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By Mark Bell | July 17, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the end of The Dark Knight. Batman (Christian Bale) has not been seen since being framed for the murder of Harvey Dent, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman’s plan to make a martyr out of Dent resulted in new laws and severe penalties that cleaned up the streets of Gotham while filling its prisons. It is a time of relative prosperity, or as it is referred to in the film, peacetime after a long war.

Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, is still in Gotham, though almost as reclusive as Batman, save for the parties he throws that he doesn’t attend. Instead, he hides in his mansion, hobbling on a cane as his body deals with the toll his years as Batman took on it. Unfortunately for Bruce and Gotham, peacetime is about to come to an end.

A cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), has stolen a dusting of Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints for an unknown reason and a mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy), has come to town with designs on finishing the cleansing of Gotham that Ra’s Al Ghul initiated in Batman Begins. Wayne Enterprises is losing money, upsetting one board member (Marion Cotillard) who invested quite a bit in a clean energy project that went nowhere, and Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred (Michael Caine) has become strained. Meanwhile, Gordon grapples with the hero myth he’s perpetuated about Harvey Dent at the expense of Batman and the truth, and there’s the somewhat disillusioned cop, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who thinks he knows who Batman really is, and how to get him back in action.

Overall, The Dark Knight Rises fits the logical progression of Nolan’s other two Batman films while at the same time serving as a nice bookend for the trilogy’s tale. The action sequences are epic in scale, and the “entire city at risk” theme that Nolan has been developing from the first film has gotten bigger and more chaotic and explosive with each film. In other words, everything about this film feels like a progression, from the character developments to the thematic threads.

The film is not without its flaws, however. The sound of Bane’s voice took some time to get used to, though it eventually settles in. At first it sounded like someone was trying to choke Patrick Stewart with a pillow, but once I let that imagery go, it wasn’t as intrusive an issue. Additionally, there are sequences where the editing becomes a bit too choppy and confusing, and usually not when you would expect it to do so, like during an action scene. Instead, it feels like moments are fit into the film that otherwise didn’t need to be there, either to fulfill the evolution of the character development over the entire trilogy, or to add a little something extra. I’d be specific, but I don’t wish to spoil anything beyond what my sparse synopsis has already revealed above.

For all of the faults in Batman Begins, and I feel it has more than a few, it turned the comic book movie into something more than just adaptation or translation. It was a quality film about a very conflicted, damaged person and the city he called home… while also being a superhero flick. The Dark Knight continued this maturation, and at times you even forgot that what you were watching was a Batman film. Remove the costumes and keep the personalities, and you’d have dark, adult thrillers or action films, with strong dramatic arcs and characters. Nolan delivered us quality films first, and appreciative comic book adaptations second. He showed that if you make a Batman movie, it’ll be seen by the loyalists at least, but if you make a great film, you’ll capture so many more and new loyalists will be born.

The result was a duo, now a trilogy, of powerful dramas hidden within the guise of a “comic book movie,” and because of that I hesitate to call the trilogy good just for that genre. The Nolan Batman trilogy is good period. How you decide to classify it is up to you, but to me it stands up there with some of the best cinematic trilogies out there. It’s not perfect, but it works in its way, in its world.

Like the finale of your favorite television series, how Nolan has decided to wrap up this particular Batman trilogy may not be for everyone, and at the screening I attended, not everyone left happy. Sometimes, as a fanatical loyalist or even a casual observer, when we’re clamoring for answers to questions, the answers we get are not what we hoped for. In this case, whether The Dark Knight Rises succeeds in meeting your or my expectations as a trilogy-capper, it works nonetheless. Themes and ideas set forth in Batman Begins are revisited and rekindled, with the trilogy coiling back in on itself to complete not just the journey of Batman, but of Bruce Wayne.

If Batman Begins was about Fear, The Dark Knight examined Chaos and whether people were, by Nature, good or evil. The Dark Knight Rises rounds the thematic journey out with the power of Hope, and all its consequences. At best, Hope breeds the power to endure in the face of tragedy or unbearable hardship. At worst, it’s a shackle that allows someone to subjugate themselves to someone else’s will, under the belief that to do nothing will ultimately work out for the best (the hardcore band D.O.A. has a motto that says that “Talk – Action = 0”; after seeing The Dark Knight Rises, I’d change that to “Hope – Action = 0”).

Unlike the recent The Amazing Spider-Man, which loses luster the longer I think on it, The Dark Knight Rises seems to gain more of my admiration with each passing minute. Again, I don’t think the film is flawless by any means, nor would I go so far as to call it one of my favorite films of all time, or even better than The Dark Knight… but that could change as time rolls along. The potential is there and it doesn’t have to be the definitive best Batman film ever, at least not for me, not now. I still found the film to be quite enjoyable at the moment, and the resolution more than satisfying. This journey with this incarnation of Batman has been a rousing success for me, and I appreciate the justice done to the character not just as it exists in the comics, but as it exists in Nolan’s first film.

Ultimately, the way I’ve decided to look at the Batman film franchise is the same way I look at the originating comic book: it’s a long-running series. Different authors and artists have tackled Batman over the years, and some tales are going to be better than others. Nolan’s trilogy stands as a quality cinematic adaptation and dramatic arc for the character, and if it were a comic book series, it’d be one that I revisit often. I don’t think it is the last, but as potentially the last for this creative team, it more than delivers.

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  1. Doug Brunell says:

    If I am going to see it, I think that is what I plan on doing. I’m just bitter about some stuff. Ha!

  2. Doug Brunell says:

    I liked the first film. I own the second but haven’t watched it yet. (I know, but there are reasons for this which are too long to get into here.) I have been debating whether or not I’d like to see this in the theatres or just wait until I watch the second film … which could be never. (Again, same reasons.) Your review makes me want to see it, but there is something about all the hype and hoopla that bothers me. I like everyone involved. I trust them to deliver. I like the character. He’s my favorite DC hero. (I’d love to see Nolan tackle Daredevil, by the way.) But there is something there that just rubs me the wrong way, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Thank you for giving me good ammo in making a decision, though.

    • Mark Bell says:

      Doug, if you are going to see it, I would suggest seeing THE DARK KNIGHT first. While I think the new film could stand on its own somewhat, it’s as a conclusion to the trilogy where it works best.

  3. Jon says:

    Thank you for a well written, articulate and unbiased review.

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