Review: “The Dark Knight Rises” (Spoiler Free)

Before I start this review, I just wanted to express my deepest sympathy for the victims of the theater shooting in Colorado over the weekend. It may almost seem like a cliche at this point, but, as someone who spends a lot of time in theaters, I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like.

Concerning “The Dark Knight Rises,” I went into the midnight showing trying to restrain my expectations. I think a lot of people went into this film expecting it to be better than 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” which really didn’t work out for them.

This film picks up 8 years after the events of its predecessor. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a bit of a recluse after hanging up his cowl. With Wayne out of the public eye, his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) remains his lone connection to the outside world. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is the “war hero” biding his time before the mayor forces him into retirement. To make a long story short, Gotham is (mostly) crime-free and boring.

Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked mercenary with devout followers who sets his sights on the destruction of Gotham. With the emergence of a new super-villain, Wayne feels the need to return to his crime-fighting ways.

The film returns with its amazing cast, but several key additions are brought in to tell a broader Batman tale. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young cop named John Blake that Gordon takes under his wing. Marion Cotillard, in a slightly under-developed role, is Miranda Tate, a key board member at Wayne Enterprises. Also joining the cast is Anne Hathaway in a surprisingly great performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

Given the casting list, great performances shouldn’t be too surprising. There is one scene with Cotillard near the end, though, that looks like high school theater class. I wish I could get more specific, but that would reveal some heavy spoilers.

I remember when “Batman Begins” first came out, one of the biggest complaints was that director Christopher Nolan had no idea how to shoot an action sequence. Two Batman films later, I’m happy to report that there are a couple of great fights in this film. One scene between Batman and Bane in the sewers is great because it says so much about the characters while still being a great fight sequence.

My favorite thing about “The Dark Knight Rises” is the story. The beginning feels like “The Dark Knight Returns” with Batman coming out of retirement. There are other references to comics as well, but the main thing here is just how ambitious the plot is. “The Avengers” was interesting because, among other reasons, it tried the unthinkable with assembling characters together. This film is groundbreaking in a different kind of way. The dreary atmosphere, the abandonment of all things good and the embrace of evil make this the darkest chapter in the trilogy.

Unfortunately, the plot is also where the film is the most vulnerable. Since the story is so vast, carrying across continents and shooting for such great heights, it also leaves more plot holes than previous installments. That “realism” everyone was going crazy about in 2008 is only a hollow shell here. I’m not saying “The Dark Knight” was perfect, but it hid its flaws better than this film.

The beginning and ending of the film is where people will divide over its quality. I think everyone agrees the middle is pretty great. The first hour is a little slower than your average man-in-tights flick, but it’s mainly due to so many new characters and that 8-year gap between films.

The ending, on the other hand, splits the audience because there are a few revelations that you will find either very satisfying or sloppy and unbelievable. I can’t really tell you which camp you’ll fall into, but I was pretty satisfied walking out of the theater.

It can’t be reiterated enough that this is not “The Dark Knight.” There is no Joker or Heath Ledger and lightning doesn’t always strike the same place twice. That being said, I think this fits very well within Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.

Grade: A –

Until next time, happy viewing.

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