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ComicsAlliance Staff Reactions to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ [Spoilers]

While a more traditional, multi-part Cinematic Batmanology analysis of The Dark Knight Rises is certainly forthcoming, the majority of ComicsAlliance contributors walked away from the film with thoughts and feelings. The writers were directed to be brief, informal and even irreverent, with the published piece envisioned to comprise a variety of reactions — love, hate, quibble — that would offer our readers a quick rundown of variously thoughtful and pithy remarks, perhaps generating a robust and nuanced discussion in the comments.

That what we got back from our bloggers was so contemplative, funny, diverse and anything but brief speaks not just to their great insights, but also to the complexity of the film itself.

SPOILER WARNING: The following contains massive spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises.Aaron Colter

Despite whatever partisan attributes talking-heads try assign to the character of Bane, he is not a metaphor for Mitt Romney or Occupy Wall Street. The Dark Knight Rises is, however, a political work; not in a fashion that causes an even deeper riff between Conservative or Liberal, but in the sense that the very basic notions of how we survive as a people are worthy of exploration and debate. Perhaps that’s a lot of weight for a summer blockbuster movie based on a pop culture comic book icon to bare. Still, while The Dark Knight will likely be seen as the better film, Christopher Nolan has been telling the audience some important truths about society through his entire trilogy — that power in any form is inherently corrupt, that anarchy leads to the exploitation of the weak, that no institution or individual can be our savior, and that it’s the belief in one another coupled with the hope of a better tomorrow which keeps humanity together.

Matt Wilson

I’m coming up on 24 hours remove from seeing The Dark Knight Rises, and I’m still trying to process how I feel about it. The movie simultaneously exceeded and failed to meet my expectations, but considering how high my expectations actually were, I’d say that means it was pretty good.

In part, my mixed reaction comes from it being such a complex movie. The plot and thematic callbacks to the previous two movies, particularly Batman Begins, make it something you can’t really examine in a vacuum. The Dark Knight was a sequel that completely stood alone; The Dark Knight Rises is in every way the closing chapter to a larger story; a piece in a puzzle. How Nolan and co-writer Goyer assemble that puzzle is nothing short of astonishing, in terms of how things fit together from one movie to another, and within this film itself. But there are also bits in the script — groaner lines of dialogue, characters doing things no one would, tons of moments where characters save other characters at the last second — that call your attention to the movie being a movie. The kind of stuff The Dark Knight often transcended. So it’s not even like I can say the writing was surprising and great or it was clunky and bad. Somehow, it was all that at once.

In some ways, I think the movie overreached. I can’t really say how without spoiling anything, but I’ll just say that there were times this Batman movie didn’t really feel like a Batman movie. It was a really tense, powerful movie, but it seemed to shift away from the core concepts of Batman in its last hour-plus. I wouldn’t say that necessarily makes it a worse movie; it’s actually kind of neat how Nolan upends audience expectations. But then again, it’s supposed to be a movie about Batman.

I was relieved the movie wasn’t as political as I feared it would be. The inclusion of stuff about the 99% movement served more as a setting or a context rather than a plot point. The performances were all quite good, though I think Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine were the real standouts. Tom Hardy’s Bane was an interesting character with a great, unique voice, though I question the decision to put the face of an actor as expressive as Hardy behind a mask for the whole movie. Christian Bale’s Batman voice is still hilarious (“WHERE’S THE DETONATOR?” is the new “Swear to ME!”). Every time there was an establishing shot of Gotham and it was Pittsburgh instead of Chicago, I found myself thinking, “Wait, that’s not Gotham.” As a post-Dark Knight Chicago resident, let’s just say I’m bitter.

Andy Khouri

The Dark Knight Rises confounded expectations on multiple levels. As someone enamored with the political and philosophical dimensions of The Dark Knight and its nuanced depiction of post-9/11 America’s internal struggle with its own beliefs, I was unpleasantly surprised by the apparent lack — or at least dilution — of similarly relevant themes in The Dark Knight Rises. If Batman Begins was about fear and The Dark Knight was about corruption, The Dark Knight Rises is about a man. In that perhaps paradoxical way, the most spectacular and epic of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is indeed the smallest; the film that’s most personal and most focused on a single character’s quest for peace.

At the same time, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover in The Dark Knight Rises what is perhaps the only straight Batman-as-superhero epic we’ve seen on film. Not only was the movie largely devoid of politics, but also of deconstruction. As a direct consequence of every step of his journey in the previous films, the Batman who emerges from exile in The Dark Knight Rises is alive, fully realized, free from guilt or fear or doubt, and who does what he must. In this way, the Batman of this film has more in common with the hero of the comics than ever before, which is what made the conclusion so stunning. We saw something in this film that can never really happen in the comics: the end. It was exhilarating to see Bruce Wayne end his story on his own terms, and in a way that answered the seemingly incompatible challenges put to him by the two most inspirational figures in his life: “You have to become an idea,” declared Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins; and Rachel Dawes’ admonishment, “The man who vanished never came back.” Bruce Wayne did become an idea, and he did come back.

While hardly the revelation that was Heath Ledger as The Joker — arguably the most hypnotic screen villain since Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter — Tom Hardy was predictably charismatic and terrifying as Bane. The character has always been my vote for the most misunderstood villain of the Batman canon. The filmmakers saw in that character what a generation of readers did when Bane first appeared in Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan’s Vengeance of Bane: born in darkness, a fugitive from Hell, and determined to break the Bat. It was all there on screen, filtered through Hardy’s inspired, flamboyant performance.

There was one revelation in the players, and that was of course Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. No pun intended, she stole the show. Perhaps the most iconic female comic book character next to Wonder Woman herself, Selina Kyle finally came to life on screen for what is truly the very first time. This was not the beloved weirdo of Tim Burton and Michaelle Pfieffer, nor the campy coquette of Julie Newmar and her successors, nor the depressing calamity of Pitof and Halle Berry. Christopher Nolan and Anne Hathaway gave us the Catwoman of Bill Finger and Bob Kane; of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, of Doug Moench, Jo Duffy and Jim Balent; of Darwyn Cooke and Ed Brubaker, all rolled into one outstanding performance that had audiences cheering at the screen.

The Dark Knight Rises demands subsequent viewings simply because there’s so much of it. I confess there were numerous occasions where I found myself losing the plot, and where I thought characters behaved inexplicably or where things seemed to happen only… because. I’ve had debates with colleagues over whether this story demanded two films, perhaps with one ending with Bruce’s imprisonment and Bane’s domination of Gotham, and the other beginning with the story of Ra’s al Ghul. But I don’t feel comfortable condemning writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer for these apparent shortcomings — not yet — as they’ve demonstrated so masterfully before that everything we see and hear in these Batman films speaks directly (and sometimes very loudly) to the thematic cores of each story.

So for the moment I’m accepting more share of the blame for my problems with the film than an audience member otherwise might, but it’s a concession I’m happy to make because I found this movie truly thrilling in every respect. Frequently, it’s inspiring, and to the degree that even though my screening ended at nearly 3 am, I wanted to watch the The Dark Knight Rises again immediately.

Curt Franklin

There’s a scene in The Dark Knight Rises when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Blake is speaking to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon about Harvey Dent’s heroic sacrifice, or lack thereof. The film’s heavy score is playing under this tense scene and it all feels too weighted, too burdensome. Every conversation in the film felt like it was The Most Serious and Important Conversation That Has Ever Occurred and I’d already started making my mind up, playing film critic in my head while the movie was still playing.

- Bane’s plan makes zero sense in context of their ultimate goal.

- Why does Bane sound like Deckard Cain? Also, how does he eat? But his little thing where he holds onto his jacket was cool, I gotta try that.

- Hans Zimmer’s score is entirely too intrusive, it felt like it never stopped and let the movie take a breath.

- Poor display of the passage of time. Consecutive scenes could’ve been minutes or months apart, and it was often hard to immediately infer which.

- The dramatic death scene of a villain near the end is comical, causing the audience I was in to burst into laughter. Shoulda put big ole X’s on their eyes.

You know, stuff like that.

But by the time the final scene cuts to black and the credits being to roll, I’d stopped thinking about it. The film won me back. The conclusion to The Dark Knight Rises cares about the audience. It knows what we wanted, what we needed, and it gives it to us. I still feel like some of the criticisms I had are valid, but they no longer overshadowed what ended up being a satisfying and supremely entertaining conclusion to one of film’s best trilogies.

Bethany Fong

The entire film felt like a loose translation of Knightfall and No Man’s Land within Nolan’s envisioning of the Batman mythos. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the more comic elements of the film, particularly Jonathan Crane’s absurd judge bench (a stacked tower of bank clerk desks) or Catwoman disappearing mid-conversation with Batman. Anne Hathaway absolutely steals the show as Selina Kyle/Catwoman; the translation of her character into Nolan’s Batman worked seamlessly. Plus, she even had Holly Robinson in cahoots with her for various parts of the film.

I found myself following and focusing on Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, in hopes for any further reveals on his character. I quickly accepted that regardless of any possibility of Blake transforming into Robin/Nightwing/Azrael, he essentially served as an unmasked sidekick to both Bruce Wayne and Batman throughout the entire film.

As for Batman, the entire process of Bruce Wayne’s return, fall, and rise played out perfectly as three acts within the film. The struggle between the strength in the idea of Batman versus Bruce’s actual capabilities is increasingly evident and tumultuous, especially in the form of Alfred’s apprehension when Bruce returns to Batman. In fact, Bruce’s progress in TDKR very much mirrors his progress in Batman Begins, specifically in regards to his training/retraining and inspiring hope (within others and/or himself). The final installation of The Dark Knight trilogy also shows the transgression of the role of fear in Bruce Wayne’s life; the fear that inspired him, fear as a fighting tactic, fear used against him, and rediscovering fear and its correlation to hope, will, and inspiration.

The audio for Bane improved greatly since I saw the early screening of TDKR prologue last December. However, was it just me or did it sound like The Venture Bros’ Baron Ünderbheit was doing voice-overs for Bane?

Finally, as an avid fan of Reno 911 and 17 Again, Tom Lennon’s cameo as Bruce Wayne’s physician was a pleasant comedic surprise.

J. Caleb Mozzocco

I’ve got a few quibbles, of course — I’ve always got quibbles — but they are certainly fewer and farther between than those I’ve had for the two previous films (and all the previous Christopher Nolan films I’ve seen, and many of the previous superhero films I’ve seen).

I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “legal name” was a bit much, as was the football field disappearing behind the oblivious player returning the kickoff. I’m still not fond of the design work that went into the Batman costume and vehicles; three movies in and he still looks like a character from an entirely different franchise stopping by to visit these movies rather than being the pole they revolve around.

I thought it was certainly the best of Nolan’s Batman films, which is the best way to end a series of films, really (Confession: I didn’t care for Batman Begins at all, and thought The Dark Knight was an excellent Joker movie trapped in a decent-but-unremarkable Batman movie). It was pretty much a perfect ending; a way of ending the story without really ending the lives of either Batman or Bruce Wayne — perhaps the happiest ending a Batman story could have while actually ending.

The conception of Bane in this movie was amazing, about on par with Heath Ledger’s Joker. He was a wonderful villain, as smart as Batman, bigger and stronger and faster than Batman, downright scary when he had to be (his climactic fight with Batman, where he starts to lose his s*** a little, and works Batman’s torso like a punching bag? I was actually a little bit scared), but upbeat, even jovial throughout. I could listen to Tom Hardy’s Bane talk all day, about anything. Hardy’s Bane should have his own radio show; he should perform audiobooks; he should make robocalls on behalf of politicians and record GPS directions.

As a long time reader of the comics, I was impressed with the way they wove in tiny bits of stories like No Man’s Land, Tim Drake’s Robin origin, Alfred quitting Bruce Wayne’s service in the mid-’90s in an attempt to save his life, and the opening bit of Knightfall, in which Bane releases and heavily arms the Arkham Asylum inmates. In the movie, these are all just allusions, some somewhat subtle, echoing beats from the comics rather than adapting or retelling stories from them.

As a filmgoer, I was more impressed still with the way Nolan was able to capture the imagery of current American anxieties, put them up there on the screen and build a superhero movie out of them. It’s no small feat to pull off something as apolitical as a dark Hollywood superhero blockbuster while using charged political topics as the building blocks.

Intentionally or not, The Dark Knight Rises also seemed to mimic one aspect of reading superhero comics, serial storytelling. I occasionally found myself wondering how all the callbacks to the previous films might sit with someone who never saw those, or only saw one of them but not the other.

Finally, I find myself somewhat amazed by the climactic reveal of the identity of one of the main characters. It turns out that Marion Cotillard was playing exactly who pretty much everyone thought she would be playing as soon as it was announced she was cast in Nolan’s final Batman film, and yet the way Nolan executes the reveal, holding off on it for so very long, made it come as a surprise. I was expecting it, but it didn’t come out until I was almost convinced they weren’t going to make that particular reveal after all. And then they did.

John Parker

The Dark Knight Rises concludes a three-film epic that addresses the most prevalent concerns of 21st-century America. Through Batman, the Nolan brothers and David S. Goyer examined the fear and madness of modern life; the chaos that lurks just beyond the corners of drudgery; the darkness at the edge of normalcy. Opinions vary as to the theme of the film — I’ve read that it’s about pain, and Andy thinks it’s just about a man. I can’t help but think that it’s about the necessity of hope.

In combining elements from The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, Legacy, and No Man’s Land comic book storylines, the film outdid Marvel’s The Avengers in breadth, scope, and sheer epic action with only one icon and no superpowers. Nearly three hours long, The Dark Knight Rises still felt much tighter than The Dark Knight and Batman Begins, with little wasted dialogue and no distracting gimmicks. The entire cast was great, including Anne Hathaway, who I actually thought was an inspired choice for the role. At first Bane’s voice sounded like Sean Connery doing an impression of Christopher Walken while huffing amyl nitrate, but it eventually terrified me.

My biggest complaint: there’s literally no reason for Joseph Gordon-Levitt not to be named Dick Grayson, as his eventual fate could be predicted within the first 30 minutes. Despite that, the film’s version of Batman, and its take on the idea of Batman, are my favorite of the trilogy, and there will definitely be more viewings to follow.

Dylan Todd

- First off, as a guy who didn’t really love The Dark Knight, I went into The Dark Knight Rises not expecting to be won over. I knew it would be beautifully shot and realistically plotted and all that, but man, I really enjoyed Rises – like, a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s enjoyable to me in a way that The Dark Knight wasn’t. TDK feels, to me, too cold, too obsessed with looking legitimate, too embarrassed of its source material to really be a great superhero movie. I appreciated it, but like Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V For Vendetta or Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s The Filth, I just really didn’t enjoy it. And Batman Begins is two thirds of a good movie, but it craps the bed so hard in the last act that I can’t enjoy it fully. Oh, and Katie Holmes is straight-up terrrrrrrrible. All of this is to say that I really enjoyed Rises. It’s nowhere near as ambitious as The Dark Knight, nor as out-and-out pulpy as Begins, but it doesn’t need to be. It takes the societal collapse threatened in Begins and TDK and sees it through to its sorta-logical end, putting a nice bow on the saga.

- The cold open airplane heist was some Inception-level filmmaking. I mean, Bane does sound like somebody Darth Vader-ed Goldmember, but still, dude is terrifying and obviously has a plan.

- I love the adapted Dark Knight Returns stuff with Bruce Wayne with a little echo of Beauty & the Beast thrown in for good measure.

- How great is it that Nolan talked the studio into giving him millions of dollars to make A Tale of Two Cities And Also Batman? That is hilarious. If only for the sheer audacity of that, this film deserves respect. Besides the obvious parallels, there are French Revolution Easter Eggs all over the place: there’s a portrait of Napoleon in Catwoman’s house, Gordon’s reading from the book at his eulogy, orphans abound. This is a Dickens story on, well, Venom.

- The thing I love about Nolan is that Batman movies are not superhero movies, they’re totally pulp hero movies. Mysterious Eastern monasteries, mythological pit-prisons, leagues of secret shadow-ninjas, fear gas in the water supply — Nolan’s Batman is purple gloves Batman without the guns. That Bane was conceived as an evil Doc Savage only adds to that pot.

- I was a little disappointed that there was no real second act for Gotham. Bane just shows up, storms The Bastille — er, Blackgate Prison, monologues, almost bursts into some song from Les Miserables and the next time we see Gotham, it’s like two months later.

- Holly! How great was it to see Holly in the Nolanverse?! This movie really made me want to dig out my floppies and re-read Gotham Central and Brubaker’s Catwoman. Those are some very good Gotham comics.

- Via my wife: “So if Batman’s supposed to be this sexy guy who ladies drop their panties for, why does he talk so weird and stand with his mouth open and his tongue sticking out all of the time?” This is a good question. Is Batman supposed to be sexy? Or is my wife spoiled by Thor?

- Batman’s cape looks so soft and velvety, you guys. Do you think he takes a corner of it and rubs it on his face sometimes without even knowing it? Cuz I think he does.

- Another thing I love about Nolan is how he manages to take actors you forgot were good and gives them a chance to be good again. Begins had Rutger Hauer, Dark Knight rehabbed Eric Roberts, and in Rises we get Matthew Modine, who is really good! Also, you guys, Tom Lennon as the doctor! Goodwin from LOST as the congressman! Yay for supporting actors!

- The one henchman guy for Daggett and then Bane looked like the illegitimate offspring of Willem DaFoe and Conan O’Brien, right?

- The Talia reveal was sooooo telegraphed. The minute we got Bale in full post-coital hairy-chested love god by firelight, I was like, “Yeah, the rumors are very true. She is totally Talia.”

- Anne Hathaway! Who knew?! I mean, some people probably did, but I always thought she was a poor-man’s Natalie Portman and I’m #TeamAmidala all the way. I was fully expecting to not enjoy her performance, but she was pretty phenomenal.

- Michael Cane; also phenomenal. I may have been crying real tears every time he spoke.

- I really could have done without Bane’s tears in the third act.

- Nolan, like Ron Swanson, apparently has a thing for dark-haired women. Maggie Gyllenhall/Katie Holmes, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotilliard.

- It’s not a fair comparison, because Rises has a much different agenda, but I have to say that The Avengers was much more enjoyable film.

- Which leads me to the inevitable question regarding a Marvel-style shared universe for the DC films. Can Nolan’s quasi-realistic (albeit slightly pulpy) “The Batman” live in the same world as any permutation of Superman? Or a world where Martians exist? Or Greek Gods? Or, well, Atlantis for that matter? I mean, they’re gonna have to reboot the franchise, right?

Sean Witzke

I saw The Dark Knight Rises as a 9-hour trilogy marathon last Thursday night, which was pretty amazing and also just really interesting to see with the kind of crowd completely ramped up for that much Christopher Nolan Batman. It turns out The Dark Knight plays that audience like Aliens and Jaws and a free cellphone giveaway combined.

Rises is most interesting to me because of what Chris Nolan is — he’s a director who is interested in scaling up his stories as much as he possibly can without coming from the James Cameron/Sam Raimi action/effects-epic-on-a-shoestring tradition. Instead his films are based in character and theme. Combined with that urge to go larger and larger, it places him with guys like David Lean and Akira Kurosawa, or at least as someone aiming for that bar. Never once did I feel like this story didn’t earn its runtime or scope — if the fact that a large portion of the movie takes place over several months in Uzbekistan doesn’t pull an audience out, nothing will. It’s not perfect, as the weirdly tone-deaf motorcycle chase telegraphs pretty early, but it’s not a movie that ever loses its control on an audience.

Nolan is certainly a better director of action now than he was in the first film, but it’s not something he’s comfortable with. The fights with Bane are the best fights Nolan has ever shot, but that doesn’t make them great. Nolan is better with set pieces. The Dark Knight was built out of set pieces, designed like Inception in Kubrickian non-submersible units. Rises feels less like a movie built around it’s set pieces, but it hinges on immense undertakings: the final shot of the plane stunt that opens the film literally made me gasp, and the stadium sequence that starts with the boy singing “The Star Spangled Banner” and ends with large chunks of Chicago and Pittsburgh detonating — it’s just pure audacity. Anyone else could have ruined this movie, anyone else spending this amount of money wouldn’t have attempted half of what Nolan does here. Moreover, the set pieces really do seem to take a backseat to the narrative in an incredibly satisfying way.

This is definitely my favorite film of the three, on performances alone. Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy in career-best performances. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon Levitt — everyone shows up. The story manages to give a lot of depth to characters that barely appear onscreen. And Bale, he manages to give a star performance in an ensemble full of roles essentially designed to make him look boring in comparison.

The subject matter of Batman seems to be a way for Nolan to discuss how America deals with its own heroes, and Rises specifically moves forward with the premise that The Joker (who is not mentioned once in Rises but hangs over it like a joke at Heath Ledger’s funeral) was right about people and heroes. Not many franchises by the same director claim the victorious ending of the predecessor as a misstep, and I think that nearly every success comes from that core of moving on from a failure. It’s a smart decision most directors following up two of the most financially successful films in American cinematic history. You’ve got to see it for the ruthless gesture that it is.

And next he’s producing a Zack Snyder movie, so… yeah. I liked this one.

Andy Yen

I thought the film was a solid end to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with some caveats. Chrstopher Nolan promised fans that The Dark Knight Rises would tie-in to the first two films, and that it does with a good amount of success. The events from the end of The Dark Knight smoothly set up the new world order in Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises, while the true origins of TDKR’s villains connect full circle with Batman Begins’ Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Shadows. For the most part, the film does a great job of paying off fans who enjoyed the first two films without becoming a farce like the third entry in almost all other superhero movie trilogies. On the flip-side, though, I think that enjoying this film hinges very closely on having seen the other two movies. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight fare much better as standalone films.

While I admire Nolan for attempting an epic storyline incorporating both the downfall/rebuilding of a hero and a city-wide revolution (basically cramming the New Caprica season of Battlestar Galactica into the second act of a 166-minute film), the pacing of The Dark Knight Rises felt choppy at times. With the film taking place eight years after The Dark Knight and some sections of the film taking place over five months of story time, it’s not always easy to place events within the flow of the movie, especially during the long stretch after “The Breaking.” So, Bruce Wayne fixed the autopilot on The Bat six months ago (which was one month before Bane broke him?) so he could save himself from dying in a nuclear explosion?

Logic leaps like that are my main gripes with the film. While they’re not as egregious as Prometheus’s, they did stick out. I mean, John Blake waltzes into Wayne Manor and accuses Bruce of being the Batman and Bruce just goes along with it? How did Mr. Blake manage to figure all this out in an orphanage while no one else in Gotham came even close (including The Joker)? In fact, by the end of the film, everyone seems to know who Batman is except for poor Jim Gordon (your police commissioner!) who needed to be hit over the head with the Obvious Hammer.

Some of the characterization elements also bothered me as well. I’m guessing I’m not the only Batman fan who was waiting the entire film for Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate to reveal herself as Talia al Ghul. While my inner fanboy loved predicting the reveal, I had real problems with how crappy her character ended up being. Even without knowing her comics backstory, Talia is a disappointment. Here’s this daughter of the leader of the League of Assassins who was the only person to escape the unescapable prison and the most badass thing she does is backstab Batman while telling the Cliff’s Notes version of her life story?

The movie spends so much time building Bane up to be this terrifying embodiment of destruction (and quite successfully at that) only to undo that in seconds by essentially making him Talia’s puppy dog. Catwoman’s one-shot missile kill of him is something I wish I could do to the final boss of every video game I’ve ever played. Speaking of Catwoman, I’m with Khouri on Team Hathaway. She definitely stole the movie and was everything I could ever hope for as a live-action Catwoman. If they ever tried to do another standalone Catwoman movie with Hathaway, I’d be there on opening day.

My biggest thematic takeaway from all three films was the notion that the Batman was more than just one man’s crusade against crime; it’s an incorruptible symbol meant to represent justice and heroism. We see this idea take shape in Batman Begins with Ra’s al Ghul’s training and Bruce’s creation of Batman. The symbol is then tested at the end of The Dark Knight with the Batman taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s heinous acts in order to save Gotham’s soul. Finally, we see the notion fully realized at the end of The Dark Knight Rises with the apparent passing of the mantle to (Robin) John Blake. The exploration and evolution of such a thematic idea is something that hasn’t ever been done in the superhero film genre (to my knowledge). Awesome photography by Wally Pfister aside, I think exploring the theme of “What is Batman?” is the greatest achievement of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, one that both stays true to the spirit of the character while also manages to successfully entertain mainstream audiences.

The Dark Knight Rises is an absolutely brilliant title for the movie because it not only refers to the story arc of Bruce Wayne’s Batman “rising” from his ignoble defeat at the hands of Bane midway through the film, but also to John Blake’s character arc and origin as the new Batman. We see his ascent from an officer to detective and also his growing disillusionment with the police force that would lead him to quit. By the end of the movie, I fully expected Blake to take up the mantle of Batman as a worthy bearer of the costume. In a fitting piece of imagery, the final shot of the film is of Blake rising on the platform in the Batcave about to discover the armor. Bravo, Chris Nolan, bravo.

Christopher Sebela

I know I’m going to end up on the wrong side of nerd history on this one, but The Dark Knight Rises was a huge disappointment. I spent months working myself up to the release date, whispering to my heart of hearts that Nolan wouldn’t disappoint. I had issues with Begins and Dark Knight, but I figured this was where it would all come together in one glorious crescendo. If anything, this was the weakest of the trilogy on a number of levels.

I’m not a supporter of splitting finales into two parts, as it mostly seems like a cash grab on the part of studios to string franchise supporters along and bilk them out of twice the money they’d normally get, but this film needed splitting up and deserved more time to unfold everything it wanted to do. Stuffed in under three hours, all the major “wouldn’t this be cool?” storylines just became an endless montage, so by hour two we weren’t watching a movie as much as we were skimming a series of underserved plot points in a race towards the ending.

Everyone mumbled from their hospital bed or murmured from behind their scotch guard bong or rasped thickly from their weird desert prison cells. The whole movie felt like an advanced hearing test, especially when so much of it was being delivered over the blaring score. I should not have to work this hard to hear dialogue.

The Occupy Wall Street stuff felt very thrown together and, honestly, the ham-fisted montage of giving the 1% their comeuppance by throwing them out of their penthouses felt more than a bit gross. Ditto for the Scarecrow’s courtroom stuff. Throw in the cheap device to make Bruce Wayne “one of us” by wiping out his finances and any attempt at handling the issue of haves and have nots was tossed right out the window. Or down a sewer grate.

Last I checked, Bruce Wayne was a regular dude who needed a robotic leg brace just to walk correctly but then he has a vertebrae STICKING OUT OF HIS BACK that just gets pushed back in in a dank prison cells as he’s left to dangle from some ropes and then Cellmate Yoda mumbles some stuff at him and he’s all good to go? “But he’s a superhero,” you will say, and I will reply that Nolan’s the one who put Batman in the reality sandbox, so suck it, this is a valid complaint.

This movie telegraphs its punches like crazy. The moment the fusion reactor thing was bombified, you knew it was going to go off at the end, and that Batman would make the ultimate sacrifice to save Gotham. You knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt was going to become the new Batman, you knew that Marion Cotillard is not going to show up in a movie just to play upstanding businesswoman, so it’s a waiting game for her to reveal she’s Talia al Ghul (I am Batman comics ignorant and even I saw that one coming).

THE CLEAN SLATE PROGRAM (!!!). Possibly the dumbest plot device to show up in a movie since Avatar’s Unobtanium. A thing so dumb that the movie has a character mention to Selina Kyle “Oh, you mean that program that expositiony expositions the exposition?” and then it’s mostly forgotten about. Bane’s mask comes in a close second, as it is altogether ignored until finally someone stops to mention that it’s there to “stop the pain” and is basically the achilles heel that Batman, the master tactician, never bothered to think of.

The Stock Exchange Raid. It is day when they show up, it is day when they leave. Suddenly, bam!, it’s nighttime. Seriously, did no one bring this up at any point during the editing or screening process?

Gordon is basically the last person in all the world to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and in case you weren’t sure that he finally understood what Batman flat out tells him, they made sure to have him exclaim it to himself.

Nolan’s weakness in the Batman films has always been the big finale setpieces, from the gas main explosion train to the ferry/detonator showdown, and this is no exception. Orphans on a bridge? Atomic bombs that manage to hold out just long enough for Bruce Wayne to rehab himself out of weirdo jail and fly back to Gotham? And you know somewhere down the line, the studio stood on Nolan’s shoulder and insisted on a happy ending/love story that barely felt earned.

ALL THIS SAID, I enjoyed the movie — really, I did. Enough that I will likely see it in the theater again (but considering the movies I see, this might not be a huge endorsement). JGL and Hathaway were great, Hardy did the finest impression of Sean Connery talking through a scotch guard bong the world will ever see. The stuff that worked really, really worked. But outside of Insomnia, TDKR feels like Nolan’s weakest film, as if he were tired of Batman, tired of Christian Bale, and tired of trying to make a movie that was about something and just decided to ignore all three and give us a grab bag of Batman marginalia in the hopes that it would come together into something satisfying.

Chris Haley

I don’t generally have the kind of analytical mind that lends itself to movie reviews beyond “that was great” or “that was okay” or “that was terrible” or ” that was… a movie” so I won’t try to take The Dark Knight Rises apart and tell you what worked and what didn’t and why. If you’re the kind of person that cares about that kind of thing, you’ve probably already got your own ideas, and if you don’t care about that kind of thing, why would you want to read me grasping desperately to find some kind of film school insight into what Christopher Nolan & Co. were going for?

Instead, I will say that The Dark Knight Rises pulled off the monumental — and what I believed to be nigh-impossible– task of blowing me away. They pulled it off. They had to follow up The Dark Knight, and they pulled it off. The Dark Knight Rises had to exist and try not to be a letdown in a post-Avengers world, and they pulled it off.

If you’d taken a photo of my stunned speechless, goofy, grinning face as the credits rolled at 3 am and sent that photo back in time to me two months ago and said, “This is what you will look like after The Dark Knight Rises,” I simply would not have believed you.

There’s plenty to nitpick and complain about if you’re so inclined (and I’m sure there will be plenty of people willing to do that), but I don’t feel like being one of them this time.

I don’t know if we got the Batman movie we needed or the Batman movie we deserved, but I got the Batman movie I wanted. The Batman movie that rewards faith with hope for something better.

David Uzumeri

It’s difficult for me to sit back and intellectually analyze this movie at this point, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’ve only seen it once, and at nearly three hours long much of its narrative structure is still blurred in my head. Secondly, I saw it at midnight in IMAX after a night at the bar, which was a wholly overwhelming experience on a sensual level. It was less like watching a Batman movie and more like mainlining Batman into your jugular.

The Dark Knight Rises is an intense film, one that made me have to walk out during the stock exchange scene just to get some air. (I apparently missed the best line of the movie.) It’s an unrelenting, bleak parade, punctuated by moments of stirring hope and perfectly-delivered Catwoman oneliners. It’s the apotheosis of apocalyptic Batman comics, taking elements from Knightfall, No Man’s Land and Dark Knight Returns and blending them together into Nolan’s attempt at that grand ambition, the Last Batman Story.

Which is what this movie is; for the first time, a big-screen superhero gets an actual, proper ending. Which is what makes the fact that this movie isn’t as good as The Dark Knight on its own more palatable, because Rises is never meant to stand alone. It follows narratively from Batman Begins and thematically from its immediate predecessor; it follows the paths set by those movies’ themes of fear and escalation to their logical, intertwined conclusion. It’s not as
good a movie as The Dark Knight, but through its existence it makes both The Dark Knight and Batman Begins better films. It’s a fully realized, whole trilogy of movies that doesn’t end on its worst installment.

With regards to its production values, screenwriting, and acting, it’s of a piece with its two predecessors. It’s a fully satisfying third act. That’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws — there are major holes in characters’ journeys that never get filled in (although you can usually just explain these things away with “well, he’s Batman”), and the story does delve further into the comic-booky aspect of the character, recalling more the ridiculous microwave emitter/hallucinogen plan from Begins than the more down-to-earth terrorism of the Joker in Dark Knight. It goes to places in Batman’s mythology nobody thought Nolan would delve into, and it makes them its own.

Every cast member is fantastic, but Anne Hathaway unquestionably steals the show, effortlessly providing the first real straight take on the character in film. Hathaway doesn’t need to vamp up the character to make her funny; when everything else in the movie is so incredibly dark, a little levity goes a very long way.

It’s easy to see the movie and think of it as a conservative polemic damning Occupy Wall Street — and the imagery of what happens at the stock exchange certainly backs that up — but look deeper (or just read an interview) and it’s pretty clear that the inspirations for this movie are far more Dickensian. Whether it’s the Tea Party or Occupiers, everyone’s afraid of the tyranny of the mob, and people looking for a real-world counterpart to Bane could be better served reading about Robespierre than Obama. Dark Knight Rises isn’t about the nobility of the aristocracy, it’s about breaking a man and his world down and seeing the best of that man, and the best of his world, rise up to fight back. It’s about the best of people coming out in the worst conditions, about second chances and trust, about small acts of kindness having humongous consequences. It’s a movie about giving a s*** about your fellow man.

I liked it a lot.

Chris Sims

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