After Christopher Nolan's tour de force, The Dark Knight, took moviegoers by storm in 2008, audiences widely regarded the film as the best superhero film of all time. Since then, quite a few superhero films have been released, but none have had quite the same impact. Earlier this summer, Joss Whedon's The Avengers changed the game some, uniting several favorite Marvel superheroes for one gigantic film. Some fans have found The Avengers taking the title from The Dark Knight, but just two months later, Nolan is poised to recapture audiences with the massive finale to his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
When people ask me how The Avengers compares to Nolan's Dark Knight films, I have to say that it's like comparing apples to oranges. Both films are big and epic, but both are fashioned for different audiences with different purposes. The Avengers exists primarily to entertain -- and delivers in spades -- while Nolan intends to make the audience think while presenting it under a veil of entertainment. Which is better? To each their own.
With that said, The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years after the events of the previous film, and we're given a bit of a reality check considering how The Dark Knight (TDK) had ended. Be warned, however: some basic plot spoilers follow in this paragraph. While the ending of TDK was anything but joyous, we soon find out that things haven't progressed like we may have hoped or envisioned since we last saw Batman fleeing Gotham police. In the same way our heroes went out of business in the five years between the victorious ending of Ghostbusters and the disappointing beginning of Ghostbusters 2, we find out that Batman had disappeared after TDK and Bruce Wayne has become somewhat of a recluse. On top of it, he's become a cripple after his fall at the end of TDK, and can't get around without a cane. It's pretty sad to see how our mighty hero has fallen, and he's made incredible sacrifices for the people of Gotham. It's noble, but also tough to watch him give up everything.
Nolan's Batman trilogy actually works wonderfully together as one cohesive story. I'm even tempted to liken it to the Lord of the Rings trilogy of the superhero genre; while those movies set up a beginning/middle/end between the three films, The Dark Knight trilogy feels very much the same way. Batman Begins set everything in motion, The Dark Knight outlined the cause and effect of Batman's existence and The Dark Knight Rises brings everything to a head and wraps up what began with Begins. For those who didn't like the darker tones of TDK, Rises isn't much better. While maybe not quite as sadistic as TDK, Rises is in some ways darker. Between the twisted villainy of Joker and Two-Face, TDK had an undercurrent of creepiness about it. Both were unpredictable sinister forces that made the story even more unsettling. Bane, on the other hand is a proverbial bulldozer, steam-rolling any goodness in his path and serving as a brute force against Batman. The Joker played mind games while Two-Face wanted revenge by way of violence. Bane is a completely new kind of foe for the caped crusader that we haven't really seen before.
So while the story this time around may not be quite as twisted (at least, not in the same caliber), it's a grim drama about the rise and fall and rise again of our hero. In some ways, it's a parallel to Batman Begins, as even plot points in that film come into play here. The Nolan brothers are very mindful of this universe they've woven for their series and it's truly well thought-out. This isn't to say Rises is perfect, of course. While The Dark Knight Rises makes for an excellent story, the heavy tones make the movie thrilling, but not all that much fun (outside of the kind of fun had by said thrills). A movie like Avengers is definitely lighter and more enjoyable on that level. Humor was a big part of what made The Avengers so much dang fun, but you can really just count the number of laughs in Rises on one hand. It's an almost exhausting movie, especially when the action sequences are rather exhilarating. It requires a lot of emotional involvement, too. Still, the struggles of Bruce with his role as a symbol of hope and savior of the city works as a great Rocky-like underdog hero story, and it serves as the driving force of the film.
However, the story isn't without its share of problems to nitpick though (Minor spoilers ahead! You've been warned). It seemed a little odd that, not too long at all after Bruce meets Miranda Tate, they spark up this contrived romantic relationship that seems to come out of nowhere. There's no real build-up. She supposedly was trying to meet with him for some time during his reclusion, but he refused to see anyone. Then they meet at a charity ball of sorts and they briefly talk, but it never seemed like the two made a connection. The pair even sleep together the first time we see them alone together (Although we just see them passionately kissing and later lying under blankets after the inferred act). Also, there are a couple little plot details that we're expected to ignore. For example, the fact that several thousand people can survive trapped underground together for over three months with minimal supplies... And somehow they remain fairly groomed and relatively clean in appearance. It's stuff like that that is minor in the grand scheme of things, but seems a little lazy when you stop to think about it a little longer. But in the whole of the film's core storytelling, they're ultimately forgivable, non-crucial details. The film's final moments also leave a couple unanswered questions with implications of potential directions the story could go from here. It's not as cryptically open-ended as Nolan's previous feature, Inception, but there are questions raised by the way The Dark Knight Rises closes.
After 2008's The Dark Knight, it was wondered how any villain could match what Heath Ledger brought to the screen as The Joker in the film. However, Tom Hardy (Inception, Warrior) took on the character of Bane (which was embarrassingly brought to the big screen in the 1997 travesty, Batman & Robin) as a menacing force who seemed to be only bent on destroying Gotham and inciting anarchy. He proves to be quite the formidable adversary for Batman and Wayne. Not only is his strength unmatched, but he is not just mindless brawn. Bane has the brains to make him a scarier foe. Marion Cotillard is a nice addition to the cast as Miranda Tate, while Anne Hathaway may be the best representation of Catwoman yet, especially since Nolan chose to portray her considerably more subtly than previous interpretations of the villain. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as a young cop named John Blake who rises up to help Commissioner Gordon and Batman. Nolan once again has surrounded himself with fantastic actors, and this just helps bring home the trilogy through Dark Knight Rises.
The action sequences have also greatly improved from The Dark Knight to The Dark Knight Rises. Some of the scenes - even though shot in IMAX - in TDK seemed way, way too close and cropped-in, and it made it difficult to really see the action unfold (particularly the Dent fundraiser scene between Batman and Joker and the finale on the unfinished building). For Rises, it seems as if Nolan understood that that had been a problem in TDK and pulled back greatly to let the audience in more on the action. Because of this, scenes like a brutal fistfight between Bane and Batman are not only exciting, but clearly portrayed.
The content is about on par with Nolan's previous ventures. As far as visible bloodshed, however, this may be the least visually disturbing film of the trilogy. For Batman Begins, the intense hallucination imagery we see through Scarecrow's drug inductions were pretty horrific at times. For The Dark Knight, a lot of violence was left to the imagination, but things like a cell phone being sewn into a man's stomach (and we see the scars) as well as the quick motion of a pencil going into a man's head (although we don't actually see the latter with how fast it happens) were bad in and of itself, but Two-Face's gory appearance (half of his face burned away, exposing muscle tissue and bone) was clearly the worst. While we get two quick glimpses of Two-Face via flashback, the worst bloody/gory violence we see in Rises is a cut on Bruce's forehead and the quick glimpse of blood on a man's clothed back after he's shot by a ricochet bullet. But despite Nolan sparing the audience from intensely graphic imagery, there is quite a bit of intense violence. Bane quickly snaps a man's neck (but it's shown in a way that's quick and then shown from a distance); Bane bends another character over his head in a way that breaks their back (not exaggeratedly); an explosion presumably kills a bunch of people including causing a football field to implode; a person dies from getting crushed in a truck accident; and lots of characters - miscellaneous and significant - are shot up or shot at. An intense amount of gunfire and destruction happen throughout the film (one reviewer likened the destruction to a Transformers movies, and while I can see why that comparison would be made due to the city destruction sequences, it's still clear that Nolan holds back considerably compared to what we'd normally see from Michael Bay). Nolan does the Batman franchise in a bigger way than any film he's made to date and it takes the film series out on a high note. When it comes to profanity, it gets quite loud at times, while Bane's mask makes it a bit tough to understand him sometimes, but most of the cursing is a couple uses of "J-sus," 1 "g*dd*mn," 2 "S.O.B.'s" and mostly "h*ll." It's possible a use or two of the "S" word was also in there during the mayhem, but I didn't pick up on any distinct uses of it. It still irks me that blasphemy finds its way into the Nolan Batman tales, but given the film's lengthy running time, I suppose the profanity could have been a lot worse.
It may be too early to deem The Dark Knight Rises as the best of the Nolan trilogy, but from the themes of the film to the epic scale of the movie, it's tough not to confidently decide that it is indeed the best Batman film yet. Nolan made use of an almost 3-hour running time to make sure plenty of story was told amidst the big scale action. This story also feels more like it focuses on Wayne's life as Batman more than The Dark Knight had because Ledger's Joker stole the show. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman/Bruce Wayne come full circle and back in a way that is inspirational from a hero/perseverance standpoint, and an excellent tale of redemption. Batman proves to be a hero that just can't quit until he's got no fight left, and Rises gives the hero a well-deserved resolution. While 2008's Dark Knight was an incredible story about what it means to be a hero and villain and how the way we respond to tragedy dictates that, Rises not only tells an impactful story of perseverance, but also the importance of truth and how poisonous keeping a lie can be. Big, bold, brilliant, and bleak, The Dark Knight Rises is a serious summer blockbuster, but a rewarding one. Just be warned about the intense violence and action; this one--like Nolan's previous ventures--is not for the kids.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/20/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Dark Knight Rises is available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 12/4. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack includes the Digital Copy of the film in Ultraviolet format only. This is a bit disappointing, because The Dark Knight had been made available as an iTunes or Windows Digital Copy when it was released, and these streaming-only (and Flixster app-only) downloads aren't as fun or user friendly. Although I still hope Ultraviolet won't endure, that still leaves Dark Knight Rises combo pack purchasers without an iTunes downloadable Digital Copy.
The movie looks fantastic in high definition. The IMAX-shot scenes are shown in full widescreen on the Blu-Ray disc, so the aspect ratio adjusts while you're watching it much like it did on IMAX. As far as the film itself, I still find myself enjoying The Dark Knight Rises more than The Dark Knight. While the 2008 sequel may have been a little bit better of a movie, it was an overtly bleak story and Rises is a wonderful underdog tale and an ascension of good over evil. It remains one of my favorite films of 2012.
The Blu-Ray combo pack includes a second Blu-Ray disc that contains all of the bonus features. To go beyond the disc features, there's an "FX app" you can download for the iPad and iPod/iPhone that does some neat little things with your camera and also provides an interactive "Second Screen" for your iPad. Included on the second bonus features disc are the following extras...
The Batmobile (58:17) - This is a feature-length retrospective look at The Batmobile -- not just from Nolan's trilogy, but all the way from the very first appearance of Batman in the comics. Nolan, Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, Adam West and many other producers and graphic designers talk about the individual cars from the TV series on through all of the Batman movies to date. We even see archival footage of some of the cars being designed, built and test driven. After discussing the old films and cartoon variations, we finally get to Nolan's "Tumbler." Nolan explains that he and another artist designed the Tumbler, not by drawing it, but by gluing pieces of model cars and planes together and then presented that to the lifesize vehicle designers. We then see how they created the real thing, tested it, and then built it to withstand almost anything. The featurette peaks when they show all of the film Batmobiles gathered together for the first time -- first in a garage and then in public. We then hear from comedian Jeff Dunham who actually purchased one of the Michael Keaton Batman film versions of the car, which is pretty cool. But one of the highlights is when one of the car's designers, who recently battled and survived cancer, made a dream come true of taking the Tumbler to a children's hospital so that the kids could see it and sit in it. It's a touching finish to a truly intriguing featurette.
Ending The Knight is next and it's the core of the Special Features. It's split up into three sections:
Production, Characters and Reflections, which are also divided into their own subcategories.
The Prologue: High-Altitude Hijacking (7:52) - This is truly a fascinating look at how they tried to do the prologue in the film as real as possible. So, the moments where actors are dropping through a fuselage and people are on the outside of a plane in mid-air... they're actually doing it. It's pretty impressive stuff!
Return To The Batcave (3:37) - Speaking of impressive, they actually built the Batcave on a stage and did a truly breathtaking job bringing it to life on screen.
Beneath Gotham (2:34) - Here they talk about how they built Bane's lair from scratch in a massive studio hangar. They did absolutely fantastic work on it.
The Bat (11:08) focuses on the flying vehicle Batman uses in this film. They deconstruct just about anything you might want to know about the vehicle - from how it was designed to how it was created for real. Yet, while the Tumbler car was created to actually drive and do its own stunts, The Bat couldn't actually fly. But with rigging and a car driving it from underneath, they were able to use it on a practical level for filming (with the aid of CGI at times, too). It ends with them revealing even how the sound of the vehicle was created!
Batman Vs. Bane (6:07) - The epic duel between Batman and Bane, complete with its heartwrenching results, is covered here in full detail. It's great to see how much went into that truly memorable fist fight.
Armory Accepted (3:19) - This addresses how they blew the ceiling in Bane's lair and dropped a Tumbler through it to the ground. They used miniatures and full scale model (and full scale people) seamlessly to make it look real.
Gameday Destruction (6:44) takes us to the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers and shows how Nolan and his team filmed the exploding field sequence. It's really neat to see how this was accomplished.
Demolishing a City Street (4:15) - Continuing the destruction from the above moment, we see a city street being blown up as Blake drives down it, ending with his car being flipped. They show here how that was set up and executed.
The Pit (3:04) - The Pit that Wayne is imprisoned in was actually built from scratch as two very huge sets. I had wondered how they accomplished that and it's pretty amazing to see.
The Chant (5:19) - Composer Hans Zimmer talks about the famous "chant" that is worked into the film's soundtrack. Zimmer then shows how they pushed the envelope of how the orchestra can do unique things with their instruments to create an appropriate soundtrack for the film and theme for Bane. It's an especially intriguing five minutes for music enthusiasts.
The War On Wall Street (6:40) tackles the major Wall Street fight with a thousand extras and the intensity of the shoot (and the different weather conditions!).
Race To The Reactor (7:52) - Finally, we have the climactic race. This focuses on how they planned the chase scene, created Catwoman's pursuit on the Batpod, and ended it with the large truck crash at the end.
The Journey of Bruce Wayne (8:53) - The cast and crew (including Christian Bale) discuss Bruce's journey over the three films and what Batman means to Bruce and the story. Even composer Hans Zimmer talks about the music and how that comes into play over the three films.
Gotham's Reckoning (10:05) - Here they talk about how they wanted a villain for Rises who could physically be a match for Batman, and Bane was the only character in the comics to have physically damaged Batman before (in breaking his back). They then talk about casting Tom Hardy and how they hoped to play the character in Nolan's Batman universe. They also talk about the mask's design and how they constructed it for his character. And Tom also talks about how he chose the voice he used in the film as well.
A Girl's Gotta Eat (9:26) - Lastly, they focus on Catwoman and Anne Hathaway. They talk about how they tried to ground her character and make her outfit practical so everything fit into Nolan's version of Gotham. They even address Catwoman's musical theme and Zimmer's intentions with it. Hathaway also talks briefly about her own inspirations for the character.
Shadows & Light In Large Format (5:37) - This is a short featurette about the scope of the movie and the IMAX filming for specific scenes. They cover how lighting and color was so important and how, this time around, Nolan really wanted to push the usage of IMAX in his film. For Rises, about a third of the movie was shot in IMAX and that aspect ratio is retained on this home video release.
The End of a Legend (9:04) - To wrap it all up, we have a nine-minute featurette that says a brief goodbye to the series and Batman as Nolan and his team saw him. Honestly, I would have liked this to be a bit longer and a bit more in-depth; given how much time was given to the Batmobile alone, I would have liked to have seen a little more in here.
Trailer Archive - After "Ending The Knight," we have the trailer archive, which presents four trailers for the movie.
Print Campaign Art Gallery - This is a typical gallery of promotional imagery that allows you to use your remote control to page through different promotional art made for the film (using the chapter skip button, not the arrow buttons). There's roughly thirty banners and posters included here - some I've definitely never seen before.
All in all, there's a wealth of extras here, but I can't help but feel like it could have gone just a little bit further. There is no featurette on Blake's character (and the revelation there), or the evolution of other characters across the series, aside from Batman (Something on Alfred or Fox or Gordon may have been cool, too. Or a featurette dedicated to the end of The Dark Knight and what's lead up to Rises would have been cool too). Perhaps a home re-release years down the road may provide that kind of retrospective, but I expected more of that on here. Still, what's included here is still solid, and the making-of featurettes are intriguing and answer a lot of questions production-wise.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 12/2/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Selina gets in the car with a congressman and asks "Can I get a ride?" and he looks at her excitedly and remarks, "That's exactly what I was thinking;" A couple suggestive remarks are made; Miranda and Bruce kiss passionately and then the scene cuts to him lying shirtless by a fire under a blanket, with Miranda wrapped in just a blanket. He rubs her shoulder tenderly as they talk and then she cuddles with him under the blanket and the scene ends there.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 "J-sus," 1 "g*dd*mn," 2 "S.O.B.," 8 "h*ll," 2 "d*mn," 1 "b*tch," 1 "b*stard," 1 "s*cks," 1 "balls"
Alcohol/Drugs: Selina walks into a bar with a drunk man and leaves him at the bar; There is some other miscellaneous drinking throughout the movie.
Blood/Gore: We see a small bloody cut on Bruce's forehead in several scenes; Two men struggle over a gun, so the good guy points the gun at a metal truck behind his attacker, fires the gun, and the bullet ricochets and hits the attacker. We briefly see some blood on the back of the victim's clothing when this happens. We see a flashback of Bane with his head wrapped in gauze and some blood stains on the gauze; We see two brief flashes of Two-Face from The Dark Knight as Gordon remembers him. In those shots, we see Two-Face's scarred face exposing muscles and skin - it's gross, but brief).
Violence: Extreme, intense action violence; (Definitely some spoilers ahead) Significant moments include a brutal fight between Bane and Batman - fists and feet fly, ending in Bane pounding on Batman's head before breaking his back; A man tells Bruce he has a vertebrae sticking out of his back that needs to be set, so he hits him in the back really hard (we do not actually see it); A woman knocks a cane out from under a crippled man, causing him to fall over; A man threatens to kill Selina by gunpoint, so she turns the tables, beating some of them up, shooting some of them, and then screaming when police breach the room, pretending to be one of the victims; We see someone looking at Bane's mask-less face in a flashback and hear that something was done to disfigure him, but we don't actually see it; Bane snaps a man's neck, but it's somewhat obscured as it's done as the camera shifts from a close-up to a long shot; A bomb goes off, collapsing a football field, killing players and anyone else on the field. Another bomb goes off in one of the stadium suites, killing city officials inside; Two men go into a hospital room to kill a man, but we see their bodies on the ground dead later; Three special forces men are gunned down and Bane presses his knee up against the throat of one of them as he dies. He then gives orders to hang these men for the public to see and we then see news footage of them hanging by their necks at a distance from a bridge; Two men fist-fight and one overcomes the other. A third party then stabs one of them in the abdomen and twists the blade (not gory), causing them extreme pain; A character flies a nuclear bomb away from danger and it explodes; A truck crashes into the ground, mortally wounding the driver; Several tumbler cars are shot at and crashed; A kangaroo court sentences some people to death or exile (or death by exile) and we see several people try to cross the river by walking on ice; In one instance, we see a man fall through the iced-over river and presumably drown/freezes to death; A man is shot with the cannon on a motorcycle, killing him; A prison mate flirts with Selina who, while handcuffed, does a full body spin when she grabs onto the man's hands, twisting his wrists (we see her flip and him scream, but there's no focus on the injury); Selina traps a man's hand against a wall with the heel of her boot, which is razor sharp. She also holds a gun to their head; An explosion traps several thousand people in tunnels under the city; A mob of cops go to fight a mob of criminals and lots of deaths occur on both sides. We see one cop about to be gunned down and then we see him lying dead on the ground, with the actual shooting of the character not seen; A young man is found washed up dead from out of a sewer; An officer is shot and hospitalized for recovery; Selina subdues a security officer at an airport by handing him her hat and punching him out; At Wall Street, Bane pushes around some people, slamming one person's head into a computer; Several action scenes involve citizens being shot or beaten up by Bane and his goons; Batman and Selina fight several thugs and overcome them; A group of thugs shoot a cop Blake tries to rescue and then throws a grenade down a manhole where more people were hoping to get rescued. They then throw Blake down a slope of debris and threaten to kill him before Batman shows up and saves him; and a lot of other action violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.