Four years ago, I (like many others) saw Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Two and a half hours later, I came out of the theatre thinking that there would never be a superhero film as good as that.
I was wrong.
I know I’m probably in the minority here, but I thought that The Dark Knight Rises was a better film than was The Dark Knight. Shocking, I know. I surprised myself when I decided this. But nevertheless, I truly believe that Rises was the best in the trilogy. Let me tell you why.
For starters, let’s get one thing out of the way. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was incomparable. Incredible. Indescribable. His mere presence on the screen was enough to compel millions of filmgoers to flock to the theaters. And whether or not you think his death had anything to do with it, he still won the Academy Award for the role. But a performance like that can be a detriment as well as a strength. When the villain literally steals the show from the hero, you might have a problem.
Here’s a simple test to prove my point. Go find a friend who saw The Dark Knight and loved it. That shouldn’t be too hard. Now ask that friend why she or he loved the movie so much. I’ll bet you a cool thousand that the answer was two words: “The Joker.”
Now see if you can find a friend who liked Rises more than Dark Knight. That might be a little more tricky. I’ll bet you another thousand that they have a much different answer than just one actor’s performance.
My point is this: The Dark Knight was too Joker-centric. Christopher Nolan knew it, Jonathan Nolan knew it, and everyone who saw the film knew it too. Everyone loved it. But I felt that it became less about Batman/Bruce Wayne’s character and more about “what can Batman do to stop the Joker?”
The Dark Knight Rises introduces us to a very different Batman. Ruined both physically and spiritually, I found him to be a much more compelling character this time around, with far more dramatic depth than in the previous two installments. We got to see a much more human side to Bruce Wayne, a much more vulnerable side, one that has doubts about the Batman. I found this to be a brilliant conflict: the idea that Batman no longer wants to be Batman.
And let’s not forget the ending. The final twenty minutes of the film were brilliant. I thought that the Nolan brothers did a fantastic job playing with filmgoers expectations, such as with Batman’s death and the presence of Robin. It was excellent screenwriting, in my opinion, and it helped to elevate the film above a mundane superhero story and into very human territory.
Yes, the critics will say that the Bruce Wayne/Selina Kyle relationship was underdeveloped, among other complaints. I completely agree. But the film isn’t a romance. It’s an action film and the conclusion to a trilogy.
Of course, based on the ending, it is possible that it isn’t the conclusion. It’s possible that there will be a spin-off series of Robin films.
We can only wait and hope.