's tour de force by any reasonable definition of the phrase.

It's inarguably a third act to a now-cohesive true trilogy, and without spoiling the last few moments, undoubtedly a wholly satisfying conclusion to a sprawling saga.

But it's also a very long and very, very complicated movie. And now nearly 24 hours after seeing it, I'm honestly not sure how great of a film it actually is. It might take repeated viewings to arrive at a conclusion.

Utterly defying any classification as a "comic book," "superhero," or even "genre" or action movie, Christopher Nolan has transformed the franchise into a wholly new animal. It's evolved beyond its source material (more on that another time) and beyond any and all sub-genres.

Unfolding like a Chinese puzzle for much of the first hour of its two hours and 40 minutes, characters are subplots are introduced at a dizzying pace, with Nolan and writing partners Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer almost certainly layering it specifically to have extra resonance with comic book readers. And since if you're reading this you're almost certainly among that group, I'll exercise the privilege of not summarizing a plot you're almost certainly aware of, or are carefully avoiding any and all references too.

Let's just touch on some basics:

 

Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine deliver exactly what you expect and what you want them to. There are no revelatory developments among the performances of the holdovers; which is fine, because they've all been good (Bale and Freeman) to great (Oldman and Caine) throughout.

"The Bat," the Bat-Wing, or whatever it's called is see more screen time than you might expect and simply, is pretty freakin' cool … if you don’t think on Lucius Fox's ability to produce these things and keep Bruce Wayne's secret too hard.

As to the other new additions to the mythos:

 

Tom Hardy as Bane: Coming off as something of the love child of Darth Vader, Hans Gruber from Die Hard, and Heath Ledger's the Joker (the latter two for their ironic, self-aware line delivery), his controversial-amongst-fans voice and inflection seemed designed to mitigate the fact his face is mostly hidden.

Like Ledger before him, Hardy truly manages to invoke genuine visceral menace, and his roundish, more street-tough, back-alley brawler physique plays better on Bane than a more physically perfected body.

But Bane and the Joker are both written as seemingly omnipresent, always knowing something no one else does with a sarcastic barb at the ready, and thus sometimes comes off as a little déjà vu.

 

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle: Response to her "Catwoman" probably depends somewhat for your general regard for Anne Hathaway and whether you find her very appealing [raises hand] or slightly annoying.

However, her character, her abilities, her costume and reason for being don't feel at all out of place in Nolan's more grounded vision of Gotham City, a seeming concern amongst some skeptical fans.

 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake: The wildcard in the bunch. His screen time is more significant than anticipated and speculation surrounding his role probably makes it unwise to get into specifics. But he's a worthy addition to Nolan's world and Gordon-Levitt continues to mature as a movie star. The once long-haired adolescent from 3rd Rock from the Sun continues to announce himself as a major Hollywood presence.

How it tries to pull all these elements together in a satisfying conclusion and attempts to up the ante on The Dark Knight (whose stakes were the soul of Gotham City) is the surprise of Dark Knight Rises. Finding an 11 on the knob if part 2 was a 10 was no easy task and at times it feels a little long, at times meandering, perhaps a little too ambitious. There's more than enough story and scope here for a Harry Potter/Twilight-like double-finale had Nolan chosen that direction. Bane's slow-burn plot against Gotham and Batman and the way it unfolds resets the pace and rhythm of the film midstream and if there is any division amongst viewers to the success of the finale it will likely stem from this.

Dark Knight Rises aspires to be great. It intends to be a whole new class of summer movie and for no other reason than that it goes down as a benchmark in big studio, tent-pole filmmaking. But whether it's own laudable ambitions work a little against itself is frankly a question I'm not yet ready to answer after one viewing.

It's certainly going to light a pop culture fire and maybe become one of the most studied, written about and discussed - and maybe even polarizing - films among movies it shares anything in common with, and maybe that’s the answer to my own question.

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