The Dark Knight Rises: A Review

“Now this evil… rises. The Batman has to come back. He must… He must…”

There are times in our lives when the world once again begins to speak of evil. In the wake of national tragedy, our collective minds are reawakened to a terrifying and undeniable truth:

Evil not only exists; it thrives.

We spend our time in relative comfort, sometimes for years, living day to day without cause for alarm. Yes, there are difficulties, dangers, and disruptions in our daily lives, some very severe, but rarely do we experience terrors so culturally and collectively jarring that our notions of safety are derailed and our society is rocked to its core.

It’s during these times that we are reminded of our need for rescue. The evil that runs free in this world is beyond our ability to control and beyond our power to overcome. The world is subject to its power, and we are following the course of this world. We are often blind to this, unable to see our desperate need for a Savior, but when evil is dramatically displayed, as it was in Aurora, Colorado, there is a hope that rises.

As people are reawakened to the presence and power of evil, even in the midst of great despair, they turn to the One who can save. Hope for relief from the present suffering of this world rises from the wreckage of disaster. Evil will not win. It will be destroyed. It has no ultimate power of those who look to the Savior.

In the film, The Dark Knight Rises, Bane says that the key to true despair is to give people just enough hope to keep them holding on until they finally realize they are lost. But Scripture says that true hope is born our of despair. Salvation comes not from realizing your inner potential to pull yourself out of the pit, but by resting in the only One who can lift you up and set your feet on the Rock. To understand that the evil of this world is not an outside, impersonal force, but one that resides in our very heart, is a truly despairing notion. But true hope comes to those who realize this reality and turn towards the One who is able to save.

In many ways, this is the theme that comes through most clearly in The Dark Knight Rises. The city of Gotham has enjoyed nearly a decade of peace since the close of The Dark Knight. The people live in safety, happily enjoying clear streets and full prisons, blind to the fact that evil is not stamped out simply by putting the bad guys where they can’t be easily seen. The choice made to cover up the true end of Harvey Dent and pin the blame on the Batman has inoculated Gotham to the evil that still lingers. True peace cannot be built upon a lie, even one put forth with the noblest of intentions.

This lie comes crashing down when a new villain emerges in Gotham: Bane, a monstrous and masterful enemy, who matches Ras al Goul’s command of fear and the Joker’s appetite for destruction. Bane turns the city upside down, brining it’s citizens to the brink of despair. And in that moment, there is only one person to whom they can turn, the incorruptible symbol of the common good, Batman.

But unlike Batman, Bruce Wayne is not incorruptible, and his days in hiding have blinded him to this, and he pays the price for his lack of vision. Wayne needs saving as much as the city of Gotham. He rediscovers that being Batman is more than simply putting on a suit and going crook catching around the city. Batman does what Gotham cannot, He sacrifices everything for the sake of the people. He is the hero they need.

The Dark Knight Rises was hands down the best movie I’ve seen this year. It stands, in my humble opinion, at least equal with The Dark Knight and Batman Begins, and has catapulted the Dark Knight trilogy to (near) the top of the all time best trilogies list.

Why is this so?

First, every great movie starts with a great script. Rises is intelligent, intense, captivating, and filled with emotion. The Nolan brothers have thoroughly succeeded in writing an epic conclusion to their near decade-long Batman saga. They managed to create a story that brings the Dark Knight trilogy full-circle, giving both Batman and Bruce Wayne equally compelling and redeeming story arcs. The Nolans have a way of juggling an otherworldly amount of detail over the course of a film. This is evident all the way back in Memento, and they have only gotten better since. Rises is packed without being bloated, it’s rich in protein, low in fat, and free of artificial preservatives.

Second, as a director, this is Nolan’s best chance at an Oscar nomination so far. TDKR is worthy of pulling a Return of the King at this year’s Academy Awards, being recognized for the collective efforts of both cast and crew over the course of so many years, and Nolan is the main reason for this. His command of the camera and keen artist’s eye are on full display here. Where he seems to have improved most dramatically is getting excellent performances out of his actors, something that has always seemed to come a distant second to story and feel for Nolan. This, I think, is his best all around picture.

And let me say something about the feel of the film. I generally enjoy movies, but there are few movies that reach me on a purely emotional level. The King’s Speech was one in recent memory. Rises is another. I was absorbed in the tension of things from the outset, sitting through long sections of the movie without breathing for anxiety. And I wouldn’t call this movie a “crier” by any means, but there was one point late in the story where I was totally overwhelmed.

The new members of the cast were stellar. Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides the audience POV in the movie, a privilege we haven’t had yet in the series. And the female leads, Marion Cotillard and Anne Hathaway, are far and away the strongest females of the Dark Knight trilogy, erasing the memory of Katie Holmes, and more than adequately replacing the loss of Maggie Gyllenhaal. Tom Hardy is a beast. As Bane, he was both terrifying and charming. He nearly matched Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker, but added a sense of control and calculation that is missing from the Joker’s arsenal. This was his movie, which is as it should be in a Batman movie. As the unmovable rock of justice and good, Batman is always a vehicle to display the depths to which humanity is capable of falling, which makes for the most interesting and dangerous villains. Any residual memory in our collective consciousness of the Bane of Batman and Robin, is easily wiped away by Tom Hardy’s absolutely ruthless portrayal of Batman’s most deadly foe.

The returning cast is in top form, especially Michael Caine as Alfred. As the reluctant voice of Bruce’s conscience, Alfred is the truth speaker of the movie, and Caine is at his best in Rises. Christian Bale is, for the first time as Batman and Wayne, able to show the range of which he is capable, putting in his most layered and dynamic effort in the series. Gary Oldman is as good as ever (understatement), and Morgan Freeman adds a warmth and humor that is needed in such an intense movie.

My qualm with the film is shared by my good friends over at Cinephiles, who point out that the too many actors and too much time is wasted on the minor characters of the movie. There are several sequences that are almost completely unnecessary in the overall scope of the story and more than a few quality actors who are introduced and killed off without adding any forward motion to the movie.

So, do I recommend this film?

If you are not a child, and have seen the other two, then absolutely, and if possible, on I-Max. There are not many movies that are worth seeing. Most are not entertaining enough, not redeeming enough, and simply not good enough. But The Dark Night Rises excels. If you see one movie this year, make it this one. And enjoy.

And while we’re talking about Batman:

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One Response to The Dark Knight Rises: A Review

  1. peterc says:

    great review! loved the movie too, and im glad they addressed the big lingering issue from the 2nd movie (besides what happened to joker, of course) – can you actually succeed in making things better by telling and perpetuating a lie?

    2 things:

    1. one quibble with your description of the joker – bane does more overtly exhibit a sense of control and calculation, but it’s not actually missing from joker – he just did a better job of hiding it. despite all his claims about wanting chaos and being like a dog chasing a car, he sure put together some very elaborate plans to carry it all out. but calculating and detail oriented just doesnt fit as well w/ the persona that the joker tried to convey 🙂

    2. you would put this near the top of the best trilogies ever – i hope you will do a post about ur favorite trilogies.

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