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Belated Review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

Though it's normally best to get straight to the point with reviews The Dark Knight Rises (hereafter refered to as TDKR) presents something of a quandary. How do you jump right in to speaking about this particular film when Christopher Nolan's last Batman film has so long ceased being "just a movie". So we begin with a three part preface... 

What?!? Nolan can blow seven reels of a non-origin Batman film before Bruce suits up and you object to me blathering on for three paragraphs before I review the movie? Double standards!

First, I believe that Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman is one of the greatest performances of the 1990s, the very definition of what an actor can do when they understand their auteur's vision, get the heightened play of specific entertainment genres, and are capable of imaginative stylization. It pissed me right off that people tried to pretend that no one before Heath Ledger had ever delivered Oscar worthy work within the comic book genre. So Batman Returns is my favorite Batman movie (yes, I know it has flaws. Shut up) and I entered the movie naturally resistant to Anne Hathaway's Catwoman.

Second, I saw the movie alone on Saturday, the morning after it opened. I failed to convince any of my friends to go with me and wasted my second ticket. To my great shame even though I think it's stupid to let fear change your routines (I was on a plane exactly a week after 9/11 as scheduled) I did briefly find myself thinking about where the exits were* against my will and flinched at the frequent gun battles in the movie. When I returned from the movie a friend snarkily asked me "So was is worth risking your life?" and I wanted to punch him. In a non violent way. See, every movie is worth risking your life for because movies are totally safe. Movies do not kill people, people do. People with access to firearms especially which is a lot of people given our nation's embarrassingly pro-tragedy gun laws.

*I'm super happy to report that I've been to the movies twice after this and never once thought of this.

This is a LOT of baggage to take into a movie already. I get that. And then there's the small matter of my teflon resistance to understanding the genius of Chris Nolan and residual frustration with fanboy culture that demands that I do. I was discussing the push and pull between mandated blockbuster movie culture and blogging demands last week with Rob, a reader, on facebook who paid me the nicest compliment:

I like the balance you strike. Sorta: this is here, can't ignore it, we're all gonna see it, Christian Bale is gonna sound funny, and we move on.

Rob nailed it. Yes. Yes. Yes. Hee. And we move on... finally, to the [spoiler heavy] review

TDKR essentially begins with Bane (Tom Hardy) hijacking a plane and kidnapping a scientist for nefarious purposes. This scientist will be able to transform a fusion device's kindly purpose (powering Gotham with inexpensive safe energy) into a nuclear weapon of mass destruction. But the movie won't get to those plans for an hour or so.

Tom Hardy has the unenviable task of following up two amazingly successful Batman villains into the multiplex. Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow doesn't get much press these days but the crowd reaction when he appears onscreen in TDKR reveals that I'm not the only one who cherishes that performance/character. And no matter how gifted any actor is, Heath Ledger's The Joker would be impossible to follow not just from brilliance but from the mythological super-sizing that occurs when a gifted actor dies young. Though Hardy was placed in a losing position to begin with Nolan sabotages his efforts by burying the rising star's gorgeous mug under a creepy multi-valved mask for all but 1.5 seconds of the movie and often burying his muscles, too, in costuming. This great crime against the cinema is another reminder that Chris Nolan is very nearly a sexless filmmaker. His filmography suggests that he probably never thought of Hardy's lips at all nor realized he was robbing the star of so much of his screen power; it's like blindfolding Bette Davis for a whole movie or putting Catherine Deneuve in a bald cap! Hardy himself doesn't help matters choosing a voice for Bane that sounds a bit like Sean Connery doing Darth Vader hosting Masterpiece Theater in a sketch comedy. It's less unsettling than it is odd, which can't have been the plan.

My qualms about Bane aside, the opening setpiece works well in setting the tone for the expectedly ambitious and visually arresting movie. The image of one large plane suddenly hovering over a smaller one, the subsequent sick-making verticality of the victimized aircraft, and Bane descending dowards toward his victim, has unusual punch. It suggests immediately that we perhaps ought to think of The Dark Knight Trilogy as less of a serialized one-two-three adventure and more like a stacking of Batman on Batman on Batman, until Nolan is satisfied with his imposingly erected monolith, a skyscraper-sized House of Worship for disciples of the superheroic.

Speaking of the man in the cape, where'd he go?

TDKR initially threatens to shove the billionaire hero (Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, Benevolent Capitalist but more on politics in a moment) into a supporting role in his own movie. Batman Returns also tried this tactic twenty years ago and despite that weirdly maligned film's small string of truly inspired moments -- Nolan is far more adept at ensemble-juggling than Burton. I didn't take a stop watch into the theater but were it not for a repetitive half hour inside a Middle Eastern dungeon where Bruce heals from Bane's back-breaking beating and strategizes an escape (also impossibly vertical... and then just impossible but that's another article entirely), I'd easily believe you if you told me that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman all have as much screen time as Christian Bale. Best in show honors go handily to Hathaway, who manages a Catwoman that doesn't feel much of anything like past incarnations and fits organically into Nolan's tone. She's angrier than past Catwomans and less sexual, too -- even her quips and flirtations have a kind of disdainful rage buried in them that's a marked departure from Pfeiffer's genius interpretation via splintered demented good girl/bad girl psyche.

Nolan doesn't shortshrift any of his players . Even Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Marion Cotillard in small verging on prop roles -- hell, even Matthew Modine way down the call sheet -- are all given enough attention to make their individual miniature arcs work. Nolan manages all this without distracting you from the simple fact that this is still Batman's (and, to a lesser extent, Gotham's) story.

Nolan's generosity with his team and enormous ambition (does any other superhero franchise successfully make their city's whole character and fate into a persistently compelling theme?) are both items for the plus column but they don't come without drawbacks. The running time of 164 minutes is trying even under the best circumstances in a third film, and especially tiring in the film's weakest moments. Nolan's films are never, to my mind, the equal of his ambitions and TDKR is less an exception to that rule than a textbook example. Despite a decade of well greased practice, he still pushes contradictory political messages (off-putting when they aren't just confusing), his emotional and psychological content is still weirdly limited to man-to-man angst (which is part of the reason he has such trouble with female characters though Hathaway rescues TDKR as best she can from its own exclusively male gaze as potently as Carrie Anne Moss rescued Memento from its sexlessness -- the only Nolan film that really needed a libido to function) . And when you're cowl deep in action sequences its hard not to notice that Nolan hasn't gotten any better at making action sequences coherent.

As was the case with The Dark Knight's semi-truck flipping, TDKR's action always work best in isolated moments since the editing technique is from the modern shattered mosaic school -- it doesn't matter if it makes sense so long as it looks cool! I'm not blind, it does look cool. I especially loved the Bat cycle with the physics defying wheels that Catwoman steals and the Batman hovercraft thingie, too (I don't remember the names of these things #nerdfail). They provide the action with fun eye popping images here and there.

The most troubling aspect of TDKR is its muddled disturbing politics. It's too easy to complain about the violence-loving hypocrisies of comic book movies so I won't. (That's hardly an entertainment tactic that Nolan pioneered or even championed really -- it's just something that's always been). But Nolan's master plan to graft the superhero genre on to the real world often backfires with weirdly fascistic overtones. TDKR's storyline seems to be riffing on The Terror from the extremely conservative POV of "god, revolutions for the people suck!" and Catwoman's own speech, pre-movie famous from its first trailer appearance...

How did you think you could live so large and leave so litttle for the rest of us?"

...seems to embody both the currently hot topic of Occupy Wall Street and the fake 'war against success' that Romney and the Republicans are trying to sell us on to get us to vote for the best interest of billionaires and sign up for a dog eat dog existence for the rest of us. The widening chasm between the haves and the have nots -- a bigger scarier hole than any super-villain detonated football field  --which powers modern progressive activism is eyed suspiciously by TDKR. At first it appears that Bane and Catwoman share a political drive to level the playing field and at first it appears that only the billionaires Miranda (Marion Cotillard) and Bruce (Batman) are heroes, putting their own money towards items like the fusion reactor which will help all the small people.  Eventually TDKR pulls the rug out from under all of these conceptions since 3/4ths of the players have their own agendas: Bane just wants anarchy and violence; Catwoman just wants to start over and resents authority in general; and Miranda is secretly Talia Al Ghul and after a city-wide massacre. None of this would stick so unpleasantly if the film weren't also so adamantly the story of a Billionaire Hero who always swoops in to save the city from its collective anarchic impulses, usually stirred up by lower classes or foreigners or villains like The Joker and Bane who are the worst nightmares of capitalism seeing absolutely no value in money (GASP!). Just like his Benevolent Billionaire father (Linus Roache cameo!), Bruce understands that Gotham is its own worst enemy and he must continue to help the people who just can't rule themselves. Aided by Commissioner Gordon of course who is also above the law... even if he feels a bit guilty about it.

I considered watching Batman Begins (which I've seen 3 times) and The Dark Knight (twice) again before watching the final Batman film (for a couple of years at least) but was quickly glad that I hadn't since they're visibly present throughout TDKR. It's nearly impossible to escape them given the self-referencing both comic and dramatic, the flashbacks and/or hallucinatory cameos, and the plots that never run out of thread as they're yanked up from 2 ½ hour film to 2 ½ hour film to 2 ½ hour film. We're stacking movies on movies remember; Batman Begins is the foundation, basement, Bat cave and sewers. Dark Knight the wild elevator with abundant new floors with the unceasingly prime real estate of cityscape and river views. TDKR adds several more floors and purchases air rights above the building, too. It's somehow a brilliantly fitting end to the trilogy that the climax involves Batman flying up and away from Gotham rather than driving through its streets.  

I wish the movie didn't have its current epilogue preparing us for the adventures of Robin the Boy Wonder (Joseph Gordon Levitt's do gooder cop, who also suffers from the common superhero affliction of murdered parents) . The coda softens the daring tonally faithful climax with a weirdly heartwarming "Don't worry he lives!" goodbye. I won't lie and say I wouldn't line up tomorrow for a Batman movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role but this is pure fantasy. Nolan keeps tells us that he is after a more realistic approach and this is fantasy with a capital F. We all know Hollywood and they'd rather begin again -- origin stories forever! --  than continue this particular story without Nolan's Midas Touch. 

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Grade: B-
Oscar Chances?: That's another 1,000 words am I right? I am endlessly weary of the internet's strange obsession with The Academy owing Chris Nolan for The Dark Knight given that I didn't consider the film one of the five best of its year (if any blockbuster had a right to bitch about the weird ease with which The Reader and Frost/Nixon slipped into the '08 shortlist it's totally the transcendent WALL•E.). I didn't even think The Dark Knight was the best or runner up or runners up runner up in the Best Superhero Movie of the Aughts contest! (That'd be X2, Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles in no particular order.) But putting all that behind us, I do recognize that the sheer force of its angry wall of fandom and the estimable endurance of the mainstream media's bandwagon bitching about the self same "snub" is something to consider. AMPAS is not an impermeable monolithic fortress but an organization made up of people with different opinions who are, like any other people, subject to influence by way of public opinion. So... maybe. Maybe they feel they owe him. Maybe they don't.

At the very least The Dark Knight Rises should have no trouble finding a handful of technical nominations. Contrary to the internet's belief system, the Academy actually likes Batman and especially The Dark Knight. The past seven films have shared 15 Oscar nominations and 3 wins and roughly half of that tally comes from the movie everyone claims was snubbed. Most filmmakers would kill to be snubbed by way of 8 nominations and 2 Oscar wins.

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Reader Comments (51)

I love the tiny "air rights" plotline / deux ex machina in Burlesque. Air rights are the greatest.

Oh sorry, were you trying to talk about Batman?

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJacob D

I think I was... it's hard to say. I've finally discovered the secret of the fanboy fever "greatest movie ever made" thing... it's really easy to get distracted while watching these movies and think about other things and project on to them like a mad fool all of your pro and con thoughts.

i think i was... but you got me. I'd rather talk about Burlesque again now.

July 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I doubt the Academy feels like they owe Nolan anything. TDK was the best of the three for me, and I don't know if there will be a huge outcry this year or not. Regardless, it won't happen.

I agree with everything you say except the Robin bit, which I actually enjoyed. The film is gargantuan, problematic, epic, occassionally brilliant and mostly a mess. With all that said, my first reaction was slightly more negative, but I ended up really loving it. I think this trilogy did some fascinating things that really challenge how we view action movies, and I loved your comment about the city being a character in a way we've never seen before. It's not a perfect batch of films - if I ran the world, Nolan wouldn't have won Director for any of the three (though depending on the output this year, I might have nominated him each time). Even so, the ambition behind them really push them to a higher level for me.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Co-writer David S Goyer's a conservative, which explains why Nolan's baffled by the allegations against him that he is too.

Hardy charmed me through the mask and choice of accent, sorry it's a distraction to you. He livened up a dull affair (Nolan's directorial style). Michelle's Catwoman is the only one that seems to matter outside of the Batman cannon onto itself. Hathaway was lovely.

I do appreciate his casting of Cotillard. I love that mainstream audiences get to see her and not in some basic romantic comedy — you should learn to love her. No other French actress will matter to the American mainstream like Marion.

By the way Rises is my favorite Nolan movie — I hate Inception. Memento fell apart for me on subsequent viewings.

Christian Bale is a better actor these days and I give all the credit in the world to David O Russell. Nothing else explains why he no longer strains. He's relaxed in front of the character and has confidence in following his choices now. He's no longer breaking his neck to be weird to compete with genuine weirdos in the acting community. I love him like I love a shower.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

When I saw it, I wasn't blown away. Some of the dialogue made me cringe, I wasn't really a fan of where the politics were going, and it just wasn't as epic and enjoyable as the Dark Knight was to me (maybe because of Heather Ledger?).

Bane bored me to be honest. I loved Anne as Catwoman, though. She was probably my favorite part of the movie. I enjoyed the twist with Marion Cotillard.

I mean, it was a good movie. But it wasn't AMAZING like all my friends like to say. But that's the general public for you ... if you think it's amazing, ok, but I want to hear why. Not just "omg it was soo epic and amazing and perfect," just like I will explain why I didn't think it was all those things. I feel like the general public should be educated in film and then shitty films wouldn't be so successful and vice versa.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Oh, and I didn't like the Robin twist. I feel like everyone knew it without actually saying it; it was kind of beating us over the head with it. I mean, JGL is perfect for Robin...he looks like Batman's straight bottom ... lol.

Also, Bane reminded me of Hannibal Lector lol. I think it's because of the voice and mask.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

I enjoyed your layering/stacking thoughts about Nolan's Batman films. And the verticality of them. I think a lot of us had our doubts about Anne Hathaway's Catwoman. She didn't bother me as much as I thought she would.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBruce

An awesome review, Nathaniel! One of your best. I really enjoyed your thoughts on the very messy and contradictory politics of TDKR, even if I liked the movie way more than you did. Nolan has an overwhelming appetite, doesn't he? He wants Social Profundity with meta commentary and metaphors about revolutionary fervor and totalitarianism and corruption and capitalism, but he also likes individual psychoses, and the outcome can be a little baffling. Although I admire the way he wants the movie's primary characters to mirror and contrast with one other (Catwoman to Batman, Bruce to Talia, Bruce to JGL's character), something he's loved to do in all of his movies. It's nice, but it also doesn't really add up when you consider that Tom Hardy rambled on about these Important Topics for three quarters of the movie only to reveal that all of this was to help Talia al Ghul take down a guy she really, really didn't like. A tad unnecessary. I just don't think Nolan was able to resist.

I also agree that Nolan handsomely balanced the ensemble. It's exhausting, following about seven separate storylines, but there weren't any major weak links. (JGL deserves a compliment for making a stock character much more interesting that he sounded on paper.) I will also agree with 4rtful in that CB gave his best performance of the trilogy here, more soulful and less distant than in BB and TDK. He made an unlikely pairing with Anne Hathaway, but their dance was one my favorite scenes in the movie.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

(Although I will defend Bale on charges that he always tried to hard before David O Russell. He was wonderfully relaxed in The New World and Lauren Canyon, and in his earlier work. So I agree that to an extent that it can depend on what directors he's working with, but I think it also says that he needs more onscreen pairings with challenging female characters, clearly.)

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

And I thought you were going to concentrate more about the actual storyline flaws with the movie. [Spolier Alert] I thought you would mention the fact that it feels unintelligible that Bane and the League of Shadows would want to destroy a Gotham that is finally showing promise of recovering from its crime-infested, politically-corrupt days. It's a city at peace. Why would they want to destroy it now? Sure, they could explain it by saying that Gotham is essentially corrupt, and has always been a venal city at its core, and that they want to fulfill Ra's Al Ghul's destiny of destroying Gotham. But this leads me to my next point. Bane and Talia held a deep grudge against Ra's Al Gul after he excommunicated Bane from the League. Something is lacking in Talia explanation of why she ultimately decided to forgive her father. Her explanation is reduced to this: I was deeply angry at my father but then I forgave him just because you killed him, Batman. It feels absurd. There's no substantial, intricate explanation of why she had a change of heart. Her reasons for taking on the difficult task of destroying Gotham are not believable enough. Those two things were my major gripes with this film. The erratic editing and incongruous political messages were just the tip of the iceberg for me.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I felt so on and off about Hathaway's Catwoman. That introductory scene might just be my favorite part of the movie and I also enjoyed the fingerprint swapping showdown and the brief bit at the airport (that hat!) but I just couldn't get behind the performance. I blame the half-hearted quips that the Nolan brothers have saddled her with (i.e. "My mother warned me never to get into cars with strange men.") and Hathaway's own tendency toward theatrically affected line readings ("A girl's gotta eat..."). Some reviewer, I can't remember who, compared Hathaway in this to Liza Minnelli, which seems like an extremely apt comparison. She's clearly having a ball and her joy is infectious but she didn't necessarily seem to fit into the overall scope or tone of TDKR. It doesn't help that Nolan can't seem to decide just how gritty he wants Gotham and this swan song itself to be.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

Also, I thought Michael Caine was pretty terrific in his (appropriately) brief part. I'm glad Nolan has allowed him throughout this trilogy to be be an actual person instead of just a quippy butler, although his quips probably went over the best, at least for me. Also, loved that sight gag of him driving Bale home like a father picking his teenage son up from a party. Still, even he doesn't prove invulnerable to that ridiculous "vacation in Florence" bit. My god, that last moment in the cafe was pretty ridiculous, was it not?

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

Can I just add...

Does it really matter if Gotham City blows up? No one in their right mind would live there anyway. Let's be real.

‎”Hey, let’s spend trillions of dollars to rebuild this city until the next psychotic superhuman comes through and blows it to smithereens lawl”

Oh, and you better hope you don’t get killed when that happens.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

i'm totally biaised (i was crazy of impatience to see TDKR) and as i see TDKR is weak compared with Nolan's other Batman movies as it's the most enjoyable Nolan's Batman movie to see for me.
Wayne is moving,funny and hot (i never heard so many chukles in the movie room when Wayne was on sceen since Dicaprio in ROMEO&JULIETTE),Selina is strong,bitchy and flawed,Alfred is so thouching (the scene when he says the truth to Bruce ...mmm) in fact i like every character except but Marion Cotillard (her final is just awful)
On the conservative point of view ,i know any revolution who finishs well (usually it becomes dictatorship) and i recall Wayne is ruined
i like murphy's cameo (funny,funny),finally Bruce lost his virginity and i want the Bat motorbike and the Batwing for my christmas

my major complain is why it's difficult to have a coherent script in the blockbusters this year?

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfrench girl

Fantastic review Nat, do you think there is any chance of Michael Caine nabbing a supporting actor spot or at least being in contention? Lots of reviews have singled him out for praise and I thought he was the MVP, Anne aside of course. She made that movie, gave it a lighter, yet dark touch and managed to alleviate the whole doom and gloom feel pervading the whole thing.

I thought something along the lines of Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings and all the buzz around Alan Rickman in DHP2 as Snape as possible forerunners for nomination buzz at the very least?

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

Finally, Catwoman. Every previous live-action version (with the possible exception of Lee Meriwether) of the character has been in its way iconic, but I've never felt like any of them really delivered the complexity of Selina Kyle. (Pfeiffer was great as "Burton's Catwoman," but a blonde and neurotic mouse that roared was never going to truly satisfy this viewer.) Hathaway (and Nolan) combined the best traits of the '60s TV Catwomen with the some of the edge of the '80s comic reboot, just as I imagined she would. (If she'd had a butch buzzcut, people would really be comparing her to Liza Minnelli...)

I loved the movie on the whole, by the way, despite the exposition-heavy scenes and Bane being one of least favorite Batman villains from the comics. I usually doze off in long movies, but I was on the edge of my seat pretty much throughout.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Words like `peace` and `peace time` are awfully strong words to be throwing around Gotham. And TDKR just felt political because of the whole Occupy Wall Street movement. I hate the mishmash of cinema and politics with a passion, A PASSION! Either Christopher Nolan is a hell of director (because he brought these polar opposites together) or critics and viewers through their interpretation saw fit to make the correlation because TDKR is here and now. TDKR has just been a victim of ridiculous connotations and ill-timed events in America`s history

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMicah Mayer

David S Goyer's responsible for throwing the deer (Christopher Nolan) in the middle of the road where it's inevitable he'll see headlights of oncoming traffic. Conservatives don't have much to hold onto in the art world except old movies with racist, sexist, homophobic images to keep them company of a better time when they didn't have to answer to anyone for their atrocities. They also have country music which they can gladly keep.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter4rtful

I'd still take Pfieffer, but I agree, best in show has to go to Anne Hathaway. In the end, I did like that she remolded the character into something we hadn't seen before.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBia

I agree with the other Matthew, especially about Hathaway. I wasn't crazy about her in the scenes where she was "being sexy," like the "no one told me it was uncrackable" but I loved her in the fingerprint trade and when she takes that guy's watch (even if I cannot understand what she says in that scene). Paul is right when he says this is the first Catwoman in film that's really Catwoman. Pfeiffer is great, but it's not really anything like the Catwoman from the comics (I tried to rewatch that movie for her but couldn't get past the Penguin being raised by actual penguins. Was it always so stupid?)

I liked Bane's voice but I agree that the movie is a mess, even if I wasn't bored at all. I don't think the movie is long enough for both women since both of their relationships with Wayne seem half-baked, should have chosen just one.

Oh and the bat-cycle is called the Batpod, and the hovercraft is just called the Bat

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt S

First, I believe that Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman is one of the greatest performances of the 1990s, the very definition of what an actor can do when they understand their auteur's vision, get the heightened play of specific entertainment genres, and are capable of imaginative stylization. It pissed me right off that people tried to pretend that no one before Heath Ledger had ever delivered Oscar worthy work within the comic book genre. So Batman Returns is my favorite Batman movie (yes, I know it has flaws. Shut up) and I entered the movie naturally resistant to Anne Hathaway's Catwoman.

I agree with this entirely. Yes, Batman Returns is my favorite Batman flick too.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel

@Matt S. Hmm, I didn't think she was trying to be sexy in those scenes. In fact, she played all of those "sexy" scenes with a bit of a satirical edge, which is partially why I liked her as Selina Kyle. She's not playing it as an authentic personality trait of the character but as part of a mocking act to toy with the men around her, and when she said, "no one told me it was uncrackable," I felt like she was making fun of Wayne's self-serious tone rather than trying to appear seductive. Which still felt sexy, but rather indirectly. Especially when we see Selina Kyle's slightly haunted weariness crack through in other scenes.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercici

I agree with the posters here who thought the Robin portion at the end was lame; I understand that Nolan was delivering some fanservice to the army of Batman fanboys, but gimme a break, I don't ever remember groaning that loud at a movie before. I also agree with the praise for Michael Caine's performance; that scene where he tells Bruce about burning Rachel's letter = brilliant.

I thought Anne Hathaway was terrific in her role; I was never really a fan of hers (especially since her eager beaver hosting job at the Academy Awards) but she won me over here. I especially liked how she was written as more of a human character; wanting to erase your past and start fresh, who can't relate with that?

I'm surprised not to read any complaints about the sound. There were a few instances where I had a lot of trouble understanding what Tom Hardy was saying, ditto for the scene with Gary Oldman in the hospital. I watched it with a friend who had the same complaint but I guess it was just us.

This was in my opinion the strongest film of the trilogy because the editing was so much more tighter when compared to the other two films; it was actually coherent throughout. And the last hour of the movie was incredibly compelling, the intensity was rampant as hell.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Any problems I had with Anne Hathaway had to do with some of the horrid dialogue she was given.

Also, can we talk about how awful Marion Cotillard's death scene was? lol

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

Re: Philip -- There was audible laughter during the screening I attended during Marion Cotillard's death scene. Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't it literally one forgettable mini-monologue and then a tilt of the head downward?

Also, concerning Miranda Tate, I feel like that reveal needed to happen way before the final fifteen minutes or so of the film. We got all of five minutes to really see this character and right before we can totally absorb this surprising (if not somewhat clunky) transformation, she's gone and died. Right before that reveal, I was trying to wrap my brain around why someone as in demand as Cotillard would sign up for a pretty useless role, a peripheral character who only seems to be here in order to help Bruce Wayne get his groove back. But even the plot twist didn't do anything for her character or the film other than to have us see the tables turned on Bruce for... what exactly? Five pretty useless minutes, most of which Cotillard spends feistily sitting shotgun in a tank?

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

I saw it last night and I think it ultimately is my least favorite in the trilogy. The story was so all over the place, and fewer scenes popped like in the first two. Even from the first scene I was already getting worried with Hardy. He never got the chance to ever measure up to the previous villains just because of the mask and the goofy as hell voice that I barely got used to by the end. His role more or less prevented him to give some great acting.

The dinner party scene right after it was great fun, especially Hathaway but then it's just all over the place. Clumsy trying to explain the last 8 years, trying to get a hand on all the new characters without really getting some development for most of them and some confusing plot and thematic set up.

Hathaway was indeed terrific but it's such a shame that in the second half we barely see her and she doesn't get a whole of lot of stuff in that second half that makes her character arc more complete. Plus, she just felt barely tied to the entire plot. This problem was way more apparent in Cotillard's character. She gets NOTHING to do until that twist, but it was so poorly set up that it didn't feel truly earned and not as effective. If Nolan had her relationship with Bruce Wayne given a lot more depth, or at least had her do SOMETHING important before the end it would have paid off. She nailed that big reveal but ultimately Nolan did a poor job with her character, especially because she was offed so quickly after that and in such a bizarre scene (Why was everyone just standing there?)

I don't want to ignore it's strengths, it had some truly emotionally rousing moments, and I loved details like Bane's tears in the twist. JGL was a welcome addition and I think Bale gave his best performance of the three films. Caine also had some lovely moments especially that goodbye earlier in the film. Wintry isolated Gotham was pretty atmospheric and gave great sense of claustrophobia and dread. The flashbacks to the previous films were effective and added some emotional weight and the ending was almost great (I wish we didn't actually see Bale) I might see it again, but if it had better focus, it could have been a lot better. I'd give it the same as you, B-.

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSeeking Amy

Can I also point out that thanks to Juno Temple's character, it's the first and only Christopher Nolan movie, by my reckoning, to pass the Bechdel Test?

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

Caroline, I think you mean Juno Temple's "character." I wonder if any scenes of hers were cut because it was such a tiny role with little to no impact and Temple seems to be an actress at least somewhat popular (and buzzy) enough to gain a part with a little more heft to it, at least one that gives her a little more to do than trade lame, forgettable barbs with Anne Hathaway.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

* Don't know where I got "barbs" from but "one-liners" seems more fitting.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

Good movie. Would've been better if Gordon-Levitt took his shirt off once or twice.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I think knowing that Vera Farmiga and Charlize Theron both auditioned for Catwoman kept me from really enjoying Hathaway as much as I could've, I still thought she was great.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I definitely agree about the very muddled politics & social commentary. Not sure if Nolan thought he was saying more than he was, or if it was all simply intended to make the audience to buy into Bane's speeches the same way Gotham did, only to pull the rug out from under us.

I think I liked Bane a lot more than you though, I certainly loved the accent. And he managed to do a lot even with his face covered. Some excellent eye-acting there.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDom Preston

Alex: Is that true? Vera Farmiga and Charlize Theron audition for Catwoman? Damn! Well Theron would have been really sexy, bitchy, cold and funny. Maybe too sexy?

Vera Farmiga may be too old?

I thought Hathaway was very good as Catwoman. She was subtle sexy, funny, cold and angry

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermanuel

The first time I saw TDKR, I only liked the movie. But, because Chris Nolan's films are incredibly deep, ( one of the great things about Chris' films ) , you have to see his movies multiple of times to understand the meanings of his movies . So, after seeing this film a second time , I absolutely love this movie ( not perfect) . I respect that TDKR conveys the serious price that is paid being Batman ( mentally, physically, & spiritually). Nolan has created the darkest and the most intelligent comic book film in history, and that aspect threw me into the story ( also the brilliant cinematography, lack of CGI, and the great camera work) . You just go on this epic ride because of Nolan's unbelievable ambitions. I admire Chris for having a film with very little Batman , and more about the evolution of Bruce Wayne- the cripple recluse and the transformed Bruce trying to escape from prison. And, the ending of this flick is absolutely beautiful and haunting.

Also the great acting drew me into this comic book movie. This may be the most well-acted comic book film in movie history. Easily, Christian Bale gives his best acting performance as Bruce Wayne to date , and the always great Michael Caine gives another impressive performance. Gary Oldman & Morgan Freeman give reliable performances. Joseph Gordon Levitt gives his most soulful performance to date. Unfortunately,Marion Cotillard gives a nice performance, but her part was not well-written. I don't understand how some people were not blown away by Anne Hathaway's great performance in this movie ( not one moment does Hathaway look like Liza Minnelli in this movie). Hathaway was able to walk the tightrope of making her Catwoman / Selina Kyle sexy, dangerous, charismatic, intelligent, complex, mysterious, and playful. That is not easy to pull-off especially in a film dominated by men ( also because she didn't have a lot of screen time) . Also, I always missed Hathaway when she wasn't on the screen.

Christian Bale is known for being cold ( on camera and off) , but he needs to put in his movie contracts to have Hathaway star in all his movies. They are so natural together. I was awestruck on how Anne brings out the best in Bale. I have never seen Christian be more playful , more energetic, more lit from within , more happy with an leading actress, until he worked with Anne. Their chemistry is off the charts. Christian's scenes with Marion Cotillard are hollow, and his past scenes with Katie Holmes & Maggie Gyllenhaal -left a lot to be desired. Bale's scenes with Hathaway ( as Batman & Catwoman or Bruce & Selina ) are some of the best scenes in this movie because of their magnetism, their effortless rapport, and the way they delivered their lines together-especially the first time they meet at Bruce's Manor, their dance scene, and the scene that Bruce meets up with Selina after he escapes prison. Seriously, I have not seen this type of phenomenal chemistry between a leading actress and a leading actor , since Matt Damon & Emily Blunt in " The Adjustment Bureau. "

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterptp

I forgot to compliment the brilliance of Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bane. I definitely agree with Dom Preston. Hardy did an enormous amount of acting with his eyes, and his vocal performances were wonderful ( he could use his voice to be scary, humorous, commanding, or express something profound) . He was able to project the menace with his eyes , and after the big reveal at the end, I felt the pain he conveyed with his eyes. Only a strong actor could pull that off, and he did it wonderfully. You could tell Tom brought more to the table than what was written. I feel it is completely unfair for critics to compare Hardy's Bane to Heath Ledger's Joker because these characters are the polar opposite. Just , like I can't compare Hathaway's Catwoman ( confident and in control) to Pfeiffer's Catwoman ( derange and over-the-top) -again different characters.

Alex, Anne Hathaway won her role fair and square. She nailed her audition. Christian Bale praised Anne's screen test performance as Catwoman. He stated Anne was the only actress, that screen tested, that was not overpowered by the Catwoman outfit and the mask, and she was able to bring out the character and make it believable and understable.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeople Please

Robin John Blake? ROBIN JOHN BLAKE!? I just looked up the cast list and saw that was his full name and GAH!! First off: How many people know a North American male who has Robin as their first name these days? (693rd most common boys name (about 46,000 which is about .12 percent), 325th most common girls name before alternate spellings. (Including alternate spellings, there's about 380,000, approximately 1.5-1.6%.) So, yeah. MASSIVELY CONTRIVED. Second: Wow, Christopher Nolan everybody! He's made his distaste for the concept obvious in the lead-ups for the first two movies (and I was even willing to excuse it) but: Unless you're willing to ruminate on parenthood and what that means with such a character, why even reference that identity IN THE FIRST PLACE? At least John Nightwing Blake (even if it's still a little contrived and is reaching for a more obscure reference) could be waved off as "hippie parents."

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

My percentages are way off, but you get my point. John Blake. Didn't need anything else. Certainly didn't need a contrived and pointless shout out to the comics.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Nice review. Probably more than this film is worth, but still. I don't know since I don't read the comics, but was Marion Cotillard's reveal a surprise to people? It was to me, but I didn't know Raz Al Ghoul? had a kid, and the film led you to believe that he had a son. That was one of the film's real shocks, but the effect might have been lessened for others. I barely remember Liam Neeson's role in "Batman Begins."

In the end, this wasn't the worst of the trilogy, but it certainly wasn't the best. Too much filler , muddled Occupy Wall Street politics, and gaping plot holes to be great. "The Dark Knight" is still the gold standard, and I doubt the Academy will bite with this one either . Nolan won't be nodded for best director until he directs his stuffy British period piece that the internet will hate and voters salivate over.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOrion

Anybody who associates TDKR with politics either missed the theme of the film (PAIN) or they realized it took a very, very underlying position (because Occupy Wall Street just ballooned its look).

I feel I have to clear things up with the character of John Blake. There were quite a few people who said an unbelievable part in TDKR was when Blake visited Bruce Wayne and told Bruce he knew that he was Batman. Has anybody ever seen 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent'? Detective Robert Goran is an incredibly intelligent character, who seems utterly superhuman, taking hints and drawing impressive conclusions. If a character can be like that in a real-world crime drama, why can't John Blake be like that in a fictionalized, superhuman world?

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMicah Mayer

I think its so hard to really compare Anne's and Michelle's performances. Michelle would be pretty much ridiculous in the Nolan universe while Anne would be completely boring in Burton's universe. But in each of their films? Both of them were pitch perfect.

After this movie and Inception, i have to wonder why Marion Cotillard hasn't been cast as a Bond girl yet. She can clearly do the job (Especially with Inception where she only existed just to fuck things up for everyone) Her monologue where she revealed that she was Talia was a perfect Bond villainess move. Plus, her "kill them. kill them all" was chilling.

Tom Hardy was fun, but i honestly missed 60% of his dialogue. Maybe it was just my theater? It might have completely undercut his character to be literally blown away by Selina, but i can't say that i didn't enjoy it.

July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

I was soooo blown away by this film. I was in a state of shock after it finished. And I was so grateful for these things, above all:

1. They didn't try to outdo Ledger's Joker with Bane.

2. Anne had a different approach to Catwoman, which worked brilliantly.

3. Robin turned up (in a way), after all.

4. No boring moments.

All in all, I was totally blown away by the battle scenes or when Bale was climbing out of the hole (what a moment!!!), the strong acting all around (AH, MC and JGL, especially), stunning effects, cinematography and great directing, which avoided moralising way better than it did last time. My favorite movie of the year so far.

And they can EASILY continue this and I think they will.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdinasztie

Great blog post to read. Today, I just watch this movie and wondering why did the Dark Knight rises.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPa Ul

Batman Returns is my favorite Batman film, too, and Pfeiffer's Catwoman > Ledger's Joker by a country mile. No shame.

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I love Batman Returns too! My fav Bat film. And Michelle will always be my Catwoman/Selina. Her crazy and vulnerablilty is more than what Anne's gave. She felt empty, especially what happens to her in the ending. And I much prefer Burton's films, because his 2 inspired the Animated Series which created Harley Quinn who became so popular she was put into the comics. I'm glad Nolan didnt get his 'cant write female character' hands on her. Great review.

July 31, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermandy

The first 2 films felt like revelations, and while I did not really like the gee-whiz Bruce Wayne not acting crazy enough, brooding, or TRYING to go it alone, I started to realize the value of Nolan's portrayal of Batman as a character that, like it or not, is a mortal and needs back up. Well, Nolan should have called in some backup as well, because suddenly the cops of Gotham are all boyscouts that regularly check up on orphans, Commissioner Gordan is a total-badass with no politics to play, and Batman can clean physical re-hab in about 1-2 months, just in time to fly a nuetron bomb out of the city despite his thumb-sucking attitude early on.

As a major fan of comic movies in general (I got hooked as a child, and today's directors seem to recognize I am ripe for this franchise and want to deliver my childish wishes) I have to admit I left the theater, dare I say it, a little disappointed. The moment you start recounting the scenes and thinking about the key plot elements, you realize that Nolan went nuts trying to deliver an epic tale of capitalism preserving itself in the face of terrorism - for the third time.

Whether you like the politics or not, that has been the subtext of Batman for ages - a rich white guy ultimately preserving this corrupt, evil society rather than letting it fall into the hands of less wealthy and handsome individuals. So I am forgiving there. But with Bane in the mix, we could have had a film about Bane's own rise as a major competitor of Batman's - all to eager to dethrone him as king of the hill. Instead, the film becomes a blend of so many classic batman comic ideas, it becomes a jack of all trades and master of none.

It was the sense of time in the film which killed me, I think. Batman has been out of crime fighting for 8 years, but returns to battle as quickly and as comfortably as if it were graduation day at the league of shadows. He is crippled and pathetic, but a brief visit to fox seems to return his agility, and give him a super-strong leg, only for this bionic upgrade to mysteriously disappear as Bane kicks his cocky-butt. Batman seems to be fighting harder than ever, with a welcome anger not present in other films, only for this interesting rage and frustration to disappear later. Its as if Bane's one-time broadcast of "the truth" was all it would take for Batman to forget the city did turn on him, and of course for the buried police officers to give up on him completely as the most wanted man in the city.

His back is broken, and "occupy gotham" starts, complete with a nuetron bomb which is going to blow in 25 days. A few sit ups and pushups later, Bruce is back in action, philosophy restored and ready to beat the guy that nearly squished his head like a grape (by far one of the strongest gut wrenching moments in the film). Then of course there were the character bombs dropped seemingly out of nowhere, with little build up to justify them; such as the brilliant scene with him and Alfred, despite all history, having a tearful man break up. And don't get me started on Robin - Nolan's teases have left me more frustrated than saying "AHA"! - a problem I haven't found in Marvel movies oddly enough. I wanted more Catwoman. I wanted to know why Fox didn't hate Bruce Wayne for "killing" two-face (what, he just KNEW that was a fabrication?). I wanted the Scarecrow to play a role then, if he was going to be back again (why, oh why is he the one major villain that has survived all three chapters?)

I wanted to dive deeper into Bruce's loss of purpose, his personal impotence and obvious inability to let go of a need to continue on as Batman. His love scene with Talia felt like a cheap one night stand, and becomes ridiculous considering her hatred for him later. I was excited to think about how much more of a kick butt "detective" Bruce had grown to be, only to find that, outside of tracking down Catwoman, he had no further investigations to conduct sans just forcing her to take him to Bane - the new guy he didn't seem interested in learning anything about beforehand. And for god sake did he get mom's pearls back?

My personal list goes way longer folks. The film was at times like being presented a list of awesome ideas, none of which receiving a follow-through.

The problem is really that the film needed another 3 hours to flesh out its excellent sub-plots and characters more. It needed another hour just to connect a few more dots for the sake of establishing strength of purpose. Just as in the second film, I still get irritated thinking about the "copy-cats" which existed in Gotham, but are never explained nor a problem for the Batman for more than one scene (Nolan - couldn't THEY TOO have been locked up in Blackgate prison? Now that would have been interesting . . . ).

On the other hand, Nolan consistently impressed me throughout the films with his read on characters and casting. I always hated his cast choices, only to realize later how awesome they were. Not since "Hannibal" has a movie seemed closer to asking me to root for the villains, since do-gooder police and heroes can be so lame. Bane was viscous and highly intelligent - just as he should. His line at "Wall Street", the sharp quip about "if there is nothing to steal, then why are you all here?" was brilliant. Bane got a bit too one-dimensional at times, too often just dominating the whole city rather than, like the joker, juggling the Mafia AND Batman / police. But his own ultimate vulnerability was quickly but effectively drawn, even though his apparent super-strength never gets explained. He is allowed to be a kind of hero also (but I am repressing an urge to ask, but, where was the REST of the league of shadows, then, Nolan? They traveled in packs last time!).

Likewise, Catwoman was beautifully rendered, a somehow cowardly person who at the same time fights like a lion, has a strange side kick, and can exude charm. She made me laugh, and her apology for "letting Batman/Bruce" down was sincere and bitter and reached my soulful core. In some respects, I wished her scenes with Wayne / Batman wouldn't end. I hoped she would succeed in stealing his heart, and then put it out like a cheap cigar. Their partnership was only loosely forged, and I can't believe she didn't girlfight talia, not even for one second. A criticism? We never do see how she survives prison, nor its affect on her. The Watchmen provided the best example I can think of, of what might happen if a woman that has been ripping everyone off suddenly gets stuck in the horniest prison in Gotham. She never seems truly threatened, and her past is just a bunch of news clippings. Notice how I am bitching about plot again?

Despite its vast sins, I get the feeling that this is a film that will grow on me, as my busy mind recounts details and fills in the holes for Mr. Nolan, who lacked the space and clarity to pull off what could have been a truly brilliant and original contribution to the Batman legacy. I'll give highest marks for sorting out combat scenes in this film better, and giving more of them in general. The first film fight scenes were too often incoherent flurries. Overall, I wish that Bane's ambitions were more realistic, like so much of the rest of the film could occasionally be. I wish the film were either twice as long or half as dense, and would have let go of many fun details in order to flesh out obvious strengths of the plot more. I suppose I wish Nolan hadn't gone with the "lord of the rings" approach, and tried to conceive this one as a stand-alone to a greater extent.

Great movie - but I am stuck feeling like Nolan's take on Batman will be 2/3rds great and 1/3 extended trailer.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I have mixed emotions about this movie. I had read previous reviews about TDKR and I tried to go into the movie with an open mind to see if it really was that bad. Because it is such a grandiose film and the special fx are spectacular, I came out of the movie thikning "WOW, that was awesome." But on second thought, it really wasn't that awesome. The action scenes were confusing and it took way too long for me to understand the League of Shadows hubbub. Plus, wasn't the prison supposed to be in a foreign place? How did he get to Gotham so quickly, with not a penny to his name, mind you? Marion Cotillard's final scenes were AWFUL. She had a major role in the movie, and therefore the viewer should have gotten a better explanation of her motives behind taking down Gotham and Batman--but no such thing happened. It was an empty finale and death.

By the way, Joseph Gordon Levitt deserves more credit--he gave life to a boring-on-paper character. Although, I am a huge JGL fan, so maybe I'm a bit biased there ;)

I also enjoyed the cheery Florence bit--I know it was cheesy and inconsistent with Nolan's tone, but I generally dislike Nolan's dark tone. For me, the bright moment was much needed. Plus, maybe it was used as a sort of metaphor to show how Gotham's future has just gotten better and brighter :)

I'm just a generally happy person and can identify more with movies that have a happier tonality--so maybe that's why I can say that I preferred TDKR to all the other movies in the trilogy.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsa

"And for god sake did he get mom's pearls back?"

Matt wins! Best complaint ever about the plot

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

mandy: I think Nolan might actually have originally intended to end this off with something at least partially inspired by Mad Love. "I think you and I'll be doing this forever." "Maybe we could share one. Oh, they'll be doubling up at the rate this city's inhabitants are losing their minds." If you were to ask me, if Ledger didn't die, where they were going to go with the sequel, I'd have said "Harley Quinn."

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man more. I cared more about the characters in that movie than this one.

I honestly couldn't hear large portions of the dialogue - not just Bane's muffled voice.

I giggled at some scenes too; like when Bruce pulls that balaclava over his face to speak with Gordon in the hospital as Batman. The comic book device of wearing a mask to completely hide your identity is so patently ridiculous, when you can still see a person's eyes and mouth.

It was ridiculous that Robin could figure out Batman's identity after minor contact, whereas the head of police (whom is practically Batman's BFF) had no idea for years.

What was with that scar on Miranda/Talia's back? Was it ever explained?

Other than tracking-down Selina, did Bruce actually solve any mysteries? Selina herself bemoaned the fact that her past was so easy to trace, throughout the movie, so it was hardly an accomplishment. Batman only seemed to react to his antagonists' actions, making him seem a little dim. Even Peter Parker formed a plan to defeat The Lizard in The Amazing Spider-Man, after only being a superhero for a week or two.

Catwoman WAS the best thing in this movie. She just felt real.

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

I'd still take Michelle Pfieffer, but I agree, best in show has to go to Anne Hathaway. In the end, I did like that she remolded the character into something we hadn't seen before.

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Dark Knight Rises
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