DARK KNIGHT RISES review

I attended the Canadian premiere of Dark Knight Rises last night in Toronto.  It’s going to take me a while to fully process my feelings on the movie, and I’m definitely going to see it again, but here’s my initial take on the third movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  I’m going to be mostly spoiler-free.  Anyone reading this will likely already know anything I’m mentioning below.

PREAMBLE

First off, I am a huge Batman fan.  I’ve mentioned that in previous posts.  I’ve had Batman movies running in my head for decades, and been an on-and-off collector of the comic book since the late 80s.  I have all of the individual issues of the Knight Fall storyline, where Bane breaks Batman’s back, and much of the movie draws inspiration from that arc (along with Dark Knight Returns and No Man’s Land).

When I saw Batman Begins, I was happy.  Nolan had finally delivered a version of Batman on film that was closest to the way I’d been enjoying Batman.  I think the animated series hits the mark the most over the long run, but Batman Begins certainly delivered everything I wanted in a Batman movie.  I enjoyed it a lot.

When I first went to see The Dark Knight, I was hoping for another film that was the calibre of Batman Begins.  What I saw exceeded my expectations by several orders of magnitude.  The Dark Knight was the Batman movie that I wanted and more – it was the Batman movie that I didn’t even dream of.  I loved it immediately, and despite a few minor issues that I’ve developed with it over the years, it still holds a place in my absolute favourite films.  The bar was raised to new heights, and expectations and hopes rose to impossible levels for a third movie.  There was probably no way for Dark Knight Rises to deliver something that could hit those heights.

DARK KNIGHT RISES

The title will confuse a lot of people into thinking this is a sequel to The Dark Knight.  It’s not – it’s a sequel to Batman Begins, set after the events of The Dark Knight.  That may seem to make no sense, but it’s a bit about the tone of the film universe and the story of the film.  Both Batman Begins and Dark Knight Rises are comic-book movies.  For me, The Dark Knight is not necessarily a comic-book movie – it’s more of a crime thriller that just happens to have some costumed characters in it.  But Dark Knight Rises is definitely a comic-book movie.  Unlike Batman Begins, it’s not necessarily a super hero movie.

It’s a long movie – 2 hours, 45 minutes.  Some people around me started to feel the length by the end of the film, but I could have easily watched another 30-40 minutes.  Or, more accurately, I would have loved to have the movie be 30-40 minutes longer, and had some scenes in the film that dealt with things on a more intimate scale.

That’s the first thing about this movie – it’s big.  We saw it on the IMAX screen, and it’s certainly a spectacle.  In Batman Begins, you’d see a room.  In The Dark Knight, you’d see a building.  In Dark Knight Rises, you’d see a city.  The camera has been pulled waaay back, and sometimes it’s tough connecting with what’s going on because you’re so removed.  While these big epic things are going on, it would be nice to get a sense of how everything’s affecting the “man on the street,” the same way we kept checking in with the people in the caves during the battle of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings.  The personal connection belongs to Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He’s pretty much the protagonist of the movie, or maybe a co-protagonist with Batman.

Anne Hathaway is great as Selina Kyle and does everything that she needs to.  It seems Batman must read the comics as well, since he figures her character out pretty quickly with very few clues.

Tom Hardy inhabits the physical presence of Bane the same way that Heath Ledger inhabited the chaotic charisma and psychosis of the Joker.  My favourite scene in the movie is when Bane puts is hand on his employer’s shoulder.  He does it casually and calmly, but there is so much menace and physical violence contained in that gesture.  He’s a walking tank of potential energy.  He’s controlled, and you get the vibe that he could casually, but purposefully, kill people (without looking) on his way to pick up the morning paper.  He’s my favourite part of the movie.

Batman Begins was about fear, how to overcome it, and how to use it as a weapon (both by the good guys and bad guys).  The Dark Knight was about chaos, and questioning whether order was an illusion that we used to protect ourselves from reality.  (And yes, with lots of political allegory mixed in there.)  Dark Knight Rises is about pain – how much can you endure, how much can you inflict.  If the Joker is an agent of chaos, Bane is certainly an agent of pain – he’s there to break things:  Batman, Gotham, spirits, hopes.  There is an element of the 99% and the struggle of the marginalized against those in power (decisions from The Dark Knight do come back to haunt some individuals), but really it’s just an excuse Bane uses to cause more pain before he breaks everything permanently.

WRAP-UP

I didn’t love this movie immediately as I did with The Dark Knight.  It’s going to take some time to digest.  It keeps you at arms length for some bits (or helicopter’s length), so it may take some time to connect to.  It’s a comic book movie, but not a superhero movie.  It’s a sequel to Batman Begins set after the events of The Dark Knight.  It’s long, but could be longer.

I don’t think this will make as much money as The Avengers, because it’s not a fun movie that I will take my kids to see again and again – in fact, I really don’t know if they’ll like it at all.  Again, it’s about pain.  Not perfect fare tween girls.

But it’s definitely something to see in the theatre – and IMAX if possible.  And it’s a solid conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

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