“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal… you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne, a legend!”
This piece of dialogue encapsulates the very nature of the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan’s ability to compose a plot, a simple sequence of events, outclasses that of any other action movie of TDKR’s kind. This film was the culmination of everything great about Nolan as a director, and everything great about the Batman movies thus far. All things considered, it could not be any better. Spoilers ahead. And don’t even think about reading this before you see it, because I will haunt your dreams if you do. Good then. I should also mention that Nolan is one of my favorite directors, so.
For me, going to see a Marvel/DC Comics movies is always an event. Actually watching the movie is only one part of the process. It begins when I prepare myself to see the movie, and in this case that included adjusting my expectations. What was I expecting to see? What did I want to see? This proved essential. As I shake my head gratifyingly at the flurry of Facebook posts by my friends, whose reviews betray every bit of their disappointment in the film, I think to myself ‘they’ve gone and ruined it for themselves’. This is important to state before I truly review this movie, if you go see The Dark Knight Rises with the hope that it will top The Dark Knight you will be disappointed. Now, if you go in looking for the end of a trilogy (what the movie is actually supposed to be, instead of a desperate Nolan trying to convince everyone that he can top his masterpiece) you will be pleased, and pleasantly surprised. You’ll see the light and you’ll make the leap, but we’ll get to that.
The Dark Knight Rises sports one hot and spicy cast. It’s like the cast of Inception but Leo and Ellen are on sick leave. Christian Bale returns, crippled, but in better shape acting-wise than ever (and his body). The gentleman’s club that is comprised of Michael Cane, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman (with brief hints of Liam Neeson) is back, and more distinguished and intense than ever. Then we’ve got newcomers to the story, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Tom Hardy. Sometimes when there are too many famous and beloved actors in one film it becomes sort of a dying star. But Nolan allocates time and focus to these characters so well that their talents are completely optimized, making for a stupendously acted film.
Tom Hardy was fantastic as Bane. I mean The Joker is not to be followed. He has to be at least in the top 3 most beloved comic book villains of all time; that along with the fact
that Heath Ledger gave one of the best performances of all time. So in a way Tom Hardy had the toughest job of all: being the villain to follow The Joker. His swollen muscles and menacingly croaky voice instilled a bit of fear in me, I must say. I was impressed. Anne Hathaway was also quite delicious as Catwoman. Some, who no doubt remember her doe eyed roles in movies like The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, thought she couldn’t pull off the role of a sexy sleuth. I daresay she proved them wrong.
Catwoman (Selina Kyle): There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne.
Nolan was faced with one of the greatest struggles a film maker can come up against. Supplying a follow-up to a smash hit. It was enough to stress me out for years, so I can’t imagine his ordeal. The thing is, if he’d tried to create another Dark Knight, in other words give us the same things but amplify them, this movie would have been a failure. But clever as he is, instead of trying to one up himself he actually told the damn story. On a larger scale, with bigger stakes and a greater, more pertinent integration of character development in our protagonist: Batman.
The crisis of Bruce Wayne has been a common theme in this character from its inception (pun intended). In this film Bruce is presented to us as a recluse, having been stunted by the loss of Rachael, his childhood friend, great love, and his key to escaping the trap that is his life as Batman. He only ‘rises’ from his seclusion when it becomes clear that Bane is a serious threat to Gotham, at which point Nolan introduces the first step in his dismantling of Wayne’s world (geddit?): the departure of Alfred Pennyworth. In Alfred’s departure we lose, along with
Wayne, a constant comfort. Along with Alfred goes the bit of happiness Wayne was holding on to: the plan of another life with Rachael. Quickly following was Nolan’s second step in developing the Wayne crisis: the shooting and hospitalization of Tinker Tailor Soldier Commissioner Gordon. These losses are followed by the loss of Wayne’s fortune, at the hands of Bane. So at this particular juncture in the story, Batman has lost his one unyieldingly dedicated servant, lost the bit of Rachael he was holding on to, faces the loss of his trusted ally in the police force, and lost an essential part of what even makes him a superhero: his money. The theme of loss continues from the previous film, into this one. What Nolan is doing is genius. When it starts to look like Wayne has nothing, when her enters the action film’s sweet sweet ‘protagonist with nothing to lose’ spot, whose lack of fear of death and consequences will win him victory, just when Nolan gets Wayne into that spot he takes a sharp left and revisits the glory that was Batman Begins.
Bane: I am Gotham’s reckoning.
I’ve always felt that with all the hype around The Dark Knight (well deserved hype), Batman Begins has become terribly underrated. I’m an avid book reader before a film watcher, and I’ve noticed in my travels that people tend to favor the middle of a story. The beginning is slow and deliberate. It supplies a lot of information, but not a lot of excitement. The middle is pure excitement, rising action, and mystique. But the middle can only be that if the beginning is just right, and if the end ties everything together. The Dark Knight is the quarterback of the trilogy. People will always love it the most and even if they understand the importance of the other two, they won’t car because ‘Hey! Look! The Joker!’. I personally have a great fondness for Batman Begins. For that reason, I appreciate Nolan revisiting the beginning in order to tell the end. I appreciate seeing Wayne get stripped down to the bare bones of his past, til’ it literally comes back and stabs him between the ribs. TDKR was an allusion to the intrigue of Batman Begins. Any good story must grapple with its beginning in order to come to an end.
As usual, the movie offered plenty to follow. Nolan knows how to keep the minds of his audience busy. You’ve got Catwoman (played by a saucy Anne Hathaway) in one corner trying to settle the score with the ‘wrong people’. You’ve got Commissioner Gordon Jr., John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who becomes Batman’s partner in crime (wink wink wink wink…..nudge). You’ve got Bane running around inciting angry mobs, and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) trying to pick up the pieces. You’ve got Bruce struggling to escape exile and eventual execution. There’s the usual power grabby nonsense and general discord in the police force (even on a national scale this time). All the while here I am picturing poor Alfred hopelessly tilling a garden in Florence, hoping Bruce will come by wearing a tweed jacket, carrying a basket of fresh fruits and sporting a smile as wide as the lawn of Wayne Manor.
Batman: A hero can be anyone.
The heart of this movie lies in its classic moments of realization, character development and atonement.When Catwoman saves the kid with the apple. When Deputy Commissioner Foley races to the streets in his dress blues. When a story of love and heroism is unraveled through the story’s villains, Bane and Miranda Al Ghul. When Bruce realizes his lack of fear of death is an obstacle rather than a weapon; when he finally escaped his exile by making the leap across that chasm. The jarring moment when Commissioner Gordon finally realizes that Batman is Bruce Wayne. These are all what the story is all about. The confused nature of good and evil. The dilemma of allegiance to ideals. The realization that comes with total loss. The products of desperation. All human stories told within a superhero action movie.
The story seemed as if it was going to end on a very low note. Then this one cool thing happened* (*a series of cool things). The set-up nearly made me piss myself. Suddenly the inclusion of Joseph Gordon-Levitt made sense. That part I won’t spoil. But just know, it is pretty exciting.
The Dark Knight Rises is the end of, possibly, the best superhero story yet. Not even a Superman preview before the film could distract from the last of the greatest action film trilogy ever.
I’d like to close this review by taking a moment to address the shooting that happened at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. When I awoke this morning and turned on CNN the first thing I saw was the news of the murder of what at that time was believe to be 14 people. The coverage on this story is through the roof, so I imagine most people have heard what happened. For those who haven’t, feel free to read a version of the story here.
My heart aches for the victims and all pe0ple present for this sickening, nonsensical, violent act. There isn’t much to say that seems worth saying in response to so grizzly an attack, but I hope those people feel the love all around this country for them. I hope the gunman faces repercussions and ultimately finds balance within himself.
REST IN PEACE
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (Charles Dickens)
July 20th, 2012