My first two reviews of The Dark Knight still stand in dire need of an update and tell you everything about how my opinion on this trilogy has changed over time. It was the 3rd, 4th, 5th times I watched The Dark Knight that I slowly came to view it as the masterpiece it is… I think given that fact, my initial thoughts on the closing chapter here should indicate just how highly I’ll regard this entire series of films in years to come. But like Prometheus, I don’t think anyone could really have a solid opinion on this film after just one viewing.
I came to this, as I first came to The Dark Knight, knowing it would at the least be technically satisfying – like Fincher, even when he goes in directions I don’t like (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for Fincher, Inception for Nolan, e.g.), I can at least trust Nolan to bring the finest technical prowess to bear on his projects. I’d heard enough positive buzz to suggest that it would probably be satisfying in other departments too. But for it to even approach the greatness of The Dark Knight for me – and I said this to a few people before seeing it – I knew this needed to have something more… in the same way that, say, The Two Towers is so much more than a Lord of the Rings film, and The Empire Strikes Back is so much more than a Star Wars movie.
I don’t know if The Dark Knight Rises is necessarily more than a Batman movie… as a matter of fact, it barely is a Batman movie except in the ways in which it ties to the other two films. This will probably be the factor after most first viewings that dictates the direction of most reviews: you’re either gonna like this lack of the bat, or not. For me, I’ll admit, at first, I worried… but Nolan just kept pulling the rug out from under me so much in the end that I found myself going with it.
There are a lot of moments here where I felt my old frustration at Christopher Nolan; could feel the buzz of his fans hailing his every bowel movement as genius while just wishing he’d lighten up a little and be a little less faux cryptic once in a while. My review of Inception still stands on this site too, and that’s less likely to change than my opinion on his Batman trilogy. The interesting thing here is how Nolan brings some of his Inception ideas into his Batman universe and I enjoyed them this time around that much more – to the point in fact, where I wish he’d ended the movie a little more open – without trying to spoil it too much, by just leaving it at the expression on Alfred’s face at the end when he sees (or doesn’t see) what he sees (or doesn’t see) (actually, Mark Kermode’s review on Five Live suggested many have interpreted the ending more ambiguously than I did, so I guess he got it right). Perhaps it’s that here those abstract ideas are applied to something resembling a story – not an attempt at creating an ambiguity so thorough that it negates itself (but enough of my thoughts on Inception).
This trilogy has had the best acting in all Batman history from the start, but nothing compares to the performances up for consideration here. With Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Matthew Modine, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, you could almost certainly fill the Best Supporting Actor category at the Oscars next year with this film alone. Even Bale gets to emote more than he has in the early films here. Michael Caine in particular broke my heart in almost every scene he’s in – particularly two moments towards the end. I was concerned at the prospect of Catwoman entering this trilogy at all, let alone played by Anne Hathaway, who I have loved since Princess Diaries but always have inexplicable apprehension towards – let’s face it, nothing’s ever going to match Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns (still, I think, by a pinch, my favourite Batman movie), but when her maid act falls away in her first scene n she puts on the slink, I can’t deny I got quite a buzz from her thereafter. Likewise, Hardy’s Bane (or any comic book movie villain since) is never going to match Heath Ledger’s Joker, but he’s certainly leagues above that in Batman & Robin (okay, that’s not too hard).
This last movie in the trilogy deals with some very grim ideas, blurring the line between good and evil more even perhaps than in The Dark Knight. There were moments that reminded me of The Matrix Revolutions – in a good way – where really one can’t help thinking the “bad guys” (if those are the right words) seem to just have a point… that perhaps we’re too far down the line to hope we can fix the mess we’re in, and we can only hope for something good, something new, to rise out of the inevitable ashes. But it’s actually at times the lightest of the 3 Nolan movies too – moments where Batman and Catwoman exchange words in costume struck me as particularly smirk worthy, and the revelation about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character at the end is this film’s equivalent of the cheap (but thrilling, for me) last shot of Prometheus.
Like I said, it took me a long time to really be bowled over by The Dark Knight, and I imagine the same will apply here, so these for now are just immediate recollections of my first experience of the movie. I’ve genuinely not seen a single movie in 2012 that I don’t wish to get on blu-ray and examine more fully – it’s an even better year so far for cinema than I thought it’d be. The highest praise I can give this movie is that even during the course of writing this review, it has elevated my opinion of Nolan’s work so much I might be willing to reconsider Inception again. This is a great film on any level, though, and I’m thrilled to see the overall consensus being positive as there were a lot of moments during it that I could imagine people turning against it. It’s really the third act and finale that bring it all together here and excuse those lags. But I have a feeling that those lags will sharpen in time, and Nolan has things to say here – in this movie and the trilogy as a whole – about where we are as a species, as a culture, as a world, that will make this movie resonate powerfully in years to come.