Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blu-ray Review: The Dark Knight Rises

by Sherry Lipp

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Dark Knight Rises on Blogcritics.

Four long years after the series’ previous film wowed critics and audiences, theaters to complete Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The film faced a tough act to follow after the wildly popular The Dark Knight. It was hard to know what to expect from Rises, considering the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger made it impossible to follow up on the Joker storyline. Instead the film feels like more of a direct sequel to the first film of the trilogy, Batman Begins, with elements of the second film thrown in for consistency. On its own merit The Dark Knight Rises, now available on Blu-ray, is an entertaining film that closes the trilogy in a satisfying way.

 Rises is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is racked with guilt over his deception of the public regarding the death of Harvey Dent. And, of course, Batman is persona non grata in Gotham City. That doesn’t matter too much because crime has virtually been wiped from the streets. The tranquility is interrupted when the masked strongman Bane (Tom Hardy) begins to wreak havoc, attempting to continue the mission of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows (as established in Begins). Bruce Wayne is forced out of seclusion, resurrecting Batman as the city begins to fall to Bane.

Rises brings back several familiar characters from the previous films, most notably Wayne's butler and surrogate father, Alfred (Michael Caine). Alfred dutifully watches over Wayne as he hides in a secluded wing of the mansion, fretting over the lack of any productive life the billionaire has. Also returning is the previously mentioned Commissioner Gordon and techno-wiz Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman). There are also some new characters to bring some diversity to the storyline. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Detective Blake, who always seems to be one step ahead of the game. Anne Hathaway shines as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (though she is never referred to by that name during the film). Both characters bring an extra, and much welcome, spark to film. Of course, there is also Bane as the villain.

As enjoyable as I find the film overall, I have mixed feelings about Bane as a villain. He seems like more of a strong-arm man than anything else. He is mere brute force, and is not really that interesting of a character. We don’t get to know enough about him, though some intriguing elements of his backstory are revealed (including why he wears the breathing apparatus). There are other evil forces at work in The Dark Knight Rises, but to say anything further would give away the twist at the end. Another element that doesn’t quite work is the attempt at contemporary political commentary. The “occupy movement” allegory already feels outdated, and the message is muddled at best. Bruce Wayne receives little sympathy from the financially strapped Selina Kyle when he loses his fortune. On the other hand, the middle-class masses are all too eager to blindly follow the maniacal Bane. So who is worse—the filthy rich (depicted as uncaring) or the common man (depicted as unable to think for himself)?

That aside, and those aspects don’t take up very much of the film, Rises features some great action sequences. Though the film is possibly overlong at 165 minutes, it still manages to zip by at a quick pace. Having Bruce Wayne reduced to nothing—physically, mentally, and financially—gives the audience something to root for. We want to see him conquer his demons and we want to see Batman triumphant. Bale does a good job of portraying both sides of the character. He successfully conveys a man who has been beaten but refuses to give up. His series-best performance is backed with engaging performances from Oldman, Hathaway, Freeman, and Gordon-Levitt, all combining to give this film a lot of heart. Hathaway brings a touch fun to her role in an otherwise very serious film.

The visual and audio presentation of this Blu-ray is excellent. The video is presented in a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer with an aspect ratio that alternates between 1.78:1 (for scenes filmed in IMAX) and 2.40:1. The detail is exceptionally strong, with a sharp image. City streets look grimy and realistic. The Dark Knight Rises is not about bright colors, with the exception of the bright yellow shirts and jerseys worn during the football game, but there is a rich fullness to the dark tones that is well represented here. The gray buildings, drab prison, and dank city underground all have realistic textures that enhance the viewing experience. Even in the dimly lit sequences (of which there are many), the definition is good and action easy to see.
As good as the picture looks, the sound is truly outstanding. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track creates a truly immersive aural experience. The opening sequence in the airplane sets things off with a thunderous jolt. The power of the engines can be felt as they rumble through the rear speakers and subwoofer. The bomb detonation scene during the football game fills the speakers with an awesome roar. If anything, the startling strong bass is occasionally overwhelming. Luckily, the quieter moments also shine through, with even hushed tones and quiet background noises easy to hear. Hans Zimmer’s lush score is boldly supportive throughout the mix.

The two-disc Blu-ray set has a good amount of special features, though I was not bowled over by them. Presented in 12 segments (for a total of about 68 minutes), the “Production” section provides information on all aspects of creating the film. The segments detail specific sequences of the film, costumes, weapons, sets, and characters. Another nearly 30-minute section (in three parts) focuses on the characters of Batman, Selina Kyle, and Bane. This provides some interesting information on adapting the comic book character of Bane to Nolan’s vision for the film. Bane was a character Nolan did not initially see as fitting into the more realistic tone of his Dark Knight series.
A pair of featurettes combine for the 15-minute “Reflections” section. One focuses on Wally Pfister’s cinematography, the other on the challenges face in ending the trilogy. There’s also an hour long documentary on the Batmobile, which covers the vehicle from its inception through Rises. It’s actually fairly fascinating to see its transformation over the years, both in the comic books and in the films and television shows, but it isn’t really specific to this film. Too bad we don't get any deleted footage. Theatrical trailers and a second screen experience (for syncing a mobile device) are also included with this set. The combo pack includes a standard DVD and UltraViolet copy as well.

The Dark Knight Rises is a must-have Blu-ray for fans of the series. Despite a few minor weaknesses in the storytelling, I found the film to be highly engrossing and a solid finale to the trilogy. I particularly enjoyed the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. The spectacular Blu-ray presentation makes this film worth revisiting.

3 comments:

Greg said...

Great review. I didn't see Bane as just a "strong-arm" villain. He did orchestrate a fairly elaborate plan to destroy Gotham, but I do agree that with a little more back story on Bane he could have been a much stronger character.

Sherry Lipp said...

Thanks Greg! I agree, Bane could have been a strong character. In the end I wasn't sure how much the plan was his, or if he was just executing it.

Greg said...

Your right. Because one of the big reveals, it is implied, intentionally or not, that individual was the mastermind and Bane was just carrying out orders.