Ah the mighty Nolan, man who never fails me. Naturally you’ll go into this review wondering the impossible query, can this possibly be better than The Dark Knight? No, it can’t, but there’s still a pretty huge gap between The Dark Knight and every other superhero movie. This film fits in there quite nicely as the second best superhero movie ever made; though there is a debate to be made for the Avengers.
As you’ll recall Batman killed Harvey Dent at the end of the last movie and has been living in seclusion as a fugitive ever since. Bruce is now a hobbled version of his former self, since 4 (7) years have passed since the last movie. But have no fear Gotham prospers while he rests; unfortunately there’s an evil megalomaniacal scheme at work; naturally. This one involves obscure business dealings and Bane appears to assist. I won’t go too far further into the plot except to say about half of the movie is shown in previews; there aren’t any surprises for quite some time.
Now there is one rather out of the blue twist in the last quarter of the film; Christopher Nolan likes to foreshadow almost everything he does. In Memento, in The Prestige, the entire plot is foreseeable if you pay enough attention; but the twist here really isn’t. There’s a lot of supporting information and the situation definitely fits in well but the direct correlation is not. There’s another much more Nolany twist at the very end that I saw about 45 minutes beforehand; but I still liked the previous twist if only for the mild surprise; but it definitely wasn’t an “OH IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE NOW” sort of twist.
The effects in this film are largely practical and there’s a few really awesome 3-4 second shots of either thousands of extras or dozens of police cars which must have been quite a feat to film. If you’ll remember virtually every main setpiece in The Dark Knight was almost entirely practical, and the biggest action scene in the movie was. They flipped a semi over on its vertical axis and blew it up, and it looked fucking incredible. In Rises there’s the Batwing which is essentially a small gyrocopter with shitloads of artillery installed on it; while they probably did have a working gyro in some respect it certainly didn’t fly at high speeds and definitely didn’t have missiles on board; such a prototype would cost well over 100 million to build; not to mention annoy the US military substantially. The tumbler (Batmobile) is almost entirely practical by comparison, and I think the Batcycle was in TDK but isn’t entirely in Rises. It’s a pretty minor quibble but a noticeable difference between the films.
And now for the elephant in the room, The Joker. Yes, he’s still by far the best superhero villain in any of these movies and yes there’s nothing even close to his performance in this film. Look at this and this for a reminder. Anywho, that’s hardly a detriment on this film but more yet another heap of praise for Heath Ledger’s performance. Aaron Eckhart’s performance also far surpasses anything in this film, though it is just a whole bunch of good performances instead of 2 heavily focused ones. Christian Bale is much better in Rises than he was in TDK, for instance.
Is this movie better than the Avengers? I don’t know, they’re really hard to compare. One is really campy and silly and heavily CG’d, the other is about 75% practical effects and has a deep, serious plot though it doesn’t cut quite as deep as its predecessor. I think you sort of have to accept that the Nolan Batman movies, particularly the last two, fall outside of the Superhero genre and are Thriller/Crime procedural mixtures with supervillains but no superheroes.