"The Dark Knight Rises" is a monumental, satisfying summation to Christopher Nolan's blockbuster trilogy of Batman films.
That, at least, is the consensus from the first round of reviews of the July 20 release. Warner Bros. has been screening the film quietly for a week or so, and the studio's embargo on advance reactions was lifted, appropriately enough for a movie about a crime-fighter who prefers to lurk in the darkness, in the dead of night.
And when those who'd seen the film were free to write about it, the results for the most part were unqualified raves.
The Hollywood Reporter called it "big-time Hollywood filmmaking at its most accomplished." The Playlist says it's "critically important for America itself." Predicted Variety, "Global [box-office] domination awaits."
As Batman's TV sidekick might have said back in the '60s, "Holy hyperbole, Batman!"
And to borrow another catchphrase from that version of the Caped Crusader, Nolan sets his third film in a new Bat-time (eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight") but he's back on the same Bat-channel – which is to say, a characteristically doom-laden, haunted look at a man tortured by the double life he's driven to lead.
TheWrap will have reactions, a review by Alonso Duralde and more over the next few days – for now, I'll just say that "The Dark Knight Rises" is dark and majestic, deliberate but thrilling. The two-hour-and-44-minute film has flaws, and it misses the sense of crazy fun that Heath Ledger's Joker brought to Nolan's second film, "The Dark Knight." But it feels like a grand finale, and grand is an appropriate word.
In the first North American review, which jumped the gun by three hours by going up at midnight Eastern time rather than midnight Pacific, Canadian critic Bruce Kirkland summed it up in his headline: "'Dark Knight' rises to perfect ending."
The film, he wrote, "is a spectacular and thrilling conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy," wrote Kirkland, who later added, "For audiences who want smart storytelling with their adrenaline rush, 'The Dark Knight Rises' … is as profoundly moving as it is dynamic."
Time Out London, which also broke the embargo by putting its review up early, called the film "a sprawling, epic feast of a movie, stuffed to the gills with side characters, subplots and diversions." Reviewer Tom Huddleston felt the movie missed the intensity of Ledger's Joker, but he shrugged it off: "[I]f the balance skews in favour of grandstanding action rather than emotional resonance, of statuesque icons rather than real people, we can let it slide."
Todd McCarthy's review at the Hollywood Reporter agreed about Heath Ledger, but again he didn't really care, calling it "a blockbuster by any standard" that "makes everything in the rival Marvel universe look silly and childish."
Variety's Justin Chang introduced one caveat, but then ignored it: "If it never quite matches the brilliance of 2008's 'The Dark Knight,' this hugely ambitious action-drama nonetheless retains the moral urgency and serious-minded pulp instincts that have made the Warners franchise a beacon of integrity in an increasingly comicbook-driven Hollywood universe."
At the Playlist, Todd Gilchrist raved about the film while focusing on its themes of financial collapse and the gulf between the haves and have-nots: "A cinematic, cultural and personal triumph, 'The Dark Knight Rises' is emotionally inspiring, aesthetically significant and critically important for America itself – as a mirror of both sober reflection and resilient hope."
Gilchrist's indieWIRE colleague Eric Kohn, though, sounded the closest thing to a cautious note with this: "Director Christopher Nolan's dramatic re-envisioning of the Batman franchise comes to a thundering end with 'The Dark Knight Rises,' a spectacular noir epic that's equal parts murky, bloated, flashy and triumphantly cinematic."
(But he also called it the best of the three Nolan Batman films, and said it "should go down in history" for the way it avoids big-movie cliches.)
Jim Vejvoda at IGN, meanwhile, mentioned a key point – that it's far more important to go into this movie familiar with the events of Nolan's first Batman movie, "Batman Begins," than with the last one, 'The Dark Knight" – and concludes, "Nolan and his team have delivered the grandest, most emotional and superheroic chapter in their Batman saga."
And Drew McWeeny at Hitfix pointed out that the film is "the most overtly comic-book" of Nolan's three, and the least subtle. But he likes that.
"We may never see superhero films quite like these again, and that's fine," writes McWeeny. "Nolan had something special to say with his time in the trenches, and he's ended on his own terms. I suspect that the reaction to the film will be hotly divided, but I'm firmly on the side that this is a triumph, a victory for all involved, and one of the year's most impressive efforts so far in any genre, on any subject."
So far, he's dead wrong about that "hotly divided" thing.