While this review won't contain many 'The Dark Knight Rises' spoilers beyond what's been revealed in theatrical trailers and advertising imagery, please be aware that the trilogy's first two films are discussed.
One of the most anticipated movies of 2012, Christopher Nolan and his creative inner circle -- co-writer David S. Goyer, co-writer Jonathan Nolan, producing partner Emma Thomas, cinematographer Wally Pfister, composer Hans Zimer, and many more -- finally concludes their Batman saga. A journey begun nearly a decade ago, 'Batman Begins' marked a new, dare we say serious, era of the super hero film. Grounded and ultra-real. We met Bruce Wayne, a man tortured by the helpless feeling of watching his parents gunned down. He was consumed with revenge, but ultimately and in order to face his own fears and regrets, he used the dormant Applied Sciences division of Wayne Enterprises to, step by step, transform himself into something larger than any one person. A symbol. The Bat Man. He also saved Gotham City from the League of Shadows, a centuries old organization that burns down civilizations.
Nolan's team then asked a bolder, logical follow up question about the nature of violence and escalation. If the Heroes defeat normal criminal elements with theatricality and reverse-engineered fear, what happens when the Villains do the same thing? 'The Dark Knight' is one of my favorite motion pictures of all time. Rather than a "comic book movie," it felt like a high concept crime drama. 'Heat' on steroids. Heath Ledger's Joker is a breathtaking performance, marked -- and some might argue, enhanced -- by Mr. Ledger's tragic demise. I don't mean to sound callous, but it's hard to say if the whole world would have reacted in the same way had he not passed away. I'd like to think we would, that in a different world he would have had a hard time following up such a once-in-a-lifetime role, but it's hard to really know. What makes the film truly special is how Nolan (et al) managed to fuse plot and theme. The Joker wants more than world domination or destruction; he wants to force Batman to betray his principles (Batman never kills) to save lives. A brilliant look at post-9/11 conflict, with the Joker's form of unforgiving violence akin to real world terrorism, we must ask ourselves, how much are we willing to sacrifice freedom and responsibility to feel safe? And who's watching the people watching us?
Much like the 'Batman Begins' denouement, TDK's final moments seek to build on another thematic device. We've seen what happens when you escalate crime fighting, but now it seems Batman must become, not simply the world's savior, but whatever it needs him to be. If word gets out that Harvey Dent, after becoming Two Face, murdered the people responsible for killing his fiancé, then all the good things Dent did before that will be undone. So Batman takes the blame. He becomes the very thing he wanted to destroy. The hunted criminal.
For me, this is where things seem to veer off a little. Make no mistake, Nolan's intentions are clearly laid out, easy to understand, and seem logical. If Dent is a murderer, the cases he tried could be ripped apart, letting lose real criminals. But for some reason, I'm not sure the film earns that beat, emotionally, because that sequence feels a little rushed compared to all the time spent with the Joker. Take out Batman's dialogue and I’m not sure we'd take away what we're supposed to from the visuals on screen.
My apologies for not getting to 'Rises' just yet, but here's the connection. Where 'Batman Begins' and all but the final few moments of 'The Dark Knight' have this harmonious blending of action, character, plot, and theme, this trilogy's final chapter seems to be lacking that one special element. That bigger idea about humanity and life as it applies beyond the film universe. Sure, the themes are voiced, but often in exposition, which feels academic. More like an idea than a feeling or an emotional connection. Movies can't exist just on ideas -- we have to feel them too. Moments need to be earned.
'The Dark Knight Rises' picks up some eight years after the previous film. Suffering from all his crime-fighting injuries, Bruce Wayne became a recluse, locked away in the east wing of his rebuilt manor. When a new terrorist -- the monstrous Bane, who has ties to the League of Shadows -- threatens Gotham City, Wayne, despite his wanted murderer status, will don his cape and cowl once more. Wayne's loyal butler, Alfred, implores Bruce to give it up forever, as he once dreamed two movies ago. These two men have lost so much, Alfred doesn't want to watch his surrogate son die fighting for those who hate him. Bruce doesn't listen to Alfred and, full of pride, faces Bane one on one, hoping to stop Bane's growing terrorist plan, but the Dark Knight is ill prepared.
Bane breaks Batman's back and locks the crippled Bat in an underground prison halfway around the world, forced to watch Gotham's reckoning live on TV. Bane brilliantly steals Wayne's unused Applied Sciences weapons and vehicles, as well as a fusion reactor turned into a nuclear weapon, and takes Gotham City hostage. All part of a grand experiment to see what the people will do trapped in their own death chamber. Though they have forsaken him, Gotham's only hope is the Dark Knight, who must bring himself back to fighting form (for the second time in the film) and save the city before time runs out. Will Batman get there in time? Find out next week, same Bat time, same Bat--
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, what I'd like to impart most about 'The Dark Knight Rises' is that it has all the makings of a great finale to an epic trilogy. Bold ideas. Fun action sequences. Terrific actors. Previously unknown callbacks to the first flick (think 'Die Hard with a Vengeance'). And yet, it's also repetitive and bloated to the point where it almost feels like two movies. Why? Because the first half and the second both involve the Dark Knight doing his aforementioned rising. This film plays almost like a miniseries, and lacks the tighter structure of the previous installments. Yes, everything's in place, technically, but in the end, TDKR left me wanting more on an emotional, thematic level.
For further explanation of why the themes fall short, I'd like to point you to a review written back in July: Film Critic Hulk vs. 'The Dark Knight Rises'. I hope this doesn't read as a cop out, but after seeing TDKR theatrically, I walked out of the cinema very excited, but not in love with it all. At the time, I didn't quite know why, and Film Critic Hulk found the right words, and gave me a voice to write my review here. If you've never read FCH, I will say this. Don't be blinded by the all caps Hulk speak. We may not always share the same taste, but his essays are deep, elegant, and illuminating.
In the end, 'The Dark Knight Rises' is a fun, larger-than-life movie and, in many ways, a fitting end to Mr. Nolan's trilogy. There are a lot of smart ideas on display, and the story is quite entertaining in its epic scope and ability to tap into cultural phobias and societal breakdowns during chaos. If you love Christopher Nolan's Batman, you'll no doubt enjoy this chapter too (I also wonder how all-in-one sittings will affect the overall experience.). However, because Nolan's bar is so consistently high -- especially after 'Inception' -- I found this film a little colder and less thrilling than 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight'.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Best Buy is the exclusive American vendor of the steelbook version of 'The Dark Knight Rises.' Housed within are two Blu-rays (one for the feature film; one for the special features), one DVD, and instructions for accessing your High Definition UltraViolet copy of the film to keep in the cloud. Know that the metallic casing isn't the only exclusive aspect of Best Buy's set; there is also a 38-minute special feature documentary titled 'The Dark Knight Reborn' that can only be found on Best Buy's special edition releases (they also offer a trilogy set with the documentary included).
Included are also instructions for downloading the Dark Knight Rises FX HD App (some portions of the app work regardless of whether or not you have the movie). The film does not appear to be Region locked, but we have only tested Region A equipment. If you don't already own the first two films, you can also pick up The Dark Knight Trilogy, which includes all three films, or wait patiently for next year's The Dark Knight Trilogy: Ultimate Collector's Edition. There are no forced trailers.
'The Dark Knight Rises' features a near-perfect high resolution AVC MPEG-4 encode, which swaps between 2.40:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratios in an attempt to mirror the film's IMAX presentation.
Many were disappointed about 'The Dark Knight' Blu-ray because it used the IMAX master which featured DMR'd (upconversion, sharpening and noise reduction) 35mm material alongside native IMAX footage. Complaints included excessive edge enhancement and a limited contrast ratio that overtly crushed black levels. Those overseeing this Blu-ray seem to have avoided the same mistakes. I didn't see any halos, though if you look very very close, you can see some very minor banding and some flickering vertical lines. Also, while blacks do crush -- as intended, I would argue -- contrast levels are pretty dynamic and mirror the film's theatrical presentation perfectly.
Other than than a few nitpicks, 'The Dark Knight Rises' looks great. Especially the native IMAX-footage (cropped from 1.43:1 to 1.78:1 to fit HDTV screens), which is reference quality. This filmic experience has unbelievable amounts of resolution and depths, so much so that the film feels 3D at times. A window into another world, if you will. The film's color palette is generally muted, but blues are especially icy (in city lights, skies, and The Bat's headlights). Skin tones may be a little on the warm side.
Now, the native 35mm material doesn't look quite as perfect. I'm not sure whether or not it has been through the IMAX DMR process or not, but as I said above, it doesn't feel like it's been over-sharpened to compensate. Next to the native IMAX footage, the widescreen sections of the film are slightly less clear, though there's a chance is a trick of the eye because 1.78:1 footage uses approximately 33% more pixels on an HDTV display than 2.40:1 footage and is, therefore, noticeably brighter. Regardless, while colors and contrast appear to match between all elements -- the film's use of IMAX cameras is like a documentary in that it sometimes changes aspect ratio for as little time as one shot -- the 35mm footage seems less clear and crisp.
Despite a few minor flaws, 'The Dark Knight Rises' looks fantastic on Blu-ray. The IMAX footage is reference quality, and the 35mm footage looks very good too (just not as great), and thankfully less manipulated than 'The Dark Knight' Blu-ray.
Thanks to its bombastic, concussive and ultra-aggressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, your neighbors are gonna loathe the day you bring home 'The Dark Knight Rises' on Blu-ray. (Just ask mine. Since I started this review, the guy below me has responded by turning his always-loud-and-repetitive-dance-music up to 11. But joke's on him -- I'm still 20dB below reference.)
Some will argue the IMAX footage is the star of this Blu-ray release, but this is perhaps the best six channel sound mix I've ever heard. Many of you probably remember the controversy earlier in 2012 following the release of the film's six minute IMAX trailer. I can personally attest that Bane's digitally manipulated voice was lost in the gunfire, jet engines, and tearing metal carnage. In the cinemas, this was corrected, and on Blu-ray, I can't say if things were further altered, but Bane's voice is a definite highlight. While every piece of dialog in the film is complete clear and prioritized, Bane's extends across the entire front sound stage conveying a sense of power and brute strength.
Sound effects, music, and LFE complete the sonic masterpiece. Individual effects are clear and resolute; panning right to left and front to back is exceptionally immersive, as are world-building crowd sequences like Wall Street and the football stadium. Han Zimmer's grinding electronic score is like a full on orchestral in your living room. Bass-lovers rise and cheers, because this Blu-ray is a room shaker, but never over done. The bass notes are crisp and punchy, adding an overall sense of dread and tension. And don't worry, it's not just that this track is loud, which of course it is, but it has so much range from the quietest moment to the most bombastic.
In fact, I enjoyed this soundtrack so much I have no complaints. This reference quality sound mix will test any system and, if not properly handled, annoy the neighbors. If Nolan's team can do this with 5.1, I can't wait for his first official 7.1 or Dolby ATMOS mix.
Though I don't have the DVD-only edition on hand, it appears as though Warners is only handing out special features to those who buy 'The Dark Knight Rises' on Blu-ray. The only "Special Feature" for all versions of this film include an UltraViolet digital copy.
'The Dark Knight Rises is an exciting, epic movie and, for the most part, a fitting end to the Nolan Batman era. However, because the bar was raised so high by the trilogy's first two films, this one doesn't quite resonate with the same balance of character, plot, and themes. As a Blu-ray, the video transfer is excellent and the audio is thunderous and dynamic. The Special Features include an excellent documentary about the various Batmobiles and many featurettes about making the film -- the only disappointment being the clunky interface. If you own the steelbook editions of 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight,' then you will definitely want this edition of 'The Dark Knight Rises' in your collection. The added exclusive 38-minute documentary is decent, but not worth going out of your way to own. Had it not rehashed old behind-the-scenes footage, it would have been much better. If you're a fan of the film, or the Nolan Batman franchise, this is easily a Recommended Blu-ray with endless Demo potential. If you're not a fan of Nolan or this franchise, your views probably won't change based on this final entry.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.