The Dark Knight Rises (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack) Review
Author’s Note: This review will contain spoilers. Chances are if you are reading this review you’ve seen the movie already. If not, you were warned.
And so the Dark Knight returns or should we say *rises* in the grand finale of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. The franchise was coming off a genre transcending entry with The Dark Knight, which marked the first time a movie based on a comic book garnered an Academy Award for an actor’s performance with the late Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as The Joker. With all that in mind, plus the revolutionary way Nolan and Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister shot chunks of the second movie on IMAX 70mm format for a radical theatrical experience, The Dark Knight Rises had its work cut out for it. The Dark Knight was always going to be a tough act to follow. And thankfully the movie does not stumble quite as badly as third comic book franchise entries as say Spider-Man 3 or X-Men 3. But the movie is not without its flaws.
I think one of the actual trappings of The Dark Knight was by the end of the movie they wrote themselves into a corner. Two-Face/Harvey Dent was dead, but not only that Batman takes the fall for Dent’s death and several corrupt police officers. The imagery and iconography at the end was effective, but the writing and storytelling . . . not so much. How do you turn a situation like that around? Well not so easily apparently. Instead of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) falling further into his role of Batman, he’s instead gone intro reclusive retirement . . . for eight freaking years. Yes, Batman who lost any chance he had for a shot at happiness for a personal life with Rachel and built a brand new Batcave just retires in his prime for eight years. Now this has happened to some degree before. The Dark Knight Returns featured a much older Bruce Wayne in his 50’s who had retired past his prime in his 40’s, likely due to the death of Robin and the growing public intolerance toward costume vigilantes.
In the Christopher Nolan movies, Batman’s war on crime was basically boiled down to the mob, organized crime, and terrorists; not so much random street crime. And I suppose this is just my difference in philosophies about Batman compared to Nolan and co-writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer. I think if anything, losing Rachel would make Batman even more paranoid and dedicated to crime and show him like in Kingdom Come becoming a sort of militant, borderline fascist nut that needs to be pulled back from the brink of madness. Now this is not to say the movie is bad because it isn’t. The performances are great and the writing is very good for the most part. We see flashes of Bale getting to play the World’s Greatest Detective Elements in some of the Batcave scenes, but they are only flashes. Unfortunately I think the failing of this movie and franchise as a whole is that Nolan and his team decided the legend of Bruce Wayne had to end. Something else I disagree with. My hope was that this movie would have Batman becoming more like the contemporary Batman we know as that appeared to be the direction the movies were going toward at first. Batman was the first of his kind and like the Joker says, he changed things. Batman begets the Joker and so on and so forth. The Joker does not perish in The Dark Knight. In the end you almost just get the sense that this is nothing more than the first encounter the two will share and they are destined to engage in a game of human chess forever. So while The Dark Knight came off like a natural progression, The Dark Knight Rises is less so. And my disagreement comes in the idea that there has to be an “end” to the legend. I think legends depending on your definition are not supposed to end. Legends are essentially eternal. So the idea of the story and legend of Bruce Wayne as Batman ending is odd to me.
So here Wayne has become a shell of himself. Gotham City “won” the war on crime, but it was based on a lie that has been festering for years. While crime is down, the city is more decadent than ever. The downtrodden remain so and the orphanages are running out of funding. Wayne is spurned back to virtual life by an encounter with a skilled jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Kyle steals Wayne’s fingerprints to be used in a scam by corporate weasel John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) to take over Wayne Enterprises. However all this is just one part in a master plot by the masked madman Bane (Tom Hardy), a former protégé of Bruce Wayne’s old mental Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and the League of Shadows, to destroy Batman and then Gotham City. And destroy Batman, Bane does. The Wayne fortune is emptied in the League’s attack on the stock trade. Alfred (Michael Caine), despondent over seeing Bruce continue to not heed his advice, leaves the butler business. Catwoman lures Batman into a confrontation with Bane that Batman is not ready for and he’s utterly beaten and his spine is cracked. Bruce Wayne is then left in the hellish pit from which Bane was born, taunting him with the inevitable destruction of Gotham City which he has closed off all borders for. The city is put under Bane’s control and he’s prepared to blow up the rotten apple in several months with a nuclear bomb. And so with his body broken but his spirit still strong, Batman has to dig himself up from a literal purgatory to save Gotham and gain redemption.
While I think they could do well with sometimes sweating the small stuff, writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer masterfully handle things like symbolism and the iconography of Batman. They mix in a bit of social commentary and make the movie look similar and relevant to current events without it being too overtly specific or political. Christopher Nolan if he nails anything does really nail the hero’s journey of his version of Batman and Batman becoming a sort of symbol and urban legend. Throughout the movie you see little icons, bat symbols drawn into brick and concrete with chalk. The movie also has great pacing even at a running time of two hours and forty five minutes. I’m never bored watching this movie and Nolan do a great job of doing a slow burn and snowballing the story into an avalanche.
The performances are all strong. Bale is in top form here outside of not quite ever really being able to fix his overdone growling voice as Batman. Hardy is a great physical presence of menace as Bane. Hathaway is extremely nimble and aptly cast as Catwoman though I still think the costume and her overall look was poorly thought out and they would’ve been better served to go with the modern look which would’ve been perfect for the Nolan movies. While I like Caine as Alfred, his speeches in the movie become somewhat tiresome and forced, so forced because Alfred is written out of the movie pretty early on which was a misstep. Besides the main and supporting cast, Nolan does a great job of putting in quality and experienced thespians in small roles. I thought it was especially neat seeing Torchwood’s Burn Gorman pop up in the movie as Daggett’s and Bane’s stooge Philip Stryver. Will Estes shows up briefly as a young cop in a scene that’s taken right out of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Reggie Lee a character actor whose appeared in many movies and is a regular on Grimm is John Blake’s partner. Person of Interest’s Brett Cullen plays the congressman Hathaway abducts. Even Thomas Lennon from Reno 911 shows up in an amusing little scene as a doctor doing a check up for Bruce Wayne. It was a fun experience spotting all these familiar faces throughout the movie.
Other missteps include the numerous plot holes littered throughout the movie that make it rather problematic. Between the fusion reactor that becomes a nuclear bomb, Gordon sending virtually all the police in the city into the sewers to get trapped, Bane giving them supplies for a few months, Bane finding time to take over Gotham drop Bruce in prison and go right back to Gotham, and a bunch of other things that sort of take away from the strong points of the movie. Not only that but we never get any emotional satisfaction or closure regarding the fate of Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) a character who’s been causing mischief since Batman Begins. This like a couple other significant events all happens off screen. There are really no consequences to the revelation of Gordon and Batman’s lie from the end of the second movie. In fact, no one really cares. At times the action does get a tad sloppy. The fight scenes at times look a tad too choreographed and robotic. You see guns being “shot” with no movement or flash from the barrels. Wally Pfister’s amazing and crisp cinematography is fantastic but sometimes it makes these visual flaws a bit too apparent.
And then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt as GCPD Officer John Blake. Without revealing his big secret, it’s rather underwhelming. He’s brought in as Bruce’s protégé of sorts which there is precedence for in the comics, but it’s the execution which does not work really well. For starters this idea that he figured out Bruce Wayne was Batman by seeing him look sad. Really? Seriously? I mean did we all just forget how lame the memory erasing kiss in Superman II was? Levitt’s a good actor and his performance is decent, but the character of John Blake, not so much.
While the movie is not as good as The Dark Knight or reach that aforementioned film’s fantastic heights, Nolan puts together a strong cinematic experience and an effective end to his Batman trilogy. The conclusion is not completely spectacular, but it is satisfying. The Nolan Batman trilogy will be unforgettable for its strong mix of gritty realism and comic book iconography.
The Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0
The Blu-ray version of the movie is presented in 1080p High Definition. The picture shifts aspect ratios from 2.4:1 for most of the film and then seamlessly to 1.78:1 for all the IMAX sequences. Basically that means any of the scenes that were shot in IMAX 70mm format will take up your whole widescreen TV picture. The regular scenes will have the matted black at the top and bottom of your picture. The Blu-ray video transfer looks great in high definition. Picture sharpness and locations look great. Cinematographer Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan sort of combine qualities from the previous two movies with the epic adventure of Batman Begins and the urban crime drama style of The Dark Knight. Depth and sharpness for the IMAX scenes look great but they do expose some of the sloppiness in certain shots. Overall though a fantastic looking video transfer.
The Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
The Blu-ray release features a 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack. Language tracks in French and Spanish in 5.1 sound are also available. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included. Sound transfer quality is great. You can truly appreciate all the subtle nuances to Hans Zimmer’s score which of course brings the famous Bane chant to the table but does some nice callbacks to Batman Begins as well. Sound design and mixing for the release sounds crisp and very clear. Dialogue at times is a little mumbly and muffled, but that’s more due to Nolan’s filmmaking style than anything. That being said, I found Bane’s voice in this audio track much easier to understand than the booming, overpowering soundtrack mix when I first saw the movie on IMAX. Blu-ray is probably the ideal format to listen to Bane’s dialogue. Batman’s hissing, overdone growl as Batman unfortunately can’t be fixed.
The Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0
The Packaging & Extras
The Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet Combo Pack for The Dark Knight Rises consists of a 3-disc set. One Blu-ray disc is for the movie and a second disc features just extras. The third and final disc is the movie on DVD. Inserted into the case are instructions on how to download your digital Ultraviolet copy of the movie and how to set up the Second Screen Experience feature. There’s an additional disc consisting of just special features. The set is packaged in a translucent blue plastic clamshell style case. The slip cover has a lenticular image of the movie poster on the front featuring Batman. Here’s an overlook for the special features for the movie:
- Second Screen Experience
- The Batmobile
- Promotional Art Gallery
Normally, the extras for Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have been remarkably sparse, light, and rather disappointing. I think Bat-fans and cine-philes will be happy to see Nolan’s normally rather rigid stance on DVD extras has noticeably softened with this release. Now while we don’t get any audio commentary, and people who think there is some magical three and a half hour director’s cut of the movie out there need to stop holding their breath, the extras we do get here are much more comprehensive and in-depth than what we are normally used to from the deluxe releases of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Heck, the second disc of Batman Begins made you read a stupid comic to get to the minimal extras. So considering that Nolan doesn’t like to really pull back the curtain and reveal the secrets and all, the special features we do get are pretty generous. That being said, getting an audio commentary if not with Nolan but maybe with the actors or writers would’ve been nice for this release.
For disc one, you can sync your Blu-ray disc to The Dark Knight Rises Second Screen App on you iOS devices if available. This is basically an enhanced viewing mode you can run on your mobile device along with the movie. Now I don’t own an iOS device, but I did get to preview the app recently. There’s some nice additional bonus content including some animated pre-visualizations of the vehicles and sequences, trivia, script page samples of select sequences, and some new photo galleries.
First up on disc two is The Batmobile, a 58 minute documentary that examines the iconography as well as the production and design of Batman’s ride from all the live action movies and the 1960’s TV show including new interviews with Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and more about their takes on the Batmobile as well as the men and women who designed and built all the working versions of it. The documentary features a lot of factoids and anecdotes about the philosophy of Batman’s ride. It’s basically everything you never knew about the Batmobile and probably even a few things you never really wanted to know or cared about. The feature I think is a little too long-winded at times and it looks to have culled material from older special features for DCE releases. I probably would’ve also liked a look at the Bat-wing from the 1989 movie and also the Bat from Dark Knight Rises since I prefer those sequences over ones with the Batmobile. I think the other issue is that besides a few snippets it’s not particularly focused on The Dark Knight Rises which doesn’t even have an actual Batmobile in it other than the camo Tumblers that Bane and his minions use.
In total there are about 18 behind-the-scenes featurettes on disc two on the making of the movie. The Production section features a group of featurettes that run all together at about 68 minutes and cover various design and production aspects surrounding the film. My favorite ones of which cover the prologue plane hijack sequence and also the production of the Bat. Looking at past Nolan Batman releases, I was pleasantly surprised how revealing many of the featurettes were especially on the hijack sequence where you can see just how complex arranging that sequence was and how most of it was actually shot for real. I think in this age of digital effects, one can appreciate how industrious and practical Nolan’s productions look. Digital effects are used more to enhance, composite and erase elements rather than replace them or create things that just aren’t there. Other featurettes cover the the design and construction of the Bat, the new Batcave, the Batman and Bane fight, and more.
Characters are three mini-featurettes focused on the characters of Batman/Bruce Wayne, Bane, and Selina Kyle/Catwoman that all together run about 28 minutes.
Reflections is two small featurettes that cover Wally Pfister’s cinematography which is sure to earn an Oscar nomination. A third of the movie was shot with 70 mm IMAX cameras. The next one features the filmmakers saying goodbye to the Batman franchise with this movie after putting many years and work into the filming. David Goyer provides a nice anecdote of reading his comics as a kid and telling his mom about wanting to make a Batman movie.
The second disc is rounded by four Trailers and a Promotional Art Gallery. The trailers have a play all feature that I think some of the featurette sections could have used. So overall the extras you get here are much better and more comprehensive than the past Nolan Bat-films but the navigation could’ve run a little smoother and it’s just missing that extra panache to give it a 10 rating.
The Rating: 8.5 out of 10.0
The 411: While The Dark Knight Rises lacks the overwhelming wow factor and spectacle of The Avengers, it's still a good movie and a solid end to the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy that does not go out with a whimper. On the other hand it does not reach the heights of 2008's The Dark Knight. There's a good amount of material to be found with the bonus features for the release which are more comprehensive than previous releases for entries into Nolan's Bat-franchise. However a little more variety in the extras as well as some improved navigation would've really put it over the top. Picture and sound quality are stop notch. And Bane is more understandable here than he was in IMAX.
|Final Score: 9.3 [ Amazing ] legend|