The Dark Knight Rises 3½/4

July 21, 2012 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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For most superhero franchises, the third movie is a trap…writes James Berardinelli.

It’s there that the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher iteration of Batman started its rapid descent. It’s there that the Christopher Reeve Superman saga had the wheels come off. It’s there that Sam Raimi lost his way with Spider-Man. The list goes on. Movie #3, at least when it comes to a comic-book inspired series, is often one too many, the result of greed not creative necessity. It’s a little different with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, because the second sequel, named The Dark Knight Rises, is also the last chapter. And not having to plan for a fourth installment affords the filmmaker an extraordinary opportunity: the ability to conclude a superhero saga. That’s something we really haven’t seen before (although it kind-of, sort-of happened with X-Men). In fact, it’s so rare that it could be argued that Nolan has ventured into virgin territory.

Nolan’s decision to make The Dark Knight trilogy a self-contained series allows us to consider the previously unthinkable going in: Could Batman die? If there’s a given in any superhero movie, it’s that the title character will be around at the end credits. No spoilers here – I’m not going to reveal the Caped Crusader’s fate – but the potential of his demise will be in many viewers’ thoughts before they see the movie. And that’s the genius of the way Nolan has sold and constructed his films. Never have the stakes been higher in a product of this genre.

There will probably never be a darker superhero series than what we have seen with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises; these movies have forever altered the way viewers see superhero stories and the way filmmakers approach them. Before Batman Begins, there was a standard template that most superhero movies followed (some more closely than others). Batman Begins cracked the mold and The Dark Knight smashed it. Those weren’t lightweight entertainment for popcorn-munching Saturday matinee viewers. They were deep, rich motion pictures – films that could proudly stand alongside any serious Oscar contender released in November or December (although, inexplicably, The Dark Knight was snubbed in the Best Picture category, with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button getting a nod instead). Now, makers of superhero movies are faced with a choice: either go huge like The Avengers or go serious like The Dark Knight. Nolan has helped render the traditional approach obsolete.

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