Saturday, July 21, 2012

Movie Review: Batman-The Dark Knight Rises

Genre: superhero
Director: Christopher Nolan
Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Watching a Christopher Nolan movie is to enter his genius mind and examine humanity and human civilization through his fanciful eyes. He is, dare I say, the most gifted director in our generation. Every movie he has made has become an instant classic. The second installment of the Batman trilogy, Dark Knight, is a flawless work of art that sets the gold standard against which all other superhero films, past and future, are measured. So when the teaser trailers for Dark Knight Rises – the third and last installment – first hit the Internet a year ago, I was thrilled with excitement. I asked myself: how would the master outdo himself after Dark Knight?

Well, he didn’t.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan

Rises is not your average light-hearted weekend entertainment. Perhaps the darkest superhero film ever made, it is light on fun and cheer (with the exception of the Cat Woman character delightfully played by Anne Hathaway) but heavy on doomsday predictions. Subject matters like terrorist bombings and class warfare can hit too close to home for today's audience. The horror unleashed by the villains on Gotham and the anarchy that ensues are at times a hark back to the 9/11 attacks and at times a sort of “Occupy Wall Street” movement gone bad. Although many of these scenes – most notably the destruction of an entire football stadium and the simultaneous bombings of suspension bridges – are awe-inspiring, they make you wonder how many Islamic extremists are sitting in the audience taking notes. This is not so much a criticism of the film as it is an expression of unease. 

The storyline of Rises follows closely that of Batman Begins (the first installment). In the same way Bruce Wayne comes out of a self-imposed exile in a Bhutanese prison in the first film, this time he emerges from eights year of seclusion in his bedroom. Just as the League of Shadows leader Ra's al Ghul threatens to poison Gotham with a hallucinogenic gas in Batman Begins, his successor Bain attempts to obliterate the city with a fusion bomb in Rises. The main difference between the two films is that the stakes in Rises are higher and the visual effects are grander and more impressive.

One of the many stunning visual effects featured in Rises

From a philosophical point of view, Rises continues the director’s probe into the human psyche started in Dark Knight (the second installment): our frailty, arrogance and our helplessness and savagery in times of crisis. Whereas Dark Knight explores the delusion of choice in a choiceless world, Rises explores the delusion of hope in our hopeless reality. And while Dark Knight looks at the tension between order and disorder, the planned and the unplanned, Rises looks at the tension between the haves and the have-nots, the oppressors and the oppressed.

Perhaps the greatest villain ever in movie history

In Rises, Nolan brings back almost the entire cast from his last film Inception. Tom Hardy plays the villain-in-chief Bain, a WWF wrestler-lookalike with a face muzzle a la Hannibal Lector. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young policeman John Blake and Marion Cotillard plays wealthy investor Miranda Tate. There are so many familiar faces from Inception that I found myself waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio and Ken Watanabe to show up at some point. The Bain character is perhaps the biggest disappointment. Tom Hardy, who shows such remarkable charisma and range playing a smart-alecky identity thief in Inception, is severely straitjacketed in Rises by a prop that covers most of his face. The only acting we can discern from Hardy is through his voice-box Shakespearean accent and waving steroid arms.

There are other miscalculations. For a final installment, Nolan introduces too many new characters: John Blake, Miranda Tate, Bane and of course, Cat Woman. We don't know who she is and how she acquired her superhero skills (she wasn't trained by the League of Shadows). The audience wants to see more of her, and of Batman for that matter. Nolan also introduces too much plot. The Night Shyamalan-style twist toward the end is unnecessary. It cheapens the film. To not edit the twist out in the final cut is out of character for the consummate storyteller. I remember thinking to myself at the theater: Chris, we're already two and a half hours into the movie and you don't have enough time to flesh out new plot!

Not easy to act with a big tarantula on one's mouth

Despite these flaws, Rises is a thrilling tour de force and a must-see blockbuster this summer. But it doesn't measure up to Dark Knight. Nolan previously announced that he is not interested in making a fourth installment, which explains the happy ending in Rises, as the director makes a good faith attempt to tie up every loose end in the last few minutes of the film. Perhaps at the request of the studio, Nolan leaves just enough room at the end for some other director to keep the franchise going for another few more sequels. In the meantime, the talented director has already moved on to his next project, Man of Steel, a reboot of the Superman franchise starring Henry Cavill set to open in the summer of 2013.


  1. I tried very hard to suppress my strong desire in snatching the $399 Blu-ray box set of all the director's previous films for the simple reason that I don't have a Blu-ray disc player. After reading your review, the fire of desire burning like hell in me again! Thank you so much! Haha!


  2. With a time-limit that comes close to towering in at 3 hours, this flick could have easily dragged itself around aimlessly, only to cash-in on tying it all up in the end, but that’s not the case here. This is grade-A film-making right here, courtesy of Christopher Nolan and not only was it a great send-off to the trilogy he has made so loved by everybody out there in the world, but also a perfect way to show that he is grateful for each and every fan that has supported him throughout these years. Good review Jason.

  3. Indeed, Leo. I look forward to Rises on DVD so that I can watch the trilogy back-to-back. A Batman marathon!


  4. Yes, Dan, a good director doesn't overstay his welcome. It's good to meet a fellow Nolan fan!


  5. I enjoyed moments of the film, but too many underdeveloped threads created more of a jumbled knot than the elegant maze I'm used to navigating in a Nolan opus. Still glad I saw it, just sayin'

  6. Always wanted to getting a chance to see that 3rd movie of Batman. Busy to dead and no time at all ! Well, watching "The Dark Knight" tonite at TV seems not bad at all. Needless to say what a good complement! Thanks "Pearl" and your review, Jason. Hardly wait for the DVD - my weekend blockbuster.