Anticipation can be a bitch. Expectations can lead to disappointment. Hype can be a killer. Christopher Nolan's epic conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy has to deal with all three nuisances, and he flicks them aside like villain Bane does Batman, the entire Gotham police force and everyone else who makes the mistake of crossing his path.
The Dark Knight Rises is a grand 164 minutes long with an hour of IMAX footage, and Nolan fills every minute of it with awe-inducing awesomeness. The Dark Knight set the standard for comic book adaptations and, taking Heath Ledger's tragic portrayal as the Joker into account, begged the question: how do you do better than this?
The Dark Knight Rises provides the answer.
The trilogy's conclusion might not top its predecessor - emphasis on might - but it makes the events in that movie - about a crackpot who blows up a hospital and threatens with other terrorist acts - look insignificant in comparison. Using the intelligent and physically superior Bane as his means to inflict absolute hell upon the array of characters he has developed over the last several years, Nolan turns Gotham City into a warzone where hope is nonexistent and Batman seemingly defeated.
Bane is no Joker, but he is a formidable villain who in many ways is much more dangerous than the laughing psychopath that wreaked havoc on Gotham years earlier (The Dark Knight Rises is set eight years after the events of the second film, with Gotham in relative peace, the Batman long gone and Bruce Wayne a recluse). Bane is cunning, intelligent and has a plan; he is also physically stronger, faster and more skilled than an aging hero. Some of Tom Hardy's performance is lost behind his mask and a digitized voice, but embodies the dangerous villain superbly and makes for a sufficient predecessor to Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning Joker.
But The Dark Knight Rises is squarely a Christopher Nolan show; the movie is an epic farewell to an epic franchise, a production that is as big as summer blockbusters can be, but much deeper than your typical Hollywood fare. In hindsight it is clear that Nolan was building to something like this from the start, the perfect ending that wraps up the story of Gotham, its citizens and Batman in grand fashion.
The best part about the movie is that it's unpredictable. Rumors have been circulating for years over who is who and what will happen at the end - Batman could live, or he could die, as could any other character - and it's not until deep into the movie, and if you grew up reading Batman comic books, will you realize how things will turn out. Most comic book movies don't offer that kind of mystery, and that's what makes The Dark Knight Rises special.
Its only fault is that it does have to deal with anticipation, expectations and deafening buzz; there are moments that can be picked at and complained about. I would have liked to see a bigger showdown between Batman and Bane at the end. It would have been great had the citizens of Gotham joined the battle. And so on...
But those are minor complaints, and I'm still riding the buzz. I want to see it again, and thankfully I have tickets to see it again - in IMAX - in a few days.
Without giving much away - I've been threatened by death to not reveal spoilers - The Dark Knight Rises successfully blends two of my favorite comic book arcs of all time and makes the most of them. The result is a brutal, serious and surprisingly unpredictable action-drama that puts most, if not all, other comic book movies to shame.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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