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ReThink Review: The Dark Knight Rises - Haunted by the Ghost of Villains Past

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What else is there to say? It's finally here. The Dark Knight Rises.

With great difficulty and only a few slips, I had maintained a media blackout of the movie, avoiding advertisements, articles, and descriptions so I wouldn't know what to expect. However, I watched The Dark Knight in preparation to refresh myself on the story. And as I watched, I was struck once again by how utterly mesmerizing Heath Ledger is as the Joker. I've seen The Dark Knight dozens of times, but every time I see it, I find something new and deliciously unnerving to admire about the performance that gives the film its twisted soul.

Unfortunately, this creates a major obstacle for Rises -- being compared to one of the greatest films ever while lacking one of the greatest performances ever. Watch my ReThink Review of The Dark Knight Rises below (transcript following).

Transcript:

The day so many of us have waited for is finally here, with the arrival of 164 minutes of The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy that brought superheroes and villains into the real world and redefined the genre. Nolan has proved himself to be one of the very best directors of his generation, especially since his last two films, The Dark Knight and Inception, are universally-acclaimed masterpieces. But that means that to avoid disappointing fans, Nolan has to outdo himself and somehow top not one, but two of the greatest movies ever made.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent, the crusading district attorney whose transformation into the villain Two Face was kept secret from the public, has been made into a hero and martyr, and a law named in his honor has helped clean up Gotham's streets. No longer needed, Batman has disappeared after taking the blame for murders Dent committed, and Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) has become a recluse.

But when a masked villain named Bane appears in Gotham with a band of mercenaries with plans to take over the city, Batman is forced out of retirement to confront him with the help of a driven young cop named John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an unlikely ally in the form of a cat burglar, some might even say a Catwoman, named Selena Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway).

The scope of The Dark Knight Rises is much larger than its predecessors, with hundreds of extras, big chases and battles through city streets, and some new Batman hardware. Hathaway provides a spark with her sex appeal, badass attitude, and refusal to be impressed by Batman, and Gordon-Levitt does a solid job, though the accent he puts on is hard to place. And, like all Nolan films, The Dark Knight Rises is beautiful to watch, particularly the big action scenes and many of the exterior shots, which were shot in IMAX.

But I think the biggest problem with The Dark Knight Rises is the bar set by its predecessor, The Dark Knight, and particularly, the ghost of Heath Ledger and his groundbreaking, Oscar-winning performance as the Joker. Bane (played by a masked Tom Hardy) simply isn't as interesting, menacing, unnerving and magnetic as the Joker, and, to be honest, the effect put on Bane's voice sometimes makes him hard to understand. Ledger's brilliant performance embodies the perfect counterpoint to the psychology of Bruce Wayne, where trauma drives one man to an obsession with chaos and the other with justice, and whether Batman's lawlessness and costume actually makes Gotham safer or drives criminals to be crazier.

The social commentary in the Joker's message about how little it takes to drive a civilization to barbarity is also much more thought-provoking than Bane's claim of wanting to save Gotham from inequality and corruption, despite how timely it feels with the Occupy movement. And I also wasn't crazy about the fact that Rises brings back a plotline from Batman Begins that I was never crazy about.

Nolan has sometimes been criticized for directing fairly cold performances, a criticism I never really agreed with. But with Bane and Catwoman being such cool customers, and without the passion and fire of the Joker, Harvey Dent, and the love triangle between him, Wayne, and Rachel Dawes, it feels like some emotional heat is missing in the gray and swirling snow of Gotham.

Rises is certainly epic, ambitious, occasionally dazzling, and provides a satisfying end to Nolan's trilogy. And to be honest, I sort of feel like this review is premature since, like most Nolan films, I really feel like I need to see it again to look for nuances and story points I might've missed. The Dark Knight Rises is very impressive and definitely worth seeing, but without a once-in-a-lifetime performance like Ledger's Joker to provide the pulse, we'll have to be content with a final chapter that certainly delivers, but in a trilogy that peaked in the middle.


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