Christopher Nolan’s “he Dark Knight” was a fantastic movie. There is no doubt about that, and no one is even remotely close to trying to deny that fact. It came at a time when superhero movies were mostly a lighthearted affair that failed to connect with most critics. It redefined the genre and approached the subject matter in a more realistic approach. It elevated the superhero movie into the dark and gritty territory we all know, something that still prevails to this day.
It set a reputation and a precedent that “The Dark Knight Rises” sequel would have a hard time to live up to. Thanks to an insurmountable amount of hype, “Rises” may have failed to live up to the expectations of some fans. But we here at CBR believe that the movie not only lived up to its predecessor, it also managed to surpass it as a better “Batman” film. Here is a list of 15 reasons why “The Dark Knight Rises” is the best movie of Nolan’s trilogy.
15. TOM HARDY’S BANE
Heath Ledger’s Joker was such an iconic take on the character, such a breakout performance that the character managed to outshine Batman in every scene, to the point that “The Dark Knight” became a movie more about its villain than its hero. Any actor would have had a hard time following such a performance, and for “Rises,” Nolan brought in “Inception” collaborator Tom Hardy to give us a villain that was both different from his comic book counterpart, but also the same in some aspects.
Hardy appeared on our screens like a behemoth, a masked goon that struggled to breath and even to talk. His presence was felt whenever he popped on his screen, and he was able to stand on equal ground with Christian Bale’s Batman without outshining him. His entire performance happened while wearing a mask, where his body and his eyes had to do what the rest of his face couldn’t. It was a nuanced performance that gave us a new take on Bane, a take that transitioned everywhere, from the comic books to “The Lego Batman Movie.”
Next in line of new characters for this threequel was Selina Kyle herself, Catwoman. Selina’s always had a big role in the “Batman” mythology, and with her being last seen in live action back in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns,” she was more than due to make a return to the big screen. In Nolan’s more grounded world, Selina was exactly what she was supposed to be, a master thief with a heart of gold and a mean round kick.
Casting Anne Hathaway in the role was a delightful surprise. She wouldn’t necessarily have been anyone’s first pick, but she proved to be an inspired choice when she held her own not only with Christian Bale, but also with Batman. She effortlessly slipped into the role, as easily as into the cat suit. With Selina in tow, the movie got the chance to explore something we had rarely seen Bruce Wayne do, and that was to find an equal that he loved, both in and out of costume.
Starting with “Batman Begins” with fear and going into “The Dark Knight” with escalation, “Rises” came with a theme about power and legacy. Bruce Wayne faced the consequences for his past deeds and almost paid the ultimate price for it. This third installment of the trilogy was presented to us as the end of this story from the get-go and it delivered exactly that. As much as it was a continuation of Bruce’s story, it was also his conclusion as Batman.
Instead of exploring Batman’s actions after the events of “The Dark Knight,” Nolan opted to have Bruce stop being Batman for eight years, and only return for one last fight for the fate of Gotham City. Where the comics have an infinite amount of time to explore an infinite amount of stories, movies can only do so for so long. And so, with this third installment, we got closure, from Bruce’s life after the cape and cowl, to Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. And finally, in true comic book fashion, the door was left open for a new story about legacy.
12. THE SCORE
Hans Zimmer may as well be the official music composer when it comes to the DC movies and Batman in particular. His work in both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” were iconic and the music helped shape not only the vibe of the world the Batman character was in, it almost became a character itself. His themes have now become synonymous with Batman and the way the character is perceived.
In “The Dark Knight Rises,” Zimmer outdid himself with a soundtrack that was both thrilling and inspiring. His score warned us to fear Bane, and it got our hearts pumping faster and faster as Bruce Wayne attempted to climb out of his prison pit. Zimmer’s music is as much a part of Nolan’s trilogy as any other aspect, and the final strokes of his Batman theme ended this final movie on the most perfect note imaginable, something that left us both breathless, emotional and inspired.
11. SCARECROW AND RA’S AL GHUL CAMEOS
Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. Scarecrow, had a large role in “Batman Begins” that saw him set loose upon Gotham and he returned for a small cameo in “The Dark Knight” that ended with him getting taken down by the Batman in the early portions of the film. With “Rises,” we got treated to a final Scarecrow cameo when Bane broke the Gotham prisoners out to control the masses, with Crane now judge and jury in a farce of a tribunal that sent out Gotham’s finest to their deaths on a frozen river.
Plus, with Bane, Talia Al Ghul and the League of Shadows resurgent as the movie’s villains, it would only make sense that we hear more about Bruce’s first enemy Ra’s Al Ghul. Not only did we see Ra’s in a small flashback scene that gave us insight into Talia’s past, but Liam Neeson was also gracious enough to return to the role for a brief ghost-like scene when Bruce hallucinated him. These are small cameos sure, but important villains in Batman’s rogues gallery, and they both helped the story of this trilogy come full circle.
10. THE OPENING SCENE
Few scenes in the movie were as thrilling as the opening action scene. Without much context or story, we were thrown into an airplane with a C.I.A. operative and his crew and their three hooded prisoners. Their questions about Bane’s mask and identity were left unanswered, and that only helped to build mystery and an invisible reputation around the character. But the real kicker came when we first heard Bane’s voice echo out.
He didn’t sound like anything we expected, and he was in total control. He had a plan, and it would be executed perfectly. The sequence featured a daring plane heist, and the production really went all out into making this scene as realistic as possible with their practical effects. At the end of the sequence, when Bane had his prize and one his men had willingly sacrificed himself for their mission, we knew everything about the character without actually knowing anything. But most of all, we knew he’d be an unstoppable force.
9. REAL-WORLD INSPIRATIONS
“The Dark Knight Rises” worked because it hit quite close to home. At a time when the divide between the rich and the middle-class was a main source of political and social conflict, Christopher Nolan incorporated that divide into his movie. As a millionaire, Bruce Wayne was living large until he lost his assets and a seat on the board of his company. He became just another citizen of Gotham, among those who were just fighting for scraps to survive.
As the main villain, Bane approached the citizens with a false truth, and looked to take power away from the 1% and give it back to the people of the city. In a brutal sequence, we saw them do just that when they turned the city into their wasteland, with the good people fighting like a resistance against their oppressors who promised them freedom. These themes were just as relevant when the movie came out as they are now, and it was something that Nolan explored gracefully, without falling into preaching territory.
8. “NO MAN’S LAND”
With the destruction of all bridges leading in and out of Gotham City, Bane closed the city off from the rest of the world, holding it hostage. While not exactly a direct adaptation, this is a development quite reminiscent of the “No Man’s Land” storyline from the comic books. In that series, a violent earthquake hit Gotham City and all inhabitants who had remained there at the time were now forced to stay there, after the government closed access to the city, dubbing it a “No Man’s Land.”
Contrary to the movie, no villain was responsible for the separation, save for nature itself and the government. But what didn’t change was the state of the city, where criminals were running rampant and terrorizing the citizens. Seeing what became of the city was as devastating as it was scary, just like in the comic books. Bane being responsible only added an immense weight to his defeat of Batman, and it gave Bruce something to fight for, something to inspire him to come back stronger for.
7. GORDON AND BATMAN
There are few relationships that endure in the “Batman” mythology, but one that always did was his partnership with James Gordon, something that Nolan’s trilogy explored in great detail. From Gordon being there for a young Bruce when his parents died, to Gordon and his team being the only police officers Batman trusts in Gotham, the duo have fought tooth and nail for their city, and they both sacrificed a great deal for what they believed in.
The comic book status quo keeps Gordon at bay from Batman’s true identity, with various hints that he may or may not know who truly is behind the cowl, but with “The Dark Knight Rises” working as the final chapter in the story, it was such a welcome relief seeing Batman tell the story of a young child being comforted by an officer when all seemed lost. Hearing Gordon then say “Bruce Wayne?” warmed our hearts and made us thankful for all the years of partnership between the two crime-fighters.
6. ALFRED AND BRUCE
Next to Gordon, the relationship between Bruce and his butler/assistant/father figure Alfred is the one at the heart of the “Batman” mythos, a partnership that was also at the heart of both “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” Whenever Bruce needs him, Alfred is there to cook his meals, to sow his wounds and to give him inspiring words of advice. Which is why it hurt so much to see their relationship fracture, almost to the point that it couldn’t be fixed.
For his third outing as the character, Michael Caine outdid himself at every turn, showing the toll Bruce’s crusade had on him and how hard it was becoming to bear. When all seemed lost, Alfred broke down in tears, and so did we. But then, hope came in the final scenes of the movie, when Bruce found the exact café Alfred visited in Florence and payed him a silent visit. No words were said between the two, as Alfred had always hoped, but both smiled and nodded at each other, something that left us all with tears in our eyes.
5. THE PIT
When Bruce Wayne was broken and defeated, he was taken to Bane’s prison, where he was forced to witness the villain take over his city. It was in those scenes that the true soul of the movie revealed itself. Where Bruce had spent the last eight years living in seclusion, hiding from life and the world, he came to find his will to live again. His will to stand up and fight. With his back fixed and filled with anger, Bruce trained once more to fight for his city.
In what could essentially be seen as a scene inspired by the Rocky movies, a defeated and weary Bruce Wayne. Bruce went far away to train, become stronger, and return to fight the villain once more. But all of that was made much more poignant with the fall and rise of Bruce Wayne as a man. He may have started the movie as a careless, brash and weakened man, but he was now strong, humbled and willing to sacrifice everything for Gotham. He managed to climb out of that pit of a prison a stronger, better man. And an even better Dark Knight.
4. THE “ROBIN” REVEAL
Both Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale had previously gone on record to say that Batman’s sidekick Robin would never be featured in their movies. We were inclined to believe them, but we never stopped hoping. And yet, to a point, they kept their word. Robin, as he is, never appeared in the movies. But with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character John Blake, we saw a police officer be inspired by Batman and Bruce Wayne separately.
An amalgam of Robin characters, Blake was an orphan like Richard Grayson and he figured out Batman’s identity, just like Tim Drake. He sought Bruce out, helped him return to the mantle and helped fight alongside him as a cop, all while picking up a few helpful advice from his would be mentor along the way. The signs were there, and yet we didn’t see them. It was only in the final moments of the movie, when it was revealed that his full legal name was Robin John Blake, that we all gasped with excitement.
3. BANE BREAKS THE BAT
There are quite a few classic stories in the Batman library. But few of them feature his most iconic defeat. The “Knightfall” storyline saw Bane arrive to Gotham City with a brilliant plan, throwing at Batman a veritable gauntlet of enemies to fight for the sole purpose of tiring him out beyond exhaustion. When Bane revealed himself and faced the Batman, the Caped Crusader had no chance, and Bane infamously broke his back.
We knew that Bane would be the villain in this final movie, and we knew that he would be a formidable fighter, something this version of Batman had never really faced before. But even the most faithful “Batman” fans didn’t think for a second that Nolan would actually “go there.” Nolan proved us all wrong when a weakened Batman faced Bane in an overwhelming fight filled with tension and dread, one that really made us fear for the safety of our hero. When all was said and done, Bane smashed the cowl, lifted Batman over his shoulders and broke Bruce’s back in the exact same manner as in the comics, leaving us all whispering “He really did it.”
2. PUTTING THE “COMIC BOOK” IN “COMIC BOOK MOVIE”
As amazing as “The Dark Knight” was, it was more of a crime-thriller with a man in a costume and motorcycle than a superhero movie. “The Dark Knight Rises” went back to its “Batman Begins” roots and doubled down on them. With a costume-wearing cat burglar, a masked, villainous behemoth and even a sidekick hiding in plain sight, “Rises” managed to become the most “comic book-y” movie of its trilogy. It didn’t shy away from its comic book roots, and instead seemed to embrace them.
Where the batmobile was destroyed early on in the second movie, we now had three of them patrolling the streets of Gotham and on top of that we had the Bat, a flying vessel for Batman to travel around in. We had the threat of an atomic detonation wiping out Gotham, a stadium under attack, armies of police and mercenaries fighting in the streets and a battle between hero and villain for the fate and very soul of the city. Say what you will about this movie, but there is no denying that it played out as the most super-heroic out of all three Nolan films.
1. “THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS”
Amid the litany of classic “Batman” stories, the 1986 miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller reigns supreme. It’s the story of a retired, aging Bruce Wayne who came back to the mantle he left behind when the circumstances were too great, when the Mutant Leader and his gang arrived to terrorize Gotham City and its citizens. We didn’t have these villains in the film, but we did get someone even more recognizable in his stead in the form of Bane and his mercenaries.
Some viewers might have been left disappointed to see that Bruce Wayne had stepped down from being the Batman after the events of “The Dark Knight” and while that can definitely be seen as a valid criticism, it also allowed us to see a loose interpretation of the beloved comic. A few lines and scenes were almost lifted straight from the series, form a scene where an old cop tells his young partner that he is “in for a show tonight” or even the title of the movie itself. The comic series was seminal and defining, and to see that “The Dark Knight Rises” was loosely based on it made it a Batman movie we all wanted to see.
Which “Dark Knight” movie do you think is the best? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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