“Why So Serious?”: The Dark Knight Rises Movie Review

*Note: In an effort to keep this review of The Dark Knight Rises as spoiler free as possible, I’ll try not to mention anything from the second half of the film.

There are very few films out there I enjoy more than Batman Begins and The Dark Knight; that being said, the final installment of the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, wasn’t like what I expected–and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. More often than not, the film completely confounded my expectations, making most of my predictions about The Dark Knight Rises moot. It’d be wrong to say it didn’t meet my expectations, instead, it far exceeded them in many ways.

For example, when watching the previews for The Dark Knight Rises, I was greatly nonplussed by the idea of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Robin (Joseph Gordon Levitt) being in the movie, largely for the reason I feared a repeat of Spider-man 3. I didn’t want to see another franchise become overburdened by extraneous characters, but unlike Spider-man 3, I was surprised to see how neither Catwoman or Robin ever felt tacked on or supercilious. Instead, Catwoman’s role in particular is deeply interwoven into the plot itself–she’s the one who puts the whole story into motion, and she continues to keep the plot speeding along throughout.

My other big misguided expectation would be that director Christopher Nolan and the rest of the cast and crew would slack on the final movie by offering something that was big on action and light on character development and story. That’s so frequently the case with the end of trilogies. Everything we need to know about the characters is established in the previous two films, and so in the third we get to see them in action one last time. The Dark Knight Rises takes a different route. Early on, we get the sense that we’re being told we don’t know Bruce Wayne half as well as we think we do, and by the end, he’s fleshed out much more than he is in The Dark Knight. So where I expected the movie to be a fast-paced spectacular showdown without much content, I was instead treated to a densely plotted and often heartwrenching story.

It begins in an uncompromising way, starting exactly eight years after the events of The Dark Knight (this is pointed out by showing a ceremony commemorating the eighth anniversary of Harvey Dent’s death in the previous film). Bruce Wayne (played for the third and final time by Christian Bale) apparently hasn’t touched the cape and cowl once in the intervening time, and instead appears to have let his muscles atrophy while puttering around Wayne Manor. The city of Gotham itself has achieved a long period of relative peacefulness. The mobsters who populated the first two movies are off the streets, and apparently no supervillains have shown up since the arrest of the Joker.

That’s where Bane comes in. He enters the story literally out of the blue. His first appearance involves him kidnapping a man aboard a plane,  a scene that stands out as one of the most elaborate action sequences of any action movie in recent memory. We’re then left in the dark for an excruciatingly long time about who Bane is, or why the abductee was so important as to warrant the huge amount of effort it took to nab him.

Then, a few minutes later, we’re introduced to Selina Kyle, a woman who poses as a maid at one of Bruce Wayne’s house parties only to crack his safe and steal his mother’s pearl necklace. Being a detective himself, Bruce quickly realizes what she was really after–not the diamonds, but his fingerprints on the safe. As the audience, we’re forced to do a bit of deductive work of our own and try to piece together what exactly the connection is between Selina’s petty crime and Bane’s massive undertaking. Again, we have to wait, but we’re given enough clues to keep our minds reeling in the meantime.

Over the first half-hour or so, we’re introduced to a handful more new characters, including a rich philanthropist named Miranda Tate (played effervescently by Marion Cotillard), and an idealistic young cop named John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt). Our old friends are back too: Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) all return and continue to play important roles. In addition, there are several static characters thrown in, including corporate lackeys and shady police officers, but most of these aren’t worth keeping track of and probably didn’t need to be in the film at all (many reviewers have already complained about confusion regarding the characters, but if you pay attention to the principle cast alone you’ll be fine).

Whereas the plot to Batman Begins was mainly linear, The Dark Knight Rises shares more in common with The Dark Knight in terms of scope. We’re given scene after scene of seemingly unrelated events, then we watch as every little piece comes together and builds up to an epic conclusion. This is bound to challenge many viewers–myself included–but I have to ask, is it so wrong to be challenged? I for one prefer to actively participate in my moviegoing experience, and The Dark Knight Rises kept me thinking and puzzling things out for three solid hours of entertainment that was anything but light.

–If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises, check back on this site soon. I’m already planning on seeing it a second time soon.

What was your opinion of The Dark Knight Rises (try to keep your comments as spoiler free as possible).


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