Review: Visceral 'The Dark Knight Rises' Is A Cinematic, Cultural & Personal Triumph

Reviews
by Todd Gilchrist
July 16, 2012 3:00 AM
55 Comments
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In a season filled with big movies that somehow ask even bigger questions, “The Dark Knight Rises” feels like the superego to its competition’s id. An action opus that manages to be both viscerally and intellectually engaging, Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated third Batman film comes full circle, examining both the Dark Knight and the society that produced him without sacrificing any of the sweeping thrills for which the series is known. A literate, thoughtful and invigorating finale, “The Dark Knight Rises” delivers everything audiences could ask for and then some, albeit in fewer of the ways than they might expect.

Eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight,” Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, limping around his estate because of injuries sustained as Batman, while the public speculates about his sanity. Although Bruce is happy to let the rumor mill keep turning, his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) informs him that Wayne Enterprises is in major financial trouble, thanks in no small part to a clean-energy research project which Bruce spearheaded and then mothballed. But when a masked, monolithic terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) empties the Wayne coffers and launches a populist uprising using an underworld of thieves and criminals, Bruce is forced to don the cape and cowl again to try and restore order, even as Gotham remains convinced that Batman was responsible for the death of late district attorney-turned-psychopath Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

Looking piecemeal at “The Dark Knight Rises,” it feels like a movie of profound disillusionment about America that could only be objectively told by someone who’s not a native: Nolan dissects our current financial woes, our clash of cultures, even one-percent-versus-99-percent-style class warfare with a scalpel, assigning culpability to all involved and condemning the whole system as a sort of demagogue-exchange program. From the corporate fat cats to the mouth breathers scraping by on pennies, everyone aspires to change their situation, to triumph over the forces of (sometimes rightful) opposition, or to wipe the slate clean and start again, and their motives are almost unilaterally unclean – either in origin or execution. The film should have its own Faustian bargain counter in the corner of the screen, ticking off bad decisions and foolhardy expectations.

Moreover, Bane more or less distills the status quo of America into a few depressingly succinct ideas, which form the basis of his plans: fuel his followers with a sense of fear, incite them to anger by suggesting betrayal, allow them the pretense of hope, and they will become believers. He leads with a combination of ruthless control and facetious empowerment, keeping his minions under his thumb and turning Gotham into a battleground for revolution – but only for his nefarious purposes. The concept of turning the citizenship against its own interests is nothing new, but Nolan makes it frighteningly palpable in this fictional setting without undermining the real-world implications of this sort of manipulation.

But oddly, the film ultimately proves to be not just a redemption tale for virtually all of these characters, but an embodiment of the fundamental American belief in the individual. Although its deep bench of recognizable talent and a story with an incredible variety of moving parts suggest the necessity of cooperation – a well-oiled machine whose parts all work together towards a common goal – Nolan allows almost every “important” character an opportunity to shine, to distinguish him or herself. As the hero himself has said numerous times in all of the films, “Batman could be anyone,” but the point Nolan seems to be making is that he can be any one – even working within a system that requires the cooperation and coordination of others, a person can still distinguish himself with an act of intelligence, sensitivity, leadership, or yes, heroism.

In terms of the film’s devotion to canon, meanwhile, fans should be more than satisfied by Nolan’s treatment of familiar storylines – especially those whose conclusions probably come as little surprise (although they won’t be spoiled here). Perhaps most importantly, the caped crusader remains the root of the entire ensemble, and unlike in past films – okay, the previous “Batman” series – he never takes a back seat to his adversaries. And it’s his troubles that provide the foundational themes for the rest of the characters, and the story as a whole: after eight years of inactivity, Bruce is convinced that he’s neither able to save Gotham nor redeem himself, no matter how desperately he wants to. Bane wants to fulfill the destiny of Ra’s Al Ghul – which was thoroughly detailed in “Batman Begins” -- which means enabling Gotham to destroy itself and rebuild atop the rubble. And Selina Kyle is a criminal desperate for a fresh start, but unable to find a legitimate way to seek redemption.

As both Batman and Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale’s work here is master-class, and he gives the character such an inescapable melancholy – a certain perseverance in the face of absolute resignation to his fate – that he becomes a more tragic figure than ever. That said, he’s aided enormously by a never-better Michael Caine, who turns with hope and palpable love what might otherwise be expository dialogue into searing, supportive criticisms of Wayne’s self-destruction. And  as sexed-up and skintight as Michelle Pfeiffer’s charms were in “Batman Returns,” Nolan’s Catwoman is the best cinematic rendering of the character to date, allowing Anne Hathaway sex appeal, humor and real humanity in equal measures, not to mention motivation that places her on equal footing with her male counterparts without making her a fetish object who’s ultimately subject to them.

On the other hand, after being marketed as heir to the Joker in "The Dark Knight," Tom Hardy’s Bane is a different sort of villain – a focused and more ideologically-developed version of Heath Ledger’s anarchist – but one with equally ruthless charm. After brutally taking control of a building, he surveys his hostages, and offers one of them an almost-friendly “what’s up” nod. As many obstacles as Bane faces as a compelling character – chief of them being having his face covered almost entirely, and constantly, by a mask which also obscures much of his dialogue – Hardy juxtaposes an almost jaunty vocal intonation with a sort of monolithic, chilling stillness, creating a villain worthy of the series’ rogue’s gallery.

It should be interesting to see precisely how the film translates to home video given the number of times within a scene the frame switches from IMAX to a traditional film format, but cinematically the film is gorgeous, meticulously constructed and seemingly effortless in execution, even with so many moving parts racing towards what is ultimately a narratively and thematically cohesive finale. More importantly, however, is how it fits into the summer’s conversation about the Big Important Issues that are preoccupying us, even when we’re walking into darkened theaters and asking only to be entertained.

If, as Badass Digest argues, “The Avengers” “defeated irony and cynicism,” then “The Dark Knight Rises” feels like the rock-bottom, lowest-point examination of ourselves which provides the substance to make Joss Whedon’s optimistic vision endure. Because Nolan’s film is a reminder that superheroes aren’t merely a frivolous distraction, or even a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but an embodiment of our best selves – or at least what we want our best selves to be. A cinematic, cultural and personal triumph, “The Dark Knight Rises” is emotionally inspiring, aesthetically significant and critically important for America itself – as a mirror of both sober reflection and resilient hope. [A]

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55 Comments

  • kris | November 18, 2012 2:11 AMReply

    Do you get paid to rate movies. This movie is terrible. The acting is lackluster. the music is really annoying and the story plot leaves little to the imagination. The fight scenes rival some old Bogart film and the action scenes are not cinematic in the least. Bane is supposed to be like 6'8" and 400 pounds not 5'10" 180lbs. No realism, no character, no chance. This is the problem with society now adays. all the sheeple care about is special effects and cool visuals. No NO no No NO nO way this film gets 100. i would be generous in giving it 55. I don't get paid to sellout like you faggots on these stupid websites.

  • George | December 15, 2012 11:41 AM

    Wow, your a big troll why would he get paid there have been many critics that loved the movie and many that didn't like it so much. It's all opinion based and I loved the movie as well as many, many others who've watched it. Go back to watching your stupid avengers.

  • R. McMillen | September 5, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    Incase you've missed everything in the trilogy up to this point, you can see a slight rundown at http://voices.yahoo.com/and-batman-begins-11691546.html?cat=9

  • Chris138 | September 3, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    I gotta admit, this movie improved for me upon a second viewing. I liked it the first time, but I felt a bit more emotionally invested and satisfied the second time around. It's still a bit messy, but some of my favorite movies ever are a bit of a mess (Apocalypse Now, Tree of Life, etc) but that doesn't lessen their impact for me.

  • kmkmiller | August 4, 2012 7:00 PMReply

    After spending the last week defending the movie over at Badass Digest, it is refreshing to read this review, although I do know it is not the only positive review out there.

    My interpretation is that Nolan is essentially trying to remake INCEPTION, only this time the mark is Bruce Wayne and the idea he wants to plant in his sub-conscious is that he no longer has to be the Batman. Yeah, the whole movie is a dream.

    Nolan concludes what we always sort of suspected, from the very beginning, Nolan looked at putting on the batsuit, for Bruce Wayne, as a sort of pathology. And in TDKR there is a speech given to Bruce by John Blake that basically sums Bruce up, and so the entire theme becomes letting go, and moving on.

  • jerry | August 1, 2012 7:40 PMReply

    Any reviewer who gives this movie higher than zero, is him or herself a zero. I left early and received four re-admit passes to the AMC theater chain just by complaining of the sound quality, not to mention the horrific waste of time for the drive and first hour of boredom watching the film. PFFFFFT!!!

  • Zack | August 3, 2012 9:50 AM

    We got "the greatest movie of the decade" two years in? The next eight years are gonna SUCK.

  • Miguel | August 3, 2012 9:45 AM

    someone was too stupid to understand the greatest movie of the decade

  • Mick | August 2, 2012 12:25 PM

    @jerry, Ask yourself what is more likely; that the multi-million dollar blockbuster, years in the making, flunked out the sound-quality, or that the tin-pot theatre you went to had a lousy sound system?

  • joe lannen | August 2, 2012 6:13 AM

    Sorry you didn't care for it, but hey...does that really mean you should call others "zero", simply because they enjoyed it more than you did? I certainly didn't notice any sound issues, and like the reviewer for The Playlist, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, as did others.

    While you have every right to your opinion about the film, your idea of people liking this film being "zeros," is simply disgusting.

  • Lonster | July 24, 2012 2:16 AMReply

    Amazing movie, indeed, and I agree with every word of this review! I knew this film would be good, but it actually exceeded my expectations. Unlike a lot of superhero movies, the story is very deep and truly relevant/reflective of what our world has come to (Nolan says this was a coincidence and not a commentary, however). As fun as Tim Burton's Batman movies were, and as cool as Michael Keaton was as Bruce Wayne (and Val Kilmer did a good job, as well), Nolan's movies and Christian Bale's acting take the Bruce Wayne character to a whole new level, and, as has been pointed out, make the movies about HIM and his trials---not about the criminals. Every performance in this movie was done so well, in addition to Bale's. I'm sorry to see Nolan's franchise end, but he sure did end it well.

  • Bakunin | July 23, 2012 10:21 PMReply

    It's ridiculous to claim TDKR is a "cultural triumph," the reviewer read way too much into the images Nolan uses. The film has nothing to say about what's happening today in the world, it simply uses certain imagery out of convenience for the film's bare bones plot.

  • Neil McGonigle | July 27, 2012 2:29 PM

    I disagree, I didn't have any expectations when going to see this movie, the scene in the stock market undoubtedly one of many, had a message regarding our current society... and yes I know this was from a big budget hollywood film... a bit like the idea of Bruce Wayne, in this movie, methinks

  • Anthony | July 22, 2012 11:08 PMReply

    Positive comments for a review for The Dark Knight Rises?? :D :D

    Oh. I see. The review is positive. Now I get it. ;)

  • Glenn | July 20, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    A very solid review. I just wanted to warn those reading this "spoiler-free" review of the HUGE spoilers in one of the Thursday morning comments.

  • KT | July 20, 2012 4:09 PMReply

    It had its high points but overall this movie was a mess. When Nolan tries to do too much, it shows:

    7.5/10.

  • Abe | July 20, 2012 10:35 AMReply

    I say, over-advertising ruined this film. As a trilogy, it still is great, but as a single movie, I'm disappointed by it. Fortunately, Anne Hathaway isn't as bad as I thought, Bane's new voice is amazing, and the Michael Caine is great as always. But other than that, it's totally predictable. And I don't know is it just because of my Int'l Relations background, but one word comes to my mind in the middle of the movie: IRAN.

  • gilles | July 20, 2012 8:52 AMReply

    Just saw the movie and I was utterly impressed. Unbelievable.

    But... What I'm wondering very much is; What is Nolan going to do now? After three insanely big franchise films and a very personal dream project. 4 films of an unbelievable gigantic scale.
    What's next? What now?

  • rain | July 20, 2012 4:51 AMReply

    It's interesting to see the fanboys and critics in a pissing contest.

  • Clyde | July 19, 2012 8:37 AMReply

    Selina Kyle kills Bane, who cripples Batman half way through, but Batman retrains, comes back blah blah obvious blah, then appears to have died but is living with catwoman in Italy while Robin inherits batcave.

  • Laura | July 18, 2012 5:37 PMReply

    great review

  • Moon Knight | July 17, 2012 6:49 PMReply

    Second half of this video has preparations for Batman movie premiere in London. Check out the giant mask on Leicester square and a flaming bat http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ajaPp3jQf8

  • e | July 17, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    move your stupid "share" strip.

  • Oogle monster | July 16, 2012 10:47 PMReply

    How is Cottillard?

  • Roderick T. Long | July 16, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    The Joker is not an "anarchist." Unless I missed the part where he advocated a peaceful, non-hierarchical society based on voluntary association and the absence of coercive authority.

  • Neil McGonigle | July 27, 2012 2:31 PM

    there are many forms of anarchism, not all taoist

  • Travis | July 16, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    He did spoil something, but you really have to know what is going to happen. "Nolan will satisfy fans of canon with the conclusion of a storyline well familiar to many?" (paraphrased) I think we can figure out what that means................CR-ACKKKKKKKK!

  • R. McMillen | July 16, 2012 5:09 PMReply

    We have waited long enough.... the fire finally rises, but so does the question: http://voices.yahoo.com/the-dark-knight-rises-but-will-he-fall-11555052.html?cat=9

  • Rohan | July 16, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    Good review for few reasons. It's spoiler free, and Todd in his last paragraphs defines the moral of the story. I also read Eric Kohn's review, which is totally juvenile. Sorry, Eric. It is what it is, man.

  • DG | July 16, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    I really hope playlist is ignoring those commenting on reviewing style. Sure, opinions on movies will differ and thats what the comment sections are for, but it's a totally different thing to attack the reviewers this way, or complain and I feel like thats what happens on here sometimes. Probably this is most obvious in the recent review for 'What is this film called love' where the writer seemed to anticipate extreme division in the comments section. I'm sure this was called for to an extent (I haven't seen this film yet, tho it sounds divisive) but I hope it doesn't turn into too much of an issue for you guys, having to be overly-anticipatory, you should just be able to write your reviews exactly as you see fit, thats the point of being an author.

    That being said, I'm stoked you guys gave TDKR a good review, I'm beyond excited for it and sure it deserves it's A rating. No one in the big budget game is even close to Nolan right now.

  • Nico | July 16, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    This review is so over the top without saying anything of value to support its outlandish claims.

    Oh look, a large budget film with a vaguely philosophical narrative, so relevant SO critically critical of stuff and such. It's like it was made to make us feel deep things .

    What is morality?
    What is fear?
    Maybe I am suffering from PTSD too
    Is there really no distinction between good and evil? Do those things even exist?
    Maybe insanity is all about Darwinian adaptation
    So many questions. This movie was like blowing my mind. I have never thought so hard before in my life.

  • Neil Mcgonigle | July 27, 2012 2:34 PM

    the film works own its own levels. a large budget film with vaguely philosophical narrative is certainly better than a large budget film with no philosophical narrative

  • Isaac | July 16, 2012 2:25 PM

    How could you say that? Superheroes "are the embodiment of our best selves". This review has offered an insightful reading into the symbolic role characters such as Batman play in our culture.

  • datdude | July 16, 2012 11:39 AMReply

    Nolan had his hooks in me since Momento. That guy is the best out there right now. My favorite director used to be Tarantino. I still love the guy, but Nolan is killing it right now. Can't wait to see this film, no doubt it will be a classic.

  • JD | July 16, 2012 10:45 AMReply

    I think its safe to say that Nolan has redefined the superhero genre entirely, and his vision is a gamechanger like great franchises such as the Godfather, Star Wars and Indiana Jones that redefined their own genres, by making Bruce Wayne both hero and a villian (a Dark Knight) he's changed the way future filmakers view the genre. I have no doubt that this film will have incredible success at the box office and cement both Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levittt as international stars and part of the most promising group of actors of their generation as well as placing Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard at the very, very top of the game (if anyone didn't consider them there already) and finally solidifing the legacy of Caine, Freeman and Oldman. As for Nolan, the sky's the limit at only 47, he could go on to be one of the all time great directors- a visionary for this generation of filmakers.

  • Bow and Beard | July 16, 2012 7:40 AMReply

    Now we just need Nolan to make a few Green Lantern films and set the record straight-hopefully Arrow and Lantern on a road trip dealing with America's problems on the ground floor.

  • Tom | July 16, 2012 7:31 AMReply

    Thanks for keeping it spoiler free, guys.

  • JC | July 16, 2012 5:45 AMReply

    Is this review going to show up on Metacritic, or just the one from Eric Kohn?

  • Todd Gilchrist | July 16, 2012 4:32 AMReply

    Hi Cinemafan,

    First of all, thanks for reading the review. But the haves-have nots is relevant to the 99 percent movement regardless whether or not Nolan conceived it in his initial script. (And moreovr, there are reports that Nolan actually filmed at 99 percent demonstration locations.) You're certainly welcome to believe or make the argument that the film isn't a topical critique, but I personally find it difficult to think Nolan had no aspirations to comment on the state of the world -- much less America's economic and social status -- when he made the film. Nevertheless, thanks for reading, and for commenting.

  • Todd Gilchrist | July 16, 2012 3:01 PM

    Hi Alan, thanks for reading, and thanks for the compliment. I just wanted to clarify that I never said he was "directly commenting on this situation" -- those were your words, and to your and Cinemafan's original point, these issues have been around a lot longer than the 99 percent movement has. Mind you, you might think my review is still shallow and lazy, but I don't think that it is for drawing a parallel between the sort of timeless conflict you're referring to and a more recent representation of it when I said "Nolan dissects our current financial woes, our clash of cultures, even one-percent-versus-99-percent-style class warfare. Nevertheless as in all cases you're welcome to react however you will, and I thank you again for reading and engaging the text.

  • Alan | July 16, 2012 8:03 AM

    Good review, though, and thanks for not spoiling key story beats like Todd McCarthy.

  • Alan | July 16, 2012 8:00 AM

    You know, if you read 'A Tale of Two Cities' now (which I did a couple of years ago), I imagine it would have a lot of resonances for you, but that doesn't mean that Dickens was directly commenting on the 99%. Like Dickens, Nolan is an excellent storyteller because he is able to tap into universal, almost-primal aspects of human behaviour and social order, not because he shoves the latest news headlines into his narrative. You can say that the film reflects these similar concerns as the protests, as it does, but - come on - suggesting he is directly commenting on this situation (after the script had been conceived) is a little shallow and lazy, dude.

  • CinemaFan | July 16, 2012 4:08 AMReply

    The whole thing about examining the whole 99% phenomenon isn't accurate because they actually started filming the movie before any of the protests started. The film draws influence from "A Tale Of Two Cities" and used the idea of the haves vs the have nots because it made for good story telling. It's not a topical critique at all.

  • Chandler B | July 16, 2012 3:46 AMReply

    Todd, I love you. Words cannot express.

    I feel bad in advance for anyone who will not experience pure, unbridled, exquisite bliss while watching this film. The 1st person to post a negative TDKR review on Rotten Tomatoes will instantly become the most hated critic (person?) in the history of the world, for the rest of his natural life. I doubt he'll find kindness or a friendly face anywhere on Earth, and will spend the rest of his life writing glowing reviews of Juche propaganda films at his new job in North Korea. We all know you critics are cool and have "unique" taste, but don't sacrifice your career and happy, healthy life for the sake of being a contrarian D-bag.

    That being said, no more negativity for me! I've never been more stoked for anything in my current or past lives. At 3 in the morning on Friday July 11, it'll be all downhill for the rest of my existence or until the Mayan Apocalypse. But hopefully that comes after TDKR on Blu-Ray Disc.

  • diaglo | July 16, 2012 2:42 PM

    Hey Chandler, dial it back a little. There are much more important things to get that worked up over.

  • Chandler B | July 16, 2012 1:44 PM

    Fair. Even a Nolan fanboy should have the humility to admit that he's no Bergman, Lynch or Fellini. But just because you've had a 75 euro plate of spaghetti in Rome, it shouldn't stop you from enjoying a well-made, greasy slice of pizza once in a while. I think Nolan makes pretty good pizza.

  • Anti-Idiots | July 16, 2012 1:43 PM

    "Anyone who disagrees is a "contrarian D-bag?" Fuck off." +1

    CHANDLER B, there's nothign wrong with being excited for things, but you're much more than that. You're one of those senseless fanboys (it seems) who threatened the New Yorker critic with death for his negative Dark Knight Review.

    Don't delude yourself and mistake your comments for being anything other than black and white and idiotic, frankly.

  • tristan eldritch | July 16, 2012 11:45 AM

    Chandler, I'm really looking forward to seeing (and enjoying this movie), but the by-now familiar ritual of hordes of foaming at the mouth fanboys ganging up on the one negative or reserved review is a sad spectacle. It just says nothing about the actual quality of the movie, and everything about the psychology of the individuals themselves. "You deserve to DIE because you formed a different subjective opinion to the one I think (or have decided in advance) that I'm am going to form to a movie I haven't seen yet." Ridiculous shit.

  • d | July 16, 2012 11:31 AM

    Anyone who disagrees is a "contrarian D-bag?" Fuck off.

  • Chandler B | July 16, 2012 7:10 AM

    Eh. I'll concede most of it (being infamous sounds pretty badass tbh). But is it so bad to be excited about something? You guys remember that feeling?

    Like when you were little, and Thundercats came on. You were already stoked, but then you realized -- it was the fuckin Thundercats TV MOVIE SPECIAL!? And your mind was blown, right? You couldn't even sit still, spilling your juice box all on your overalls and shit. That's about how excited I am right now. And I haven't had that feeling, or worn overalls, since '96.

    So hate on me, hate on Nolan. I understand, and I can't really blame you. But maybe try, just a little bit, to appreciate the fact that he's making a product that's bringing pure, geeky joy to millions of people. It happens to be melodromatic comic-opera, but who cares? Thundercats-Ho, bro.

    Thanks for the IMBD tip, and if you know someone who's willing to pay me to write this stuff let me know! I can do it all day.

    Cheers

  • Johan | July 16, 2012 5:53 AM

    The only reasonable explanation I see is that you were paid to write those ridiculous phrases.

  • Mr. Big | July 16, 2012 5:36 AM

    You're one of Nolans infamous fanboys who must justify others contrarian opinions with such utterly profound bullshit. You have probably already given it a 10 like thousands of other fans on IMDB, without even having seen the movie yet. You are are sad bunch!

  • Wombiverse | July 16, 2012 4:04 AM

    Wait, you haven't even seen it yet and you're saying this? You're a fucking idiot and it's people like you that give Nolan a bad name.

  • Smom | July 16, 2012 3:28 AMReply

    Only read the title and the score, out of fear for spoilers. And boy, do both look promising!

  • Ben | July 16, 2012 3:01 AMReply

    Wow! As I if wasn't already anticipating this film more than any other in the past several years!

    Can't wait. I have my ticket for 12:01 AM Friday.

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