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The Dark Knight Rises

Movie Information

The Story: The final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman series. The Lowdown: A more human, more entertaining, less oppressive Batman movie than might have been expected. It's not as weighty as it probably means to be, but it's undeniably entertaining and well-made.
Score:

Genre: Comic Book Action Drama
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
Rated: PG-13

Perhaps the strangest thing to me about The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s not nearly as depressingly nihilistic as its predecessor. In fact, I found it far more entertaining than either of Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman movies. It actually has some sense of fun hovering about it. Now, I know that’s a dirty word in the realm of the hardcore fans who seem to take pleasure in these films being dour for their own sake. That’s something I’ve never subscribed to as a plus in any genre — and, frankly, it’s not something I find in any great film that I can recall. That’s not to say I think this is a great film or a profound one. It is, however, a good film and an entertaining one — with certain significant limitations.

Some argue that The Dark Knight Rises is great because it “tackles” great themes. More correctly, I’d say it references those themes by way of current events. In its own way, the film is very much like comedies that are supposed to be funny for no other reason than that they’re full of pop culture references, except this is the dramatic version. The problem is that merely citing — or dragging in — topical issues isn’t the same as tackling them. By itself, the references don’t make your film profound, only topical in the old “ripped from the headlines” sense. Here, they actually feel less like they’re “ripped from the headlines” and more like they’re grafted onto the story. What does it actually say about these elements? Whatever potential depth there might have been is quickly nullified by having less to do with reality and human nature than with the machinations of certifiably demented criminal masterminds. By the time it gets to “storming the Bastille” and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) presiding over a kangaroo court, the film has crossed over into the entertainingly absurd — and that’s probably just as well.

What we have here is, at bottom, an entertainment. It’s a big entertainment — and a ponderously long one — with reasonable intimations of a kind of pop culture Wagner opera. That’s not a bad accomplishment. And most of Nolan’s choices — including limiting the amount of screen time given to Bale’s Batman doing his Clint Eastwood impression — are good ones that actually smack more of Inception than his Batman movies. There are some false steps, yes. Nolan should never attempt to shoot a dance sequence. He has neither the flair, nor the grace to pull it off, which would matter less if it wasn’t an important scene. But more often than not, he evidences a lightness of touch and a humanity that serves the film well. Here, you actually care about Bale’s Bruce Wayne for reasons other than the fact that you’re supposed to care. They’re actually on the screen and inherent in the story. The same is true of most of the film’s main characters. If Nolan has accomplished nothing else here, he has made one of the more human movies of this type.

Some of the criticism that’s been leveled against The Dark Knight Rises frankly baffles me. I suppose it’s a testament to how subjective these things are, but I don’t see how it’s possible to think this is grimmer than The Dark Knight. Some, however, do. Similarly, I had absolutely no trouble understanding Bane’s (Tom Hardy) modified voice. (I’m not sure I think it was a good idea — it sounds too much like a generic “spooky voice” from a horror movie — but I understood him.) Did I think he was a good enough villain? For purposes of the film, yes. Unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker, Bane doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the movie or the actors. That’s a trade-off I’m good with. In the end, this is a movie I liked — one, I can actually imagine watching again, and that’s saying something. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

13 thoughts on “The Dark Knight Rises

  1. Jeremy Dylan


    What we have here is, at bottom, an entertainment.

    I think Christopher Nolan would agree with more of this review than you might think.

    In recent interviews, I’ve heard him repeatedly disavow any intentions on his part for the film to be any kind of political or social commentary on real world issues.

    He just wanted to ‘tell the most entertaining story possible’ and create a big, immersive action film on a scale that topped the previous two films.

    For me, it was extremely successful in those aims.

    By the by, I’d be very interested in votes from other viewers of this movie on who Tom Hardy was taking vocal inspiration from?

    To my ears, it sounded like a mixture of John Hurt, Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart.

    Generally, I thought Bane was extremely effective as a more Bond villain kind of take on the character – almost a mix of Bane and the original Denny O’Neill / Neal Adams take on Ra’s Al Ghul.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I still think he sounded like whoever was pretending to be Samuel S. Hinds under that hood in The Strange Case of Dr. Rx threatening to swap Patric Knowles’ brain with that of his pet gorilla. “You see M’bongo there? He is very stupid, but soon he will be very smart — and you will be…not so smart.”

  3. Ken Hanke

    Not sure how many people consider The Strange Case of Dr. Rx a classic, though it’s actually one of the few titles from Universal’s so-called “silver age” that I like all that much.

  4. Jeremy Dylan

    I thought this film was a pretty good argument for Nolan to have a go in the Bond director’s chair also.

    This has a pretty great ersatz Bond pre title sequence, plus Hathaway and Cotillard as Bond girls, Morgan Freeman as Q and Tom Hardy as a wonderfully arch Bond villain. I guess Gary Oldman is M in this analogy.

    Of course, he may feel like he’s pretty much done it at this point.

  5. Chip Kaufmann

    I thought Tom Hardy’s Bane sounded like a thinly disguised version of James Earl Jones’ Darth Vader. He even has the mask to distort his voice.

  6. Cynthia

    Mr. Hanke, I’ve valued your movie reviews in the past, but, on this one, I have to disagree. “The Dark Knight Rises” was a dreadful film. Most glaringly, the sound track was muddy or unclear: I had a very hard time understanding some of the actors’ dialogue (particularly Bane, whose sound-processed, Darth Vader borrowed voice allowed me to take in but one word in every five for much of the movie).

    The story was incoherent and poorly constructed: at one point Gotham City was under attack, explosions bursting everywhere, and an atomic bomb about ready to go off, when quite suddenly, the movie comes to a screeching halt, and we find ourselves in a medieval dirt prison somewhere in….India? Instead of simply killing Batman, Bane transports him to India(?) to endure a prison term?

    The characters were not compelling (except for Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Jason Gordon-Levitt’s Robin), and I found myself, for the most past, not caring what happened to them in spite of the numerous gun battles and explosions.

    And finally, about the depiction of over-the-top nihilistic violence: most people rush to say, “Oh, no, there is no connection, no connection to mayhem we find on the screen and mayhem we find in our everyday lives.” But, I have to wonder. Most movies are stories. And some stories are so powerful that they change people’s lives. There was a story about a man long ago who died upon a cross, was reborn, and became a God. it was pretty motivating. In my own life, a certain movie (I won’t say which because I’m somewhat embarrassed by it) changed my behavior. It inspired me to socialize more and to try new things. If heartwarming, inspirational movies can motivate people, why can’t movies that depict scenes of mayhem and violence?

    This movie, like many before it, portrayed millions of city residents without any control over their lives, subject to explosions, gunfights, and nuclear weapons. Is it any wonder that, in our atomized society, a society with very high unemployment rates and the threat of a financial meltdown, Americans are arming themselves to the teeth?

    Just a very bad movie. Bad artisically, and bad for our society.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Most glaringly, the sound track was muddy or unclear: I had a very hard time understanding some of the actors’ dialogue (particularly Bane, whose sound-processed, Darth Vader borrowed voice allowed me to take in but one word in every five for much of the movie).

    I can only speak to my personal experience. I saw the film in theater no. 6 at The Carolina. I had no problem understanding any of the dialogue. I’ve heard numerous reports of the problem, so I assume it’s a real one, but I didn’t experience it. It is apparently a theater-by-theater concern.

    And finally, about the depiction of over-the-top nihilistic violence: most people rush to say, “Oh, no, there is no connection, no connection to mayhem we find on the screen and mayhem we find in our everyday lives.”

    First of all, I have to ask how much mayhem do we as individuals — not by courtesy of the news — actually experience in our everyday lives? I’m not really that concerned about violence in movies. It’s been around for as long as there have been movies — and theater and literature. And for just as long, people have been questioning whether or not it’s bad for society. And there are many far more violent movies than this one. Now, on the other hand, I do find the tendency toward nihilism — and the apparent belief that its inclusion in our fiction is somehow profound — disturbing, though my reasons may be as much aesthetic as sociological.

    And some stories are so powerful that they change people’s lives. There was a story about a man long ago who died upon a cross, was reborn, and became a God. it was pretty motivating.

    I’m not sure you and I interpret that story quite the same way, but don’t you think that’s a bit of a stretch as a comparison? A myth dating back over 2000 years and a comic book character dating back to 1939?

    If heartwarming, inspirational movies can motivate people, why can’t movies that depict scenes of mayhem and violence?

    Your own anecdotal experience to one side, is there really any evidence that heartwarming, inspirational movies make better people? I mean, that type of movie has always been around, too, but seems to have had little impact on society. I can’t actually think of a single title that helped transform society for the better on any broad scale.

    This movie, like many before it, portrayed millions of city residents without any control over their lives, subject to explosions, gunfights, and nuclear weapons.

    Of course it did. That — or something effectively like it — is inherent in any movie of this type. Back in the 1930s, Flash Gordon was always saving the world from destruction. In the 1989 Batman, Batman is saving the helpless citizens of Gotham from mass murder by the Joker. Roughly the same thing — with a different villain — is at the core of Batman Returns. Without some threat of disaster over which the citizens have no control, there’s no need for a hero.

    Is it any wonder that, in our atomized society, a society with very high unemployment rates and the threat of a financial meltdown, Americans are arming themselves to the teeth?

    I don’t know about that last part. I can’t say I know anyone personally who has armed him or herself to the teeth. But really what does a two-week-old movie actually have to do with that? It may reflect these things, but it didn’t help to create them. If you want to point a finger, I think it might be better aimed at a society inundated by 24-hour-a-day news saturation that keeps every story going for as long as it can as horrifically as it can.

    Just a very bad movie. Bad artisically, and bad for our society.

    I think you’re granting the movie more power than it deserves.

  8. luluthebeast

    [b]And some stories are so powerful that they change people’s lives. There was a story about a man long ago who died upon a cross, was reborn, and became a God. it was pretty motivating.[/b]

    I agree, THE RULING CLASS is one of my favorite movies. He died as Jesus and was reborn as Jack The Ripper. Wonderful stuff!

  9. luluthebeast

    And as far as people arming themselves to the teeth, most of them started it because a black man got elected as President. The rest are doing it because of the coming [i]Zombie apocalypse[/i]

  10. Orbit DVD

    This movie, like many before it, portrayed millions of city residents without any control over their lives, subject to explosions, gunfights, and nuclear weapons. Is it any wonder that, in our atomized society, a society with very high unemployment rates and the threat of a financial meltdown, Americans are arming themselves to the teeth?

    I always view these movies as them being in a different reality than ours… it helps me enjoy them a whole lot more.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind living in a reality where William Devane is President.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZfELsmIbNE

  11. Jeremy Dylan

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind living in a reality where William Devane is President.

    I guess this is his second term, after his management of the Cuban Missile crisis in 1974 and his subsequent terms as Secretaries of State and Defense.

    This is a nice spot-the-cameo film really. Bunny Colvin and Mayor Carcetti from THE WIRE pop up in small roles.

  12. Big Al

    “William Devane is President…I guess this is his second term, after…1974…”

    THIRD term. Don’t forget he was the President in the STARGATE:SG-1 double-header “Lost City”.

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