You can ask anyone that knows me…go ahead…that very little in this life brings me more joy than my anticipation of the dramatic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise. That’s right. If you are reading this, then somehow I survived and made it through unscathed because the only thing I have had consistently cared about and had on the brain as of late (well not the only thing…lol) has been Tuesday evening’s press screening to the epic finale to the Nolan gangster/crime/superhero saga, boldly titled The Dark Knight Rises. There is no word that accurately describe the level of excitement I had going into the empty theater on Tuesday, nor is there now to describe the exasperate level of satisfaction I possess within as I pound this review out on the Macbook Pro, my weapon of choice. And now…without further ado…I present you The Dark Knight Rises, my most anticipated film of the decade. Yep. You read that right. The decade!
Like the last legendary outing, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises is co-penned by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, otherwise known as the ‘Dynamic Duo’ or the ‘Wonder Twins’ in my opinion and Chris also worked on the story with David S. Goyer, yet another veteran of the Nolan Batman film series. For those of you have been living under a rock since 2004, The Dark Knight Rises is the third installment in the Nolan Batman trilogy and is intended for all intent and purposes to be the conclusion of the series. In other words, it all culminates and ends here no matter if Christian Bale wants to don the garb again or not. This is it for Nolan. And why not go out on top, right?
Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman all reprise their roles from the previous two films, Batman Begins and the masterpiece The Dark Knight (henceforth lovingly referred to as TDK throughout the remainder of this review). This feature, The Dark Knight Rises (henceforth referred to as TDKR), takes place eight years after the events of TDK and introduces the characters of Selina Kyle, Bane, John Blake and Miranda Tate, respectfully portrayed by Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.
Needless to say, my anticipation and salivation was at an all-time high yesterday as I strutted into the Tuesday evening press premiere. With the exception of the many trailers and associated TV spots, I tried to remain as spoiler free as possible. Nothing was going to get me down this week and believe me; I’ve been dealing with some serious sh1t in my life as of late. The utter promise of success, based solely upon Nolan’s past track record, was too exuberant to let anything else get the best of me, this week at least. I sat in the theater for what seemed like an eternity waiting for the lights to go down just like a wide-eyed kid waiting to open their presents on Christmas morning. And when they finally did…two hours and forty-five minutes never went by so fast.
I can easily compare the anxiety, the wait, the anticipation and the viewing of TDKR akin to the likes of my conscious states for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It was that magical. The Nolan Batman trilogy, like the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, is legendary, in my opinion. I can’t help it. My expectation levels were at an all-time high like I have never seen them before. That’s not always bad in life, but in the world of movie viewing, that’s not always good either and usually requires an individual to view a film multiple times to effectively critique something they had so many high hopes and desire for. So you have my promise. I promise that I’m going to do the best I can here with being objective and not partial to my obviously flawed and biased love for the franchise.
A lot of my friends and colleagues in the business knew that I was attending this special advance press screening last night and I swear, I felt a constant nudge throughout my viewing as my iPhone collected a barrage of texts asking how it was. And did I mention I saw TDKR before AICN’s Harry Knowles? Wow! I feel so special. King for a day! Anyway, to anyone that asked…here were my immediate thoughts as I stood in line afterwards at Chipotle taking in everything I just saw. Better yet…here’s an actual screenshot of my text. Thanks Apple!
* Disclaimer – You can’t say I swore in my review because swear words in images don’t count.
So here’s the deal. I don’t think any film will ever match the state of euphoria that TDK conjures up in my mind when I think about it, but TDKR comes pretty damn close after I had a day to digest it. Those two hours and forty-five minutes literally felt like thirty minutes as blow-for-blow, I intensely followed the concluding chapter in the life of Nolan’s Bruce Wayne. In my opinion, TDKR is not your typical bang-bang, shoot ‘em up summer blockbuster, but rather it’s a character study, albeit a very dark one. Nolan perfects the craft of character development here and puts us right dab, smack in the middle of Bruce Wayne’s psychosis as we can almost feel the mental anguish, the physical pain and the undying heartache this man has grown accustomed to and has been inflicted with carrying these past eight years.
But Nolan’s character study doesn’t just start and end with Bruce Wayne. Oh no. Each and every major player in TDKR feels equally flushed and fully developed. As the Joker would say, “I like that.” You got to hand it to the man. Chris knows his craft well and I’m convinced now more than ever that it defies the laws of both wisdom and physics for the man to ever produce/make a bad movie. Let’s just hope I don’t eat those words with next year’s Man of Steel. Gulp.
You think you know the story because you seen trailer after trailer and constant promotional clips? You don’t know squat! And guess what? I’m not going to be the one to spoil Nolan’s crafty tale of twists and turns. I’m going to arm you with everything you need to know about the film. I’ll set it up for you and deconstruct it for you, but I’m not going to spoil it for you. Nolan stays close to the source comic material, but weaves a very intricate and complex web that mature viewing audiences should relish. You are going to love it. Buy as many tickets as you can afford. Okay. Now that we have that out of the way…let’s move on.
TDKR opens with the aftermath of the events surrounding Harvey Dent’s death in TDK and immediately flashes forward eight fictional Gotham years. The Batman (Bale), who took the blame for all the deaths in TDK, hasn’t been seen in eight years. However, the streets of Gotham have never been as clean as they are now under the Harvey Dent Act, which pretty much eliminated all major crimes. But that’s all about to change as a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Hathaway) and a brutal terrorist, Bane (Hardy), move into the neighborhood with impeding plans to destroy Gotham City and rip it limb from limb. I mean, why else would they be there? But where’s the Batman? He is nowhere to be found when the city needs him the most, whether they know it or not. Heck…where’s billionaire Bruce Wayne? Coincidence? I think not!
Here’s what I really like about TDKR. Unlike Batman’s incredible athletic abilities in Batman Begins and TDK, he’s completely out of shape and out of the game in TDKR and it painfully shows. In fact, I think he’s on par with my abilities if I were to don the black suit and cape. His fighting is sloppy. His footing is a mess. His pain threshold has weakened. His theatricals are almost non-existent. And most importantly, he gets his a$$ kicked. Relax. This is not a spoiler. We all know this from the trailers. I’ll be the first to admit. It takes some getting used to seeing Batman in such a sad state of physical conditioning. This is where TDKR significantly differs from its older sibling, but come on. That’s what makes this extremely interesting, at least in my opinion. Unlike the cast of superheroes found in The Avengers, the Batman can actually get hurt and Nolan brilliantly makes the audience feel his intolerable and excruciating pain. But if you are familiar with the Rocky pictures, then you know you can’t keep a good man down. A fire will rise. Will Batman come out on top and save Gotham one last time? There’s only two days separating you from that answer. Now tell me…is the anticipation killing you? I know your pain all too well. Believe me. I do.
So one of Christopher Nolan’s hesitations was whether or not he could create a successful third entry in the franchise. Because let’s face it. There aren’t too many successful third movies out there. And also…let’s be honest…TDK is an impossible act to follow. As Nolan’s producer wife admitted, the only way to top it was to make both the scale and story bigger. And like the snap of a finger, Nolan and brother did just that in the conclusion to one of the boldest and most ambitious superhero franchises ever. I don’t think it’s ever going to win an Oscar for Best Picture like Jackson’s concluding Lord of the Rings chapter did, but it certainly made just about everyone in my screening tear up and ball at Nolan’s very satisfying conclusive ending. I think you will all agree with me when I say it’s a fitting end to one of the greatest franchises ever. Nolan doesn’t drop the ball or disappoint here.
And he doesn’t drop the ball in the cameo department either. Hey! Remember the Scarecrow? Well, Cillian Murphy reprises his role here once again. We’re also treated to a very special cameo by Taken’s Liam Neeson (that’s common knowledge). Nester Carbonell also graces the screen, complete with his famous Gothic eyeliner, as Mayor Anthony Garcia. And because I was there for the filming of these next cameos, I hold this announcement very near and dear to my heart. Pittsburgh Steelers players such as “Big” Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and even former head coach Bill Cowher make cameos as members of the fictional Gotham Rogues football team. Heck, even Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl got a piece of the action as the kicker on the opposing team. My oh my, what a hot day that was. Wow!
So while everyone thought the Riddler or Penguin would have ben the obvious choice for Nolan’s third and final entry, he settled on a lesser known character, bane. Why? Well, because Bane not only represents brains, but also brawn. Let’s face it. We really have not seen our Caped Crusader take on a physical/dominating opponent thus far, or as the Joker puts it, an unstoppable force, have we? I didn’t think so. Bane is Batman’s ultimate test in the Nolan universe. And just when you think Bane is all meat and no brains, he proves you wrong again and again. So what’s up with Bane’s mask? Please be patient my friend. All your questions and more will be answered in just two long agonizing days.
As you can see, I can clearly go on and on with this review with no shortage in sight as to what I can talk about. Let me try to squish things a bit here so we all can get back to everyday life without the Bat. The actors all knocked their performances out of the park. Sure some were stronger than others, but for the most part, everyone was in tune and working together believably and harmoniously. The use of the ADR for Bane’s voice was a bit distracting, but you get used to it. And the score…oh yes the score. How can one write a Nolan Batman movie review without mentioning the brilliant and moving score of Hans Florian Zimmer? Once again, he literally brings the onscreen visuals and performances to three-dimensional life. Who needs dialogue when you have Zimmer’s emotional scores underneath your film? From the “rise” chants to the melodic quiet pieces, it’s my second favorite of the franchise and I guarantee it will be stuck in your head for days.
So if I have to rate things, like I am reluctantly forced to at the end, I would rank the three Nolan films in this order according to my liking: 1) TDK, 2) TDKR and 3) Batman Begins. I can’t see anyone ever touching my love for TDK, but TDKR does give it a run for its money at times. It just feels very different, but I have no doubt a couple dozen subsequent viewings will make a stronger impression and a “dent” in me. I plan on seeing it tomorrow night in IMAX, Sunday in XD and even in a 70mm IMAX presentation at the Palms in Las Vegas as it’s originally intended to be seen. Yes, things are looking up in my world as far TDKR is concerned. How’s your world looking? Hey! I have a crazy idea. Why not drop everything you have planned this weekend and take all the kids, the babies, the relatives and even your gam-gams to the theater and support one of the most courageous superhero movies ever made…The Dark Knight Rises. I know I will. And you didn’t think I would give this anything but a 5-star rating, did you? It’s the thought provoking, deeply profound and emotionally draining journey of one man’s adversity to overcome his own fears and rise up to finally become the hero Gotham needs…now!
Why so serious?!