A Review of The Dark Knight Rises (No Spoilers)

The latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, is an enjoyable end to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy that isn’t nearly as good, or bold, as the second movie in the series, The Dark Knight, but does compare favorably to Batman Begins. The dark tone set in the previous movies continues in the latest one to good effect, but at times the over-the-top seriousness makes the movie feel ponderous and inflated by a sense of undeserved self-importance. 

All of the actors turn in solid performances, but the surprising show-stealer is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I have seen Miss Hathaway in previous movies and never before considered her a major talent. In The Dark Knight Rises Hathaway delivers a pitch-perfect blend of snarky attitude and deadly seriousness with just enough feline qualities to capture the essence of Catwoman without appearing campy. She tiptoes on the fine line between being Batman’s ally/love interest and his adversary without slipping into being a caricature. Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman sets a high standard for any future actresses that take on this role.  

The central threat in the movie is mediocre and can be summed up as ‘its time to destroy Gotham, again’.  Apparently the city has suffered enough terrorist attacks that when a stadium blows up the people there know that etiquette requires that instead of running screaming for safety they should wait patiently for the villain (Bane) to come out and make a dramatic speech. This is but one example of utterly unrealistic responses from the nameless throng that could be replaced by animatronic robots or computer generated people.

Speaking of unrealistic moments in the movie, Bane’s master plan could have been thwarted by a single reasonable failsafe on the fusion reactor (a.k.a. the movie’s MacGuffin) or by a police force that doesn’t behave like migrating lemmings. Once Bane has the reactor and disposed of the entire police force (with three noteworthy exceptions), he decides to wait months before detonating his nuclear bomb. The only reason for Bane to wait so long is so all the characters (and especially Batman) have time to prepare for the movie’s climax; an extended action sequence that relies heavily on defying the strictures of time and space along with the laws of physics, engineering, anatomy/medicine, other applied sciences, and common sense. If you turn off your brain you can enjoy the rollercoaster ride while it lasts, but if you think about what is supposedly happening you’ll realize it makes no freakin’ sense. This ruptures the suspension-of-disbelief, draining away tension and leaving behind floundering melodrama.

The Dark Knight Rises appears to be a movie written with the idea that certain scenes must occur and that adjoining scenes aren’t very important. The important moments are done exceptionally well, while the rest of the movie meanders and forces characters to do whatever is required to get them in their right places for the next crucial scene.  The result is that most characters hit certain notes perfectly while sounding flat and unrealistic the rest of the time. In this way the movie is like a partially baked cake; the finished parts are delicious and the underdone parts aren’t appealing.

As a movie by itself, The Dark Knight Rises is good but not great. When taken as a whole this trilogy of Batman movies is exceptional and satisfying. The Dark Knight Rises accomplishes its most important task: it completes the character arc for Bruce Wayne started in Batman Begins in a manner that feels correct. The moment that matters most, the last we see of Bruce Wayne, is specifically contrived to supply a needed denouement for the character that doesn’t revolt the senses. An acceptable ending that isn’t exceptional, an accomplishment many movie series fail at. (See The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies for examples of such failures.) The Dark Knight Rises is well worth watching, as long as your expectations aren’t too high.