Despite the mixed reactions from fans upon release in 2012, Christopher Nolan’s epic The Dark Knight Rises is still a fitting end to the trilogy and a fantastic Batman film in its own right. Nolan’s acclaimed trilogy began way back in 2005 with Batman Begins, with Warner Bros. searching for a more gritty and grounded approach to the Batman franchise after the critical and commercial failure of Joel Schumacher’s gaudy Batman and Robin. The result was a dark and atmospheric blockbuster that stripped the character down to his most human roots, and took inspiration from stories such as Batman: Year One and Batman: Shaman. The film did so well that it was followed up by 2008’s The Dark Knight, another massive critical and commercial success that is now widely considered to be one of the most popular films of the 21st century.
However, after the untimely death of Heath Ledger, who played The Joker in The Dark Knight, Nolan struggled with the decision of whether or not to return to the franchise. The director wanted a story that would emotionally invest him enough to commit to the long production required by a blockbuster, and started outlining the story shortly before production began on his 2010 sci-fi thriller Inception. Warner Bros. desperately wanted Nolan to return for a third film, even suggesting The Riddler as a potential antagonist and encouraging the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio. Finally, in February of 2010, it was announced that Nolan had successfully broken ground on the story and began writing the screenplay for what would become The Dark Knight Rises.
The film was released in theaters on July 20, 2012, and quickly became another box office hit for Warner Bros., grossing over $1 billion and receiving generally positive reviews from critics. However, the audience was a bit more lukewarm on the film, with certain groups of viewers being overwhelmingly disappointed by the movie. Regardless of its divisive nature, Nolan’s conclusion to The Dark Knight Trilogy is an epic, emotionally resonant spectacle that’s far better than people give it credit for.
In spite of the positive critical and commercial reception, audiences were shockingly split on The Dark Knight Rises when it dropped in theaters. There were a multitude of reasons, as some people were dissatisfied with what they thought was an underwhelming story, while others honed in on several plot holes within the movie’s story, such as Bruce Wayne’s sudden appearance in Gotham after being imprisoned in a Middle Eastern jail. There were also some who criticized various aspects that had been present throughout Nolan’s Batman trilogy, such as the barebones fight choreography and the large-scale action sequences.
Fans of the Batman character in the comic were also underwhelmed by the movie’s treatment of the Batman mythos. A key criticism of Nolan’s Batman franchise from the start was that, by stripping the character down to the most base and human aspects, Nolan was in essence removing what makes the character who he is. In turn, the movie’s depiction of Bane as a painkiller-addicted revolutionary instead of a hulking force of nature with a Venom co-dependency was met with heavy vitriol by fans. Anne Hathaway’s turn as Catwoman was met with a similar reaction, as some people felt that she wasn’t as sly or sensual as the character is typically portrayed in the comics, while others felt that she simply didn’t have enough to do. Finally, some audiences were also disappointed by the reveal of Miranda Tate as Talia al Ghul, a twist which set photos and fan speculation rendered ultimately predictable.
Amidst all the perceived flaws, however, Nolan’s final Batman movie still ranks as one of the best on-screen depictions of the character. Solely as a blockbuster, the film is bombastic yet plausible in the way that the best franchise films should be. On a macro-level, the large-scale battle sequences in the third act are very reminiscent of the grit and raw conflict of big budget war movies, and on a micro-level, the one on one fight sequences between Bane and Batman are shot with a competent focus that allows for audiences to feel right in the middle of the brutality between them. The Dark Knight Rises’ slower, human drama is also emphasized more heavily than the previous films in the series, as the relationship between Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne and Michael Caine’s Alfred is touched on with an emotional honesty that puts most other forgettable franchise films to shame.
Tom Hardy’s Bane is still to this day one of the most captivating and iconic villains in pop culture, a mixture of tight characterization and a ruthlessly intimidating performance. Despite stripping away the more outlandish elements of the character’s existence, Christopher Nolan manages to build the villain up as a master strategist and an unmovable force of nature, two factors that make him a challenging foe for the Dark Knight and a worthy follow-up to Ledger’s Joker. Hathaway’s Catwoman is also superbly acted, with a perfect balance of the character’s classic wit and slippery disposition. The whole movie takes care to honor the legacy of Batman and the character’s long and storied history, stealing bits of inspiration from classic story arcs such as Knightfall, No Man’s Land, and The Dark Knight Returns.
Just like with the first two films in the series, Nolan’s Gotham is fully realized as a character, struggling with a socio-political turmoil (eerily echoed by Todd Phillips’ Joker) that Bane readily takes advantage of. The supporting cast is dynamic, with Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon grappling with the lie he’s forced to tell at the end of The Dark Knight. Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt also sells the well-meaning naivety and idealism behind John Blake, a rookie police officer who becomes entangled in Batman’s conflict with Bane and ultimately discovers the hero within himself.
Not content with just making a fantastic action blockbuster, Nolan of course stuck the landing and delivered an extremely satisfying ending that also packs an emotional wallop. One thing that Nolan was adamant about early on while working on The Dark Knight Rises was that his Batman, unlike the comics, would have a definitive ending, and the movie makes good on that promise. Believing Bruce to be dead in the aftermath of his battle with Bane, an emotionally distraught Alfred Pennyworth takes an annual vacation to Florence, only to see Bruce alive and well, and living out the rest of his life in secret with Selina Kyle. It’s an emotionally uplifting sequence that is itself a callback to earlier in the film, in which Alfred implores Bruce to retire and find true happiness outside of his crusade. It’s also a reference to Rachel Dawes and her one wish for Bruce throughout the entire series, which was to give up the mask and rediscover his humanity.
In the context of the entire Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is a powerful closer, one that successfully brings the series thematically full circle. Nolan revisits several concepts from the previous films throughout the movie, including the return of the League of Shadows as well as callbacks that are less surface level. One such idea that the movie revisits is the idea of Bruce finding a replacement to carry on his legacy. Throughout the film, John Blake (whose first name we discover is actually Robin) becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the structures of the justice system being exploited, and ultimately retires from the police force. However, the movie isn’t done with him yet, and the final five minutes reveal that Bruce has left Blake the Batcave and his arsenal in its entirety, culminating in a brilliant final shot which sees Blake standing on a platform and rising into the air, fulfilling the promise established by the film’s title.
In retrospect, The Dark Knight Trilogy is (thusfar) the best cinematic treatment of Batman as a character, because of the fact that Nolan truly understood what makes Bruce Wayne tick. The Dark Knight Rises is perfectly emblematic of how Christopher Nolan managed to bring his own unique proclivities as a filmmaker to the Batman mythos while also honoring the legacy of the character, and is still a fantastic Batman movie eight years later.
Read more: screenrant.com