THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – Blu-ray review

John J. Puccio
Ranjan Pruthee
William Lee

Note:  In the following joint Blu-ray review, John J. Puccio, Ranjan Pruthee, and William David Lee all take a look at the movie, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, and Parting Thoughts.

The Film According to John:
“The Dark Knight Rises.”  And falls.  And rises again.  And falls again.  And rises once more.  This thing never ends.

Writer-director Christopher Nolan has said this third film in his Batman trilogy would be the last for him.  His films have come full circle from the origins of Batman in “Batman Begins” (2005) to Batman’s still inexplicable fall from grace in “The Dark Knight” (2008) to his much-anticipated ascent from the ashes in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012).  Whether Nolan makes good on his word to stop while he’s ahead or directs yet another Batman film, we’ll have to wait and see.  In the meantime, “The Dark Knight Rises” makes an acceptable, if somewhat anticlimactic, conclusion to the three-part story arc.

All the old characters are back and ready to please:  Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Alfred (Michael Caine), with new characters to spice things up:  Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Bane (Tom Hardy), Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Miranda Tate  (Marion Cotillard), Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley (Matthew Modine), and John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn).

Wayne has managed to rebuild Wayne Manor, but that’s about it.  He’s no longer up to being the Caped Crusader.  Instead, looking tired, graying, and gaunt, he skulks around the dark, lonely mansion feeling sorry for himself.  He’s not only tired and gaunt, he’s crippled, presumably because of all the hardships he’s been through trying to save an ungrateful city from nefarious evildoers over the years.  In reality, star Christian Bale had lost a ton of weight for his role in another film, “The Fighter,” he did prior to this one, and Nolan probably worked the actor’s emaciated condition into the “Batman” movie’s story line.  In any case, we get a gloomy, ominous opening for the film, and then it takes a while for Wayne to recondition himself and don the Batsuit once more.

The problem I had with “The Dark Knight Rises” has nothing to with Bale as Batman, however, and certainly not with the story’s impressive visuals.  Instead, as I have with most superhero stories, I’ve found it becomes harder and harder for writers and directors to come up with villains who can match wits or brawn with the main character.  In this case the heavy is Bane, a comic-book baddie who seems no more than a common thug, a huge guy wearing a kind of oxygen mask and speaking through it in a sporadically unintelligible voice, who leads an army of disciple thugs in an attempt to take over and destroy Gotham.  The how and the why are elusive and not all that absorbing.

Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and her playful relationship with Batman pretty much upstage everybody and everything else in the movie, while fellow newcomers Blake, Miranda, and Foley get somewhat lost in all the on-screen activity.  The thing is, in Nolan’s previous movie, “The Dark Knight,” he had Heath Ledger’s Joker going for him, the Joker a truly bizarre, sinister antagonist who mesmerized audiences and kept the movie together.  In contrast, Tom Hardy’s Bane is no match for our attention, and as a result the movie leaves us having to follow a set of intricate plot threads involving far too many characters in far too diverse complications.

It’s not that the film is unappealing.  There’s plenty of action, intrigue, special effects, and high-tech gadgets to maintain our attention at least in spurts.  Not only do we get the Batcycle and Batcopter, but we get a real-life Lamborghini Aventator that actually looks better than anything Hollywood could dream up.  Nolan also throws in a few contemporary nods to cultural history with references to Occupy Wall Street and class warfare that, while they mostly go nowhere, show a decent sense of timing.  Finally, we find a laudatory finale and epilogue to the whole affair that end things on an inspiring note.

No, for me it’s that Nolan doubles down on his usual directorial style, making the film too long for its own good, with too many subsidiary subplots, excessively dark scenes, needless flashbacks, depressing situations, swirling camera movements, quick edits, and extreme close-ups.  What’s more, Nolan often moves the story along at an oddly slow, sometimes lumbering, occasionally awkward pace.  The Wife-O-Meter patiently sat through the Blu-ray with me, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it, and she told me she got bored about halfway through.

So, while there are some praiseworthy elements in the movie, there are shortcomings, too.  For the supposedly concluding episode in Nolan’s trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” can easily seem repetitious and perhaps a tad redundant.

John’s film rating:  7/10

The Film According to Ranjan:
A mushroom cloud settles over Gotham City as “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) races to its conclusion. The city under attack from an evil force must survive a possible nuclear catastrophe. Even if peace is restored, the city will look like a war zone, with scattered rubble demonstrating the utter destruction and chaos absorbed by the city.  These dying minutes in the film made me wonder if Nolan’s enterprising conclusion to the trilogy delivers on the promise shown by an attention-grabbing, vertigo-inducing, outlandish opening sequence. More so is the bigger question from fans: Is the final entry a satisfying end to the series? Certainly, between the opening scene and the all-action climax, “The Dark Knight Rises” covers a lot of ground while unlocking crucial story elements and references from “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008). For me, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a fitting and entertaining end to the epic series.

It’s been eight years since the caped crusader’s last adventure, saving Gotham City from Joker’s threat.  The city seems peaceful as a result of the Harvey Dent Act that cleared criminals from the streets of Gotham City. Now the city comes under attack once more from a menacing and enormously powerful villain, Bane (Tom Hardy).  Bane arrives in Gotham City and takes out the stock exchange, bankrupting Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in the process. At the start, we also gather that Batman has disappeared from Gotham City, and Wayne has secluded himself in a rebuilt Wayne Manor. We have Catwoman, a.k.a. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who steals Wayne’s fingerprints and later has a link to Bane. Meanwhile, Bane’s men manage to cut off Gotham City from the outside world, and Bane plans to exercise the nuclear option on the city when he gets possession of a nuclear bomb.

This is the basic premise of the film’s story; however, there are many subplots that intersect with the main story. As with his other films, Nolan again invests heavily in the characters, developing important characters by expanding on their situations and bringing everything together under one common plot line. Indeed, the character development makes the story much grander and more epic in every way. New characters are introduced, and I specifically found the character of a morally strong policeman, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the most interesting of the lot. As Gotham City is ripped apart by Bane, Blake is at a crossroads with the justice system, making a critical decision for the future. He doesn’t hesitate to undertake risks to save lives, and he is willing to die in the line of duty. He is smart and motivated at all times, enabling him to finding a way around the crisis. Blake’s character is fitted well in the story, getting good screen time, and as a result, Gordon-Levitt is able to deliver a worthy and likeable performance.

Then, we have Catwoman, who gets a nice makeover in this edition. Without a doubt, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman character in “Batman Returns” (1992) is still the best rendition of the character, but Hathaway’s character comes very close to Pfeiffer’s characterization. Hathaway is dazzling in a tight leather outfit, and she mostly magnetizes us with her tricks, swift movements, and smooth talk that drips with sexiness. The double-faced Selina’s character is unpredictable, though, adding tension to the plot, along with a few exciting moments with Batman. Even though she is convincing as Catwoman, Hathaway never eases herself into the role as Pfeiffer did in “Batman Returns.” Nonetheless, I think Hathaway’s expressionless face represents Nolan’s take on Catwoman, in which Nolan wanted a controlled performance from Hathaway, devoid of the animal-like tendencies seen in the Tim Burton’s version. Still, Hathaway is not a bad choice to play this role, if one can get past her facial expressions in some scenes.

Just like the other movies in the series, the central attraction remains an astonishingly villainous character, which in this case is Bane. From what we have witnessed in the past with this series, the villain pretty much overshadows everything in the plot, including the performances and other characters. The focus on evil grabs one’s attention, making superheroes almost secondary to the plot. Gotham City has a bigger threat to deal this time, when a malevolent Bane unleashes his wrath on the city. Bane is supremely muscular and unemotional, leveling his foes with brute force. As we are introduced to his imposing physique in the opening scene, we know the stakes are higher this time from this deadly threat. He literally beats Batman like a rag doll in their hand-to-hand combats, and with each battle Bane looks invincible and unscathed. Bane’s indestructibility succeeds in building tense moments in the action sequences and maintains our deep interest in the story line. Tom Hardy as Bane gives an incredible performance, mainly driven by his on-screen persona. For the entire film we never see Hardy’s face, yet just by using his hands and body, he is able to convey malice expected from his character. Digitizing Bane’s voice and his face, Bane shocks us in some scenes. As the scenes play out, we see Bane more than we see Batman, and by the time the movie ends we still remember an unbeatable Bane.

“The Dark Knight Rises” has a dark undertone, for sure, as it draws parallel to the current political and social structure. In one scene, Bane remarks that he is against social repression and how the rich have forever fed on the poor. The class oppression is put to justice by Bane’s court, and when he decides to take down the stock exchange, Bane’s statement against the rich and Wall Street traders shadows today’s rancorous debate about class warfare. There are other references in the film, too. As a burglar, Selina steals from the rich, and she believes if the rich cannot appreciate certain things, then they should not possess them.  But, neither Bane nor Selina represents a Robin Hood image in any way. They do what they do for their own personal motives. In terms of a nuclear fallout, the film raises the current concern of a terror threat against the big U.S. cities. The constant danger from terrorist organizations getting hold of so-called weapons of mass destruction is always present now since the aftermath of the 9/11 events. As a terrorist, Bane creates an army of criminals that helps him set off a nuclear bomb on the city. Nonetheless, like today’s terrorist groups, Bane’s motives are completely political, even if driven by personal vendetta.

Nolan certainly knows how to make a polished-looking movie. His last two films, “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “Inception” (2010), offered amazing action sequences, and “The Dark Knight Rises” is no different.  For each action, Nolan has composed beautifully staged sets, and within these sequences he has injected plenty of drama and character development. In spite of a number of action scenes, however, the sequences never feel overstretched. Even with its long running time, the film never slows down, maintaining a tight pace with superb editing. As I said earlier, my only minor quibble with the film is that I wish it had more Batman moments. In the end, “The Dark Knight Rises” is an exhilarating summer blockbuster that has everything, and it certainly lives up to the hype.

Ranjan’s film rating:  8/10

The Film According to Will:
Christopher Nolan revolutionized the way we think of superhero movies. Just as Richard Donner’s “Superman” made you believe a man could fly, Nolan’s Batman films made you believe a man fighting crime dressed as a giant bat could exist in the real world. Nolan’s Batman was to the Tim Burton version what Burton’s version was to the campy Adam West TV series. Nolan stripped the Bat of his most outlandish elements and grounded it in a gritty, realistic setting. “Batman Begins” detailed the origin of the Caped Crusader in a manner never seen before on the big screen. Nolan traced every step of Bruce Wayne’s arduous journey to becoming the Batman. Its sequel, “The Dark Knight,” became a massive pop culture event and one of the highest grossing movies of all time. You can thank an unforgettable performance by the late-Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman’s greatest archenemy. “Dark Knight” also succeeded because it didn’t look or feel like a typical comic book movie. It was Shakespearean tragedy done in the vein of a neo-noir crime film ala Michael Mann. The bar was set incredibly high for “The Dark Knight Rises,” the much anticipated conclusion to Nolan’s Bat-trilogy.

Eight years after the events of “Dark Knight,” Gotham City has eradicated the plague of organized crime. A thousand criminals have been locked away without parole thanks to the Harvey Dent Act. The victory has come at a high cost as the Batman accepted the blame for the murderous acts of Gotham’s fallen district attorney. The cover-up has eaten away at Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), who is left alone. His wife and children have left him and his staunchest ally has disappeared. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up the cape and cowl and retreated back to Wayne Manor amidst rumors of becoming a Howard Hughes-esque shut-in. His time as Batman has taken its toll on his spirit and his body, walking with aid of a cane and mourning the loss of Rachel Dawes.

Before the Batman can fade into the mists of myth and legend, a new evil arrives in Gotham, a masked mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy). Fashioning himself a latter day revolutionary, Bane is the rare foe who is both physically and mentally a match for Batman. Bane isn’t cut from the same cloth as the cowardly and superstitious lot our hero generally faces. He draws first blood after hitting the Gotham stock exchange and ruining Bruce Wayne’s finances. Bruce is forced to wrest control of Wayne Enterprises with the help of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a new board member who provides him with much needed comfort. As Batman, he must combat Bane’s loyal army with the assistance of an earnest beat cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a slinky thief working her own agenda.

Without delving too deeply into spoilers, the screenplay by Christopher & Jonathan Nolan (with story credit to David S. Goyer), borrows from several comic book sources such as Knightfall (in which Bane and Batman first do battle), No Man’s Land (where Gotham is cut off from the rest of the nation by government order), and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (where an aged Batman is forced out of retirement). The latter is fitting since Nolan utilized many elements from Miller’s Batman: Year One in his own retelling of the Caped Crusader’s origin. Indeed, “Dark Knight Rises” brings the series full circle by drawing many parallels to “Batman Begins.” Much like Bruce Wayne, Bane was trained by Ra’s al Ghul forcing Batman to battle an old and familiar threat in the League of Shadows.

I’ve always considered Christopher Nolan to be the cerebral Michael Bay. Nolan is a master at visual spectacle. We’ve seen what the director is capable of in “Inception” with massive cityscapes folding in on themselves and a jaw-dropping scene from “Dark Knight” involving a somersaulting 18-wheeler. “Dark Knight Rises” is no different as Nolan uses the IMAX format to its fullest. The film opens with a stunning prologue, done mostly with practical effects, where Bane hijacks a plane in midair. There’s also a thrilling chase sequence as Gotham Police pursue Batman through the streets and the much ballyhooed implosion of a football field. In addition to the Tumbler and the Bat-Pod, Batman’s latest weapon is the Bat, an aerial assault vehicle that glides through the labyrinthine urban landscape.

Nolan’s skills as an action director have improved since “Batman Begins” and the set pieces in “Rises” are less choppy and more coherent. Nolan imbues his sense of style with a substance ripped out of the headlines. “The Dark Knight” was all about the Joker shattering the illusion of post-9/11 unity with Batman enacting totalitarian measures by tapping into the city’s cell phone signals. In “Rises,” Bane presents himself as a champion for the oppressed and an enemy of economic inequality. The Nolans draw inspiration from A Tale of Two Cities with Gotham descending into a Dickensian winter under the occupation of Bane’s forces. His followers toss the wealthy out of their homes and drag them in front of a kangaroo court. These ideas are hammered in by the evolution of Gotham City from the stylized Chicago of the previous picture to an analogue of New York City. Wall Street and the Queensboro Bridge have been transplanted to Gotham with Trump Tower standing in for the headquarters of Wayne Enterprises. Yet, Nolan merely dresses the film up with these heady themes without fully drawing upon them. Sometimes they feel like parlor tricks meant to distract the viewer from obvious plot holes and inconsistencies that creep up once you have allowed the film time to absorb. Some might be disappointed that “Dark Knight Rises” is the closest of the trilogy to a traditional superhero film with a city held hostage and a madman with an Armageddon device. But, is there really anything wrong with that?

Christian Bale gives his best performance of the series in “Dark Knight Rises,” even if he does overdo the growly Bat-voice. Bale has a rich supporting cast to draw from though many of them are criminally underutilized. Michael Caine returns as the steadfast Alfred, who serves as the heart of the film as well as an instrument of clunky exposition. Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are back along with Nestor Carbonell as Mayor Garcia. Joseph-Gordon Levitt instills more to the character of Blake than what was written on the page. Blake ultimately feels shoehorned in and his arc would have had more emotional resonance had he been introduced in the preceding installments. Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn gets to chew scenery as the unscrupulous John Daggett, an executive trying to take control of Wayne Enterprises. The brimming ensemble also includes Brett Cullen as a congressman, Matthew Modine as one of Gordon’s lieutenants, Juno Temple as Selina Kyle’s sidekick Holly Robinson, and a few unexpected cameos.

The Batman has often been overshadowed by his rogues gallery. Without a doubt, “The Dark Knight” was anchored by Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his turn as the Joker. Rather than go with a more renowned foe such as the Riddler or the Penguin, Nolan chose Bane, who was once portrayed as a monosyllabic henchman in Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin.” Here, Nolan’s interpretation of Bane is akin to a horror movie monster like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees. He is brought to life in chilling fashion by Tom Hardy, who has played volatile and physically imposing before in “Bronson” and “Warrior.” No easy feat as the British thespian’s face is hidden throughout the movie by a cumbersome gas mask. Hardy relies entirely on his eyes, body language, and a posh accent that belies his hulking frame. Think Patrick Stewart meets Darth Vader. He is Bane the gentleman’s terrorist.

The most surprising highlight of “Dark Knight Rises” is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, never once referred to as Catwoman. Many fanboys bemoaned the casting of Hathaway and the look of her costume. Most of them were the same who criticized the casting of Heath Ledger and redesign of the Joker. Naysayers be damned, Hathaway gives this cat some serious claws. She is a strong and sultry femme fatale and brings a necessary injection of fun and wit to Nolan’s usually grim and ponderous tone. If I have to make another “Star Wars” reference, her Catwoman is the Han Solo of “Rises,” a scoundrel with an ambiguous code of ethics. As for the costume, it works within context of the world Nolan has created. The goggles serve as a high-tech burglary tool while doubling as cat ears. Even her stiletto heels serve as functional offensive weapons. Hathaway is so good that I want to see her in a spin-off. Perhaps, a prequel, “Catwoman Begins?”

No review of “Dark Knight Rises” would be complete without mention of the score by Hans Zimmer. If the soundtrack comes off as bombastic and overbearing it is more the fault of Nolan than Zimmer. Nolan does drown out some scenes with the music cranked all the way to eleven. One of the film’s best sequences is the initial fight between Bane and Batman with bone breaking body blows serving as the only score. Yet, Zimmer does some of his best work on “Rises.” He kicks off the prologue on a pitch perfect note with the spooky introductory notes to “Gotham’s Reckoning.” The composition builds to a crescendo with thunderous drum beats and the ominous chanting of “basara basara deshi deshi.”

Yes, you can scrutinize “The Dark Knight Rises” to death. Or you can sit back and enjoy the visual spectacle that Christopher Nolan has crafted. Epic in scope and grandeur, “Dark Knight Rises” is a film meant to be seen in theaters on the largest screens possible. A grand finale that draws the curtains down on Nolan’s Bat-Universe.

Will’s film rating:  8/10

The Warner Bros. engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to render the film in a variable aspect ratio, 2.40:1 for the bulk of the film and 1.78:1 for the IMAX sequences.  Needless to say, the IMAX segments look the most impressive, with sharp definition and excellent color.  The regular widescreen sections often display faces that are too dark, too dusky, too purplish, and definition that for Blu-ray is only ordinary.

The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio does a good job reproducing the movie’s soundtrack, which can be rather raucous at times.  Hans Zimmer’s musical track frequently overpowers the dialogue, making some scenes hard to understand.  Fans of deep bass, wide dynamics, strong impact, and expansive surround will have a field day here because we get an abundance of pounding low-end material coming from all directions, again often overpowering the scenes but providing a ton of visceral aural thrills.  Most dialogue that isn’t drowned out in loud background noises is clean and clear, but nothing much can help Batman’s gravely voice or Bane’s muffled speech.

This three-disc Combo Pack includes two Blu-ray discs, a DVD, and UltraViolet downloading and streaming.  On disc one you’ll find the movie on Blu-ray in high definition; seventeen scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; and BD-Live access via a special app to explore Gotham further.

Disc two is a Blu-ray containing the bulk of the bonus materials.  First up is a documentary, “The Batmobile,” about an hour on the various Batmobiles throughout the series.  Next is “Ending the Knight,” a huge documentary covering most of the film in three areas:  There’s “Production”:  “The Prologue:  High-Altitude Hijacking,” “Return to the Batcave,” “Beneath Gotham,” “The Bat,” “Batman vs. Bane,” “Armory Accepted,” “Gameday Destruction,” “Demolishing a City Street,” “The Pit,” “The Chant,” “The War on Wall Street,” and “Race to the Reactor.”  There’s “Character”:  “The Journey of Bruce Wayne,” “Gotham’s Reckoning,” and “A Girl’s Gotta Eat.”  And there’s “Reflections”:  “Shadows & Light in Large Format” and “The End of a Legend.”  The extras on disc two conclude with a pair of galleries for trailers and artwork.

Disc three is a DVD containing the movie in standard definition, along with the bonus featurette “The Journey of Bruce Wayne.”

The UltraViolet offer expires on December 4, 2014.  The three discs come housed in a solid Blu-ray case with an inner sleeve, the case further enclosed in light-cardboard slipcover with 3-D lenticular cover picture on the front.

Parting Thoughts:
For me, Christopher Nolan’s three “Batman” films lose their appeal as they go along.  I loved “Batman Begins” for its origin story; I liked “The Dark Knight” mainly for Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker; but I thought “The Dark Knight Rises” was simply too messy, too cluttered, too chaotic, and too unfocused ever to grab my attention fully.  It remains one of the more interesting films of 2012 but not nearly my favorite.