Against almost impossible hype, anticipation, and expectations, Christopher Nolan has managed to deliver not just the best Batman film to date, but also the best superhero film of all time with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (while also once again elevating the playing field for what the genre can be at its pinnacle). In fact, I’d go so far as to argue it’s the best 3rd film of any series, and solidifies this franchise as the best of all time, in terms of pure filmmaking and quality. Both epic and intimate in scale, Nolan is working on a level I’ve never seen from him before. Everything before this for him has been leading up to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. The same goes for all the returning members of his cast, notably Christian Bale, who I feel gives us the definitive version of Bruce Wayne here, not to mention Batman. This is a brutal film about war, redemption, sacrifice, and a reflection of our current political climate, while still being a rousing and entertaining heroic adventure. It’s damn near perfect, and even more so than ‘The Dark Knight’, this is the film that the Academy should be nominating for Best Picture. Nolan deserves nods for his directing and screenplay duties (the way he uses the city of New York to stand in for Gotham City is stupendous, but I’ll get more into that triumphant decision in a bit) as well, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Quite simply, this is the best film of the year so far, and a surefire awards contender. Nominations obviously have more to do with just quality, but in that regard, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has that in spades. I had tears in my eyes during the final minutes, and I never expected that. Bravo Mr. Nolan…
The film is of course a sequel to ‘The Dark Knight’, but the plot has a lot to do with ‘Batman Begins’ and spiritually might be the more apt predecessor. Picking up 8 years after the events of the last film concluded, we now find Gotham mostly crime free and Bruce Wayne (Bale) living in solitude and depression, damaged mentally and physically from his last outing as Batman. The lie he and Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) perpetrated about Harvey Dent’s fate has led to a crime bill known as The Dent Act, which finally cleaned up the city…seemingly for good. Two events will conspire to bring Wayne back out into the world and Batman back into the night. One is the antics of cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), while the other is the arrival in Gotham of the masked mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy), a force of destruction with a then unknown agenda. Seeing Bane begin attacking the finances of Gotham (along with his own fortune as well) Bruce gets back in the game, against the urgings of Alfred (Michael Caine). In short order though he finds himself no match for Bane and put out of commission, leaving Bane free to essentially occupy the city (yes, I use that term on purpose) and leave the fate of Gotham more in the hands of Gordon and an idealistic young cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). To say much more would be dangerous, but suffice to say the final hour brings the legend of Batman together in an incredibly satisfying way.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Christian Bale does his best work yet in the franchise, this time getting to concentrate more on Bruce Wayne than Batman. This is the most conflicted version of the character yet, and he knocks it out of the park. Bale is the acting highlight of the film, with Michael Caine coming a close second. He really makes the most of his scenes and almost steals the show on one very emotional occasion. As for Tom Hardy, he’s limited somewhat by Bane’s mask, but he does a lot of acting with his eyes and makes this villain much more than just a thug. Anne Hathaway is the lightest character in terms of tone, and this plays to her strengths, allowing her a nice little showcase. She also has a great chemistry with Bale. As for Gary Oldman, his role is more action orientated this time around, but he handles the internal struggle of Gordon and the lie he carries with him quite well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent too as the type of ordinary individual who Batman initially hoped to inspire and allow him to one day hang up the cowl. Marion Cotillard does a lot with her character of Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member and potential love interest for Bruce, while Morgan Freeman is his reliable self as Lucius Fox. Yes, Liam Neeson shows up too, but not in the way you might suspect, while Cillian Murphy once again returns. Also turning in nice work are Matthew Modine, Juno Temple, Daniel Sunjata, and Ben Mendelsohn. Everyone pulls their weight, and it makes for a terrifically well acted film.
Christopher Nolan is doing his very best work here, not just for the franchise, but his whole career (high praise coming from me, someone who’s hardly a Nolan fanboy or anything of the sort). This is the most thoughtful blockbuster I’ve ever seen, and that’s a credit to both his writing and direction. I’d argue it’s also even more ambitious than ‘Inception’, which is another tip of the cap to Nolan’s skills. His direction is almost flawless, especially with his choice to use New York City as the stand in for Gotham. In this post 9/11 world, the imagery he evokes is truly haunting. I’d go so far as to say this is one of the best movies about post 9/11 New York, which is truly something unexpected. His issues with action sequences are gone, and especially in IMAX (the way I saw it at my Press Screening), this is a visual treat. At 2 hours and 44 minutes, this is a long movie, but Nolan paces it brilliantly and you never feel the length. The tension slowly ratchets up during the first 45 minutes, while the next hour deals with the consequences of that dread, before the final hour brings things to an applause and tears worthy conclusion. The script he again wrote with his brother Jonathan Nolan (alongside another story credit for David S. Goyer) is the strongest of the series, getting into a number of themes like class warfare, economics, and mortality. There are political allegories to be found if you’re looking for them, but the film never sides. Reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is perhaps a better primer for this movie than re-watching ‘Batman Begins’ and/or ‘The Dark Knight’ (though doing all of that is the best way to go). Nolan has finally put the whole package together for me.
In terms of Oscar potential, a lot will ultimately have to do with how the Academy opts to look at the movie, but if we’re just going by its worthiness…’The Dark Knight Rises’ deserves no less than a dozen nominations. Best Picture and Best Director are obviously the holy grails here, and both nods would be apt citations. I think the former is definitely in play, while the latter is perhaps slightly iffier, while a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination could be in the cards as long as one of those two previously mentioned categories come through. Don’t expect any acting nods, though Bale, Caine, and Gordon-Levitt are good enough, which leads the technical categories. Here is where I expect this flick to do very well. It’s flawless below the line, and well deserving of a number of wins, especially Best Film Editing. Nominations across the board are possible, and even likely for the flick. This is the complete package folks.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is an instant classic in my book and should have a legion of worshippers when it opens on Friday. Obviously, this Early Review isn’t going to get anyone to see the film who wasn’t already going to do so, but I really just can’t say enough about this flick. The final scenes will inspire a lot of talk and debate, something I can’t wait to engage in. At the risk of more hyperbole…this movie is a masterpiece, plain and simple. I’m sad that the franchise has come to a close, but it did so in just the right way. Maybe upon further inspection I’ll come down a bit from this lofty praise, but at this very moment it’s a game changer film. I loved it. This is both the movie we need and the one we deserve!
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!
Tags: Anne Hathaway, batman, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, Early Review, franchise, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Oscar hopeful, sequel, the dark knight rises, Tom Hardy, trilogy