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REVIEW: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Brings Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy to a Thundering, Mostly Satisfying Conclusion

REVIEW: 'The Dark Knight Rises' Brings Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy to a Thundering, Mostly Satisfying Conclusion

Director Christopher Nolan’s dramatic re-envisioning of the Batman franchise comes to a thundering end with “The Dark Knight Rises,” a spectacular noir epic that’s equal parts murky, bloated, flashy and triumphantly cinematic. Four years after Nolan’s “Batman Begins” sequel “The Dark Knight” rattled audiences with a similar audiovisual overload, the new movie falls into the same rhythm and remains viscerally satisfying even when the story falters. Once again, Nolan’s monolithic take on Batman is a jarring, fractured experience fraught with tension right through its daringly open-ended conclusion.

Among the recent spate of superhero blockbusters, Nolan’s Batman movies have stood out for conveying both mature direction and fiercely intellectual screenplays, but they move so quickly that it’s often hard to tell if they earn the pervasive reverence. At the end of the day, the three movies follow the same formula, blending dreary CGI spectacles with grave pontifications and brutal action. People scowl and whisper as often as things blow up, which in these times is something of a Hollywood anomaly.

The Dark Knight Rises” comes closer to deepening the pathos of its brooding, costumed lead, mainly due to the climactic incidents that bring the story to a firm conclusion (even as it leaves room for fresh beginnings). With a grisly twist that puts Batman out of commission for large portions of the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” hardly qualifies as a superhero movie by the usual standards, which may have been Nolan’s intention from the start.

Beneath the layers of moral pontification, however, “The Dark Knight Rises” finds Batman racing against time to stop the Darth Vader-like super-terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy, his face mostly obscured by a metallic vent) from detonating a nuclear bomb set to destroy Gotham City. However, this is preceded by a barrage of developments that pile up so relentlessly that even Nolan — again co-writing the screenplay with his brother Jonathan — struggles to define who’s doing what and why. Nolan’s storytelling is undeniably serious but never quite sober.

Nevertheless, “The Dark Knight Rises” deserves credit for having the gall to speed right out of the gate and never fully slow down. Batman (Christian Bale, more bleary-eyed than in previous installments) has gone off the grid before the movie even begins. Early scenes establish that a full eight years have passed since the conclusion of “The Dark Knight,” which found Aaron Eckhart’s erstwhile good-natured district attorney Harvey Dent transforming into the ghoulish Two-Face and dying in a violent confrontation.

With the city assuming Batman was to blame, Wayne retired his alter ego and settled into Charles Foster Kane-like seclusion in his mansion. He has lost the will to make a difference. Mirroring that downward spiral, reliable Batman pal Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has been downgraded by Gotham City fat cats to the status of a reckless warmonger in peacetime. Like Batman, his influence has faded, but duty inevitably calls both men back to action.

That decision, of course, takes time, but at two hours and 40 minutes, “The Dark Knight Rises” has plenty to spare. Before even fleshing out its main villain, the Nolans introduce spry diamond burglar Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman, although the screenplay never identifies her by that name.

Played by Anne Hathaway with a series of seductive glances, naughty grins and olympic combat, Hathaway’s take on the character exists a world apart from Michelle Pfeiffer’s latex-covered cartoon in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns,” a decision that results in a more believable creation but also an unmemorable one. This has been a frequent problem with Nolan’s gritty realist approach to the blockbuster mold, which frequently trades overstatement for sleek displays with mixed results.

While Hathaway’s character is something of a letdown, Batman’s new foe Bane provides a supremely menacing creation. An early scene that introduces the mythological character, a former overseas prisoner raised by Batman’s ex-trainer-turned-nemesis Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson in “Batman Begins”), outdoes everything that comes next. Tricking a group of headhunters into kidnapping him, Bane takes down an entire plane and escapes with a prisoner in a deft mid-air antic that borders on the balletic. Easily outdoing the heist sequence that opened “The Dark Knight,” it quickly establishes the extent of his demonic power.

Still, Bane’s personality leaves much to be desired, mainly because he’s so hard to hear beneath his silvery muzzle. Bane’s muffled voice embodies the movie’s strengths and weaknesses at once. He’s an ominous terror, to be sure, but also largely undefined and remote. Nolan’s direction seemingly takes cues from Bane: “Now is not the time for fear,” Bane tells a captive in an early bit. “That comes later.” So we keep waiting: While “The Dark Knight Rises” hovers in a constant state of dread, it can be awfully difficult to follow each moment or care about the big picture.

Is there payoff? Not so much as individually absorbing moments. Batman gets beaten to a pulpy mass in a brutally choreographed mano-a-mano with Bane in Gotham City’s sewers, and the face-off puts the hero out of commission for the lengthy second act. His recuperation scenes, set in a dungeon filled with worldly prisoners who become his allies, goes on and on like some kind of spiritual masterclass.

Unlike Nolan’s “Inception,” which used its narrative momentum to dive through multiple layers of consciousness, “The Dark Knight Rises” feels simultaneously speedy and lethargic, with plenty of unremarkable cutaways and exchanges given unnecessary weight thanks to Hans Zimmer’s routinely invasive score (which, like Bane’s mask, often makes the dialogue inaudible).

The Zimmer score is matched by IMAX-friendly images of Gotham’s cityscape seen from a bird’s eye view as its inhabitants fall prey to Bane’s gradual takeover. The explosive CGI has its moments, with Batman’s new airplane — The Bat — adding the latest toy to the series, but Nolan relishes destruction more than the forces challenging it. Bane’s decimation of entire football field with the push of a button has far greater impact than any of Batman’s achievements, which makes you wonder where the filmmaker’s sympathies truly lie. When our ostensible hero does snap back into action, he’s less a force of vengeance than a brash machine. “I’m not afraid,” Batman growls. “I’m angry.” No matter the scale of the Batman movies, their protagonist still comes across as a thin creation.

And in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he’s not alone. New additions include Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as a muckraking police officer whose history with Wayne allows the younger man to convince Batman he’s still worth a damn, but his powers of persuasion ring hollow even when the character grows central to larger events at hand. Marion Cotillard surfaces in a few scenes as a potential Wayne love interest whose true motives arrive later on to bring the arc of the three movies full circle. But she’s too underdeveloped to earn that entitlement. Only Michael Caine, as trusty butler Alfred, stands out with a series of desperate monologues urging Wayne to keep himself safe. Caine overpowers Batman better than Bane himself to emerge as the movie’s true soul.  

That “The Dark Knight Rises” manages to have any soul at all speaks to its lasting value. Unquestionably the strongest entry in the series, it should go down in history not for its distracting flaws but rather the continuing defiance of big movie clichés: It has few cheesy one-liners or sudden, cheap jolts, slo-mo shots or absurd virtual camera movement. The action props up the atmosphere rather than mowing it down.

Beyond that, Nolan’s choice for a conclusion messes with our assumptions in accordance with the same coy, methodical process Nolan brought to the climaxes of “Memento” and “Inception.” As original properties, those movies brought fewer expectations to the table. The finale to “The Dark Knight Rises” will undoubtedly infuriate some viewers and perplex many more, but for that same reason the movie will stick with them. That’s an appropriate takeaway: Viewed as a whole, Nolan’s trilogy is enticing and frustratingly obtuse in equal measures, not unlike Batman’s homegrown moral code.

Criticwire grade: B

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Already set to break box office records, “The Dark Knight Rises” will perform well around the country for weeks on end once it opens July 20 nationwide. The real question is whether it can maintain that moment during awards season.

Watch the trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises” below:

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I love this movie!


Incase you've missed everything in the trilogy up to this point, you can see a slight rundown at



Dear All,

The following is only an opinion. Please remember that. Having spent the last 2 days reading various reviews, the hoopla about negative feedback and the hype around the movie, I was suddenly struck by two thoughts: 1) Its only a movie; and 2) Everyone is entitled to their opinion. People, big and small, are always can going to take issue with anything that is said that they dont agree with because of the platform of the internet. However, whatever their issue it is only an 'opinion'. Just like all the reviews. So technically its an opinion of an opinion. But an opinion is not based on fact but of one someones perception of a subject. There is no right or wrong nor is there any concrete evidence to suggest that their opinion is valid. Rather that its someones percieved judgement and understanding on something that theyve witnessed through their own tastes.

Its abit like 2 people eating a watermelon: the first person says its the tastiest melon they're eaten; the second says its not quite like a mango. But at the end of the day its still a melon. Let others give their opinion because in the grandscheme of things its all utter bullshit. Once the dust settles the opinions will be forgotten the film will win awards and the we shall of moved onto something else.



Hey Rohan did you just learn the word infantile in your online writing course.? you seem to use it quite often and in the wrong context.


This is the first review I read from Eric Kohn. I read because I sa w reference to it from the comments to another review. Although I do not agree with every statement on it I found it well balanced: I neithe attributes to it deep metaphysical meaning nor it dismisses its value as a reflection of current times. Some of the comments I just read here show infantile hostility to any statement expressing the limited quality of Rolan's artistic vision.


How can a review of a film I'm assuming none of us have seen yet, make people so angry? Why don't we stop having a go at Eric Kohn and each other until Friday when we can make up our own minds?
I enjoyed the first two films in the series, and I'm excited about seeing The Dark Knight Rises this weekend but no film is worth calling someone a fucking idiot or a fucking cunt over. If any one of us can get so angry about a movie, we're not living in the real world. We could put that righteous anger into changing something for the better instead of abusing other people underneath a review.


I saw the first two "dark nights" I will stick to the written page. grade B? come on Eric, your review is great your grade … too generous

mary stuart

The Dark Night is a trivialization of today's society . The Joker, Bane etc existed in the Batman comics way before the world terrorist become part of everyday life. To say that they represent elements of society is absurd. I agree with Theo. Don't attribute philosophical meaning to this movie. It does not deserve it. What the film gives is escapism packaged as a societal portrait.


This review, like so many others by Eric Kohn, is so bitter.


@Mr/Mrs.Chillax: How can you state that The Dark Knight is not emblematic of the society? I'm sorry, but your remark does not make sense. I think you should go back and watch THE DARK KNIGHT, and compare the issues in the city of Gotham with today's society. And when I say society, I don't mean your county or your state. I am talking about the world in general. Isn't The Joker a terrorist? Isn't Bane a terrorist? – Most of the stuff from 'The Dark Knight' and technology that Batman uses to find ther Joker in a way defines the Bush administration era post 9/11. Yes, films are for entetainment, but they are also a strong source of education. Don't watch a film because the hero can beat 10 guys and wins a girl's heart. Try to understand what the film's story is trying to say.


everybodty in this arguments seem to forget that the film is a realization of a fucking cartoon. To elevate Nolan to a deity is an silly.

Mat Carson

Mr Rohan Seem s to believe that anybody that agrees with Kohn is in his 'social circle'. While I have been at odds with some of his his reviews and commented so I found that this review is right on the money. Yo may disagree with him and point out why instead you chose to write an idiotic parody that does not point out why Kohn was wrong or why the movie is good.


And, Eric's social circle leaves a comment to back him up. Funny!


You know if anyone has been following the production of this movie, and any rumors that have surfaced, the way you word your review ruins a lot of plot elements. One would think you would understand this when you write the review. I don't want that stuff ruined. Sure you were "sort of" vague, but it still probably ruined some stuff. So don't do that, ok. Christ.


Between the two of us, only you have actually seen the film. Guess that means I have to wait til Friday to call you a fuckin idiot.


Way to go Eric Kohn!. Finally somebody has the guts to called like it is: a plot defective movie with good actors an scenery is just cheap entertainment. Nothing wrong with this. The issue arises when the groupies want to elevate it to a major artistic accomplishment by Nolan.


You struck a cord with this review . I agree with your major points but disagree with your grade ( a C would have been more appropriate). Nolan's films are always weak in ploy. This new iteration shows the same defect.
Good Review.


While Mr. Eric Koh does indeed give away lots of plot points in his review, he also goes beyond that as he gave the film a 'B.' Can someone please provide us a link to Mr. Kohn's 'The Avengers' review, please? – "absurd virtual camera movement?" – Perhaps, Mr. Kohn should get in touch with Warner Bros. before they go on board with the reboot in 2015, so Mr. Kohn can bring something fresh, not absurd camera movements. – What a load of crap, Kohn?


Oh lord…a hipster's point of view…of course he is too cool for everything.


Thank you for all the spoilers, you fucking cunt.


I thought this was the most thoughtful review I read.

You may not agree with his ranking or his reasons, but they are well stated and well supported.


Way too much plot given away in this review.


This is not a negative review. It says that TDKR is a good movie, although not a flawless masterpiece.


Well… this guy didn't like TDK, or so it seems. Good.


I respect your review. I loved the 1st two Nolan Batman movies and can't wait for TDKR, but not everyone is going to find it spectacular. The comments before mine would make anyone think you had given it a D grade or something. We don't all think alike.


Hate your Review.


I can't trust this extremely negative review completely. Besides, everyone else is praising Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman.


This is the most negative review of The Dark Knight Rises I've seen so far. And the fact that the most negative review I can find gave the movie a "B" grade actually leaves me encouraged.

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