This film was always going to be controversially, but I loved it from the amazing aerial prologue sequence to Bane breaking Batman and the all too fitting resolution not only to the film but the trilogy as a whole. I was not sure how to go about reviewing the film particularly when so many reviews exist already, both good and bad. Instead, I am just going to run down my favorite moments in the film while also giving responses to some of the complaints weighed against Nolan’s truly final Batman movie. /Film detailed 15 complaints about the film that Nolan-Fans responded to. I agree with most of their responses but would like to add to them in parts.
This list is long, and therefore broken into two parts. This is the second piece, with Part 1 located here.
THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. I WILL ASSUME YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM!
The Score – Hans Zimmer’s scores is huge and bombastic, and there are parts of Rises where I slightly question the sound design. Even those moments do not overplay how great the score is on its own. “Gotham’s Reckoning” sounds exactly like I want the beginning of a film to sound; it starts simple and then explodes with intensity. “Imagine the Fire,” more or less the music used for the climatic battle, is some of the greatest climax music I have ever heard. It sounds climatic. It doesn’t only sound like a big battle, it sounds like the battle of both a film and a trilogy. It’s beautiful and it’s impossible for it to not get your emotions pumping. I only hope the Academy will finally fix its 2008 mistake and both nominate and award Hans Zimmer for his amazing cinematic work.
IMAX – If you are seeing this film in a regular theater, you are not seeing the right film. Without question, The Dark Knight Rises needs to be seen in an IMAX theater both for picture and sound quality. I made sure I saw it in IMAX every time and I am still excited to see it yet again in IMAX when I am in New York late-August. Bigger screens are always better, but the quality is also better. You can tell it’s better. When the image shifts from full frame IMAX to 35 mm I almost cringed at the grain and loss of clarity. Beyond this, the 7.1 IMAX surround sound is booming, literally. It’s more than your seat shaking a bit. When Batman’s flying Bat vehicle appears it causes the entire theater to shake, and it’s amazing. Please, please, please see this film in an IMAX theater.
The Laughs – Nolan’s Batman trilogy has always been seen as the darker, grittier alternative to Marvel’s more comedic and lighthearted superhero films. Marvel films are joy rides where Nolan’s films are thrill rides. All the same, Rises has a surprisingly strong number of laughs (despite some critics’ complaints). The Dark Knight wasn’t funny, but audiences were amused by the Joker’s sadistic sense of comedy. In The Dark Knight Rises, there are jokes to go around, but it never gets distracting. Batman’s “So that’s what that feels like” joke is spot on, as is Bane’s What a lovely, lovely voice.” Bane has some great lines on the CIA plane and Selina Kyle is quick witted throughout. Lucius Fox has a bit or two, and it’s sadly comical to see Wayne locked out of his house when Alfred leaves because he never needed keys before. There are not a lot of jokes, nor should there be, but there are just enough to pull laughs.
Comic References – I don’t think people credit Nolan enough for how true to the comics his films are. They are, after all, good films that go beyond what we see as standard comic book movies that are not based on a comic book. That’s the difference. The Spider-Man or X-Men films are based on characters and trends but not specific story or graphic novel. The Dark Knight is directly influenced by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and The Dark Knight Rises is even more true to source material. Most directly is Knightfall, the three-part arc where Bane breaks the Bat and Bruce must recover before coming back to defeat Bane. Basically, it’s the three-act structure of Rises.
Next, when John Blake is telling Bruce Wayne about Gordon’s trip into the sewers, he makes reference to “any giant alligators down there,” which I read as a subtle reference to the Batman villain Killer Croc. Next, the evil executive Mr. Daggett (whom many keep calling John Daggett even though his character’s first name is never given) is Nolan’s version of Roland Daggett of Daggett Industries. In the comics and animated series, Roland Daggett tries to takeover Wayne Enterprises and bankrupt Bruce Wayne by, perhaps you can guess, hiring Bane and Catwoman. Sound familiar? In the animated series, Bane also turns on Daggett, though I do not think he kills him as in Rises.
The prison pit Bruce is thrown in as Nolan’s realistic version of the Lazarus Pit where Bane is born at the hands of Ra’s Al-Ghul. While I do not have the line on hand, I also read in a review that there is a line said by Gordon that is word-for-word out of The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, a major influence on the film and the graphic novel Jonathan Nolan gave to Christopher Nolan as a teenager. Nolan’s film takes its comic book influences and overall Batman lore and interprets it according to Nolan’s trilogy universe, but he does so with the utmost respect and authenticity of a fellow Batman fan. Much more than can be said for most so-called comic book movies.
The Ending – There is one final comic book reference that made everyone’s day: Robin Jonathan Blake, the orphan and successor to Bruce Wayne as the Caped Crusader, the Dark Knight, Batman. Nolan always said he would never put Robin into his Batman films, and he wasn’t lying. Batman having a sidekick is weird in this universe, and Batman does not get a sidekick in Rises. Rather, “Robin” becomes the new Batman, with his name being both of way of showing audiences that succession while also giving fans something they always wanted. Honestly, John Blake is more of a Nightwing character than Robin, but he’s also neither. He’s Batman. Plain and simple. I think the ending of Rises is great. Bruce Wayne does what he always wanted to do, what Alfred never wanted him to do, truly give his life not figuratively but literally, for the people of Gotham. It devastates his father figures: Alfred, Gordon, Fox, but Nolan then gives each father a happy ending. Gordon realizes Batman lives on as a symbol, shown by the fixed flood light. Fox suspects Wayne survived the explosion with the autopilot fixed, and I think he is contempt with just suspecting. Alfred, the most important of them all, finally gets to see his adopted son and great love living happily away from the pain of Gotham.
Mixed with all of this is the realization that while Wayne’s journey as the Dark Knight has ended, John Blake’s is just beginning. Some of my friends said they wanted Bruce to die, even if Batman “lives on” in Blake, but I disagree. This trilogy was about Bruce Wayne creating Batman to save Gotham, but it was always known that Gotham would need saving beyond Wayne’s human life. It’s why Ra’s Al-Ghul taught him the importance of “becoming more than a man…becoming a legend.” The problem is that by The Dark Knight, Wayne seemed obsessed with Batman to the point of never wanting to give it up. This devastated Alfred, who only wanted Bruce to be happy, and while some may say being Batman is what made him happy, it isn’t. The problem is that it seemed death was the only way for Bruce to stop being Batman, and Alfred leaves him in Rises to try to make him realize this.
In the end, Alfred is right, and “death” by nuclear bomb is the only thing that saves Bruce Wayne, but that’s the expected ending. People expected Bruce Wayne to die, and if they didn’t it was probably because “you can’t kill Batman” or some similar remark, not because the story dictated he live. Yet, the story does dictate he lives because Wayne’s character arc is not that of Batman. Wayne’s arc is to find a life beyond Batman, something he struggled with in The Dark Knight, and Nolan allowing Wayne to live happily in Florence accomplishes this. Of course, his retirement is a waste if his goal of creating a legend fails, and indeed it succeeds by Blake taking up the mantle of Batman. Bruce Wayne is happy. Batman lives on. Gotham is saved. It’s the perfect ending.
Viewers must remember when going into The Dark Knight Rises that it is not a standalone film, as The Dark Knight was. It is the end of a trilogy and it serves that role perfectly. It references Batman Begins through the League of Shadows and Ra’s Al-Ghul and The Dark Knight through Harvey Dent’s legacy and Batman’s overall place in, or not in, Gotham City. While you can enjoy the film no matter what, I think you are missing out on a lot if you do not see Begins, at least, before Rises, and without Dark Knight you will probably wonder why Bruce Wayne is acting like a hermit.
I consider The Dark Knight Rises to be a perfectly crafted ending. It takes the themes of the first two films and mixes them into a climatic finish bigger than anything before it. That’s how trilogies are supposed to work. Things crescendo until it all explodes, and this time that explosion is exemplified literally in the detonation of a nuclear bomb. The problem with The Godfather Part III, besides Sophia Coppola’s acting, is that it’s missing Dennis Hooper, thereby severing ties to the previous two films besides Al Pacino and Diane Keaton (whose character seems forced). Return of the Jedi is better at this, but many are still somewhat disappointed with the moon of Endor finale. Return of the King is by far one of the greatest trilogy enders in cinema history, and in many ways it suffers in the same ways Dark Knight Rises can: it is very long and has several “ending points,” even if Nolan’s multiple endings happen in ten minutes instead of forty.
The thing that makes Rises a successful ending, most of all, is my feeling of complete satisfaction afterwards. The Dark Knight ended on a cliff hangar, and the film is so good audiences demand a second sequel. The Dark Knight Rises closes everything in a happy way while showing that the universe these films exist in will continue on. Bruce Wayne is at peace just as Alfred and his parents always/would have wanted, and his goal of creating a symbol, a legend to protect Gotham is achieved through Robin John Blake. Many wonder if Warner Bros plans to “reboot” Batman with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the Caped Crusader, and I think not. It’s not relevant to this trilogy how “Robin” gets the suit adjusted to his waistline or how he makes connections with Lucius Fox or Gordon. This is Bruce Wayne’s trilogy, and the ending of Wayne’s story was set from the beginning. Wayne would die but Batman would survive because Batman is more than one man. That happened in The Dark Knight Rises, but with the added joy of seeing Wayne realize his capacity to live beyond his story.
In my opinion, creating a story that lives beyond its own ending is what makes Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy a piece of cinema history. The Dark Knight truly does rise.