July 18, 2012


THE DARK KNIGHT RISES:  Worth A Ticket – The Saga That Rewrote Superhero Movies Goes Out With A Weighty Bang

Christopher Nolan likes his intricate, novelistic plotting.  You remember the portion of The Dark Knight where Batman had to travel to Hong Kong to capture a banker who was laundering money for Gotham City’s gangsters, because once the banker was back on US soil, he could be arrested on RICO charges, cut a deal with Harvey Dent, and provide evidence which would allow the heroes to put most of Gotham’s bad guys in jail?  Probably all you really recall is the part when Batman swooped in to grab the banker from his skyscraper office, then the two of them were picked up in midair by a waiting jet, but the section as a whole took up a good 20 minutes or so of the movie.

That’s what a lot of the first half of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the feverishly-awaited third film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, is like.  There’s a great deal of very complicated introduction and positioning of characters in order to get everyone in place for the second half, where it turns out that a lot of the opening machinations were essentially red herrings, gears that were being manipulated for strategic purposes more than anything else.

And then, once everything is in place exactly the way Nolan (and his co-screenwriter, brother Jonathan, working from a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer) envisioned it, the filmmakers spring their narrative traps, and the second half is every bit the unforgettable epic you dreamed it would be.

The most obvious and pressing question about The Dark Knight Rises–how it measures up to its already-classic predecessor–turns out to be more difficult to answer than one would have expected.  There’s nothing in Rises to compare to the fiery, savage creation that was Dark Knight‘s Joker, a role as brilliantly conceived as the performance Heath Ledger gave to it.  On the other hand, Dark Knight had third act problems–it peaked 45 minutes before it ended, and the Two-Face portion of the movie, intended as its thematic heart, felt anti-climactic.  Rises, on the other hand, gets steadily better as it goes on, and its final reels are some of the most breathtaking footage in action movie history, leading to a conclusion that manages, against the odds, to be just about completely satisfying.

There are things about the latter portions of The Dark Knight Rises that shouldn’t be spoiled.  But this is the basic situation:  8 years have passed since the events of Dark Knight.  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who has had Batman take the blame for the murders Harvey Dent committed, has seen the Caped Crusader turned into a pariah.  Dent’s spirit has “saved” Gotham City in the sense that crime is down, but the city is rotting from within, the poor bitterly resenting the wealthy.  Several yeas earlier, Wayne had tried to build the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor, but the project went unfinished, and he’s become a virtual recluse in the rebuilt Wayne Mansion.  Suddenly things begin to happen in his life, and in Gotham’s:  an sleek (one might say catlike), unprincipled burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is after more than one of Wayne’s valuables.  A brutal mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to town and begins to build a power base.  Power struggles at Wayne Enterprises force Wayne to seek a partnership with financier Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).   A young cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to make contact with Wayne.  All of these things are connected, but not in the ways you’d think–and not in the ways they initially appear to be.

Nolan has earned the audience’s patience, and there are times in Rises when he imposes on it, painstakingly moving the story through a 165-minute length that feels as long as it is.  Although Bane is more complicated than he at first appears to be, he doesn’t challenge Batman in the same incisive ways that The Joker did in Dark Knight.  (Happily, though, the sound mix has been greatly improved from the promo that was shown late last year, and Hardy can now be clearly understood under his mask).  For all its elaborate trappings, Rises turns out to be simpler at heart and in its morality than Dark Knight, more similar in tone to Batman Begins, a movie that, by the way, it would pay to be familiar with when you see Rises, because yes, there will be a test of your memory.

Once you’ve made your way through the sometimes laborious first section of Rises, the rewards Nolan provides are remarkable.  Rises cost more than $250M to produce, and the sheer scale of the enterprise is astonishing.  Over the past 15 years we’ve all gotten used to the asynchronized but not quite real movements of digital people in crowd sequences.  But in Rises, you see what the best CG can’t duplicate, the sight of thousands of human extras all gathered for massive action scenes.  The lines between practical and digital effects in the chases and battles that conclude the film are invisible, and given Nolan’s realistic aesthetic for the series, everything you see looks like it’s actually happening .  (If there is any opportunity to see Rises in real 70mm IMAX, it’s worth the expense and trouble, as half the movie is shot with IMAX cameras and the results are truly spectacular.)  Nolan has used the same technical team of cinematographer Wally Pfister, production designer Nathan Crowley, composer Hans Zimmer and editor Lee Smith on the entire trilogy (as well as his Inception), and all of them contribute world-class work.

One of the many things that have set Nolan’s trilogy apart from other superhero movies is the quality and depth of the acting.  Bale isn’t a guy in a suit in Rises–he has to give a serious, wide-ranging performance, and he’s up to the challenge.  Perhaps more impressively in context, Nolan has finally introduced fully-rounded, exciting woman characters to the Batman series, and Hathaway (who has serious action-movie chops besides everything else) and Cotillard are exceptional.  Gordon-Levitt, often holding up his section of the story alone, is a strong presence, although Hardy, while certainly powerful as Bane, is hampered by the limitations built into the role.  Michael Caine’s Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon are as reliably excellent as they’ve been all along.  There are also, suffice it to say, appearances from some familiar faces.

All of the care Nolan put into setting up his narrative pay off in the last section of Rises, as surprises kick in and details turn out to have been far from random.  There’s a reference to Dickens at one point in the script, and certainly he was a key influence, both in the film’s vision of haves and have-nots, and in the teeming yet carefully controlled scope of the storytelling.  Concluding a hugely ambitious series of films like this in a way that ties up all the loose ends and provides a cohesive and fitting sense of closure is incredibly difficult, but Nolan makes his way there.  In fact, although both he and Christian Bale have sworn that this will be their last time with the Caped Crusader, Nolan has given Warners the parting gift (whether or not they choose to take him up on it) of providing a pathway for the series to continue.  The Dark Knight Rises is, in every way, a classy exit.

See also:






SHOWBUZZDAILY RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW:  Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."