The Dark Knight Rises
Batman trilogy ends on a very big bang
The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
There are so many ways to begin this, it’s not even funny. I’ll start, then, by saying this is a movie review. Nothing more. It is certainly not a cultural critique of gun control, gun rights, mental illness, violence in modern media or anything else that—at this point in time—would be little more than knee-jerk reactionary and woefully underinformed. Are you cool with that? Then let’s move on.
Arriving on the tail end of a monumentally successful film trilogy and following the record-smashing, superheroic success of Marvel’s The Avengers, the level of expectation for The Dark Knight Rises is enough to crush any normal movie. Fortunately, whether you like the specifics of this film or not, The Dark Knight Rises is no ordinary strip of celluloid and will survive the hype (plus all the other stuff swirling around it) just fine.
Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan should, first of all, be thanked for taking this multiyear assignment so seriously. He has treated comic books with a level of dignity they have rarely been afforded—even in their most successful film incarnations. Nolan has done for superheroes what Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather did for gangsters. Prior to that 1972 hit, gangsters inhabited B-grade action movies, dutifully getting involved in tommy gun fights with “dirty rats” and weepy arguments with ethnically stereotyped mothers before dying in a sanctimonious hail of bullets supplied by faceless G-men. Coppola gave these characters respect (even more so than Puzo’s novel), offering moving drama and realistic worlds for them to inhabit. Nolan has done markedly the same thing for the cape-and-tights crowd.
There are those who will write off The Dark Knight Rises as too lengthy, too long-winded and too enamored of its characters at the expense of the pow-bam-bang action. These allegations are all quite true. Those looking for a quick, fun, easily digestible action movie along the lines of The Avengers will be sorely disappointed. And those under the age of 10 will be bored stupid by this 164-minute, Wagnerian-level drama. Please, leave the kiddies at home with a “Teen Titans” DVD.
If, on the other hand, you’re a grown-up who has admired the universe Nolan’s been building from Batman Begins onward, you’ll find plenty to love in this sensational, super-sized series-ender.
It’s eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, and Gotham City has changed. The organized crime families have been crushed by Batman’s intervention as well as some Draconian laws enacted after the untimely death of District Attorney Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne, however, bears the cross of those events. His body is worn-out from his countless battles, his fortunes are strained and—worst of all—his alter ego has been blamed for the crimes of Dent’s mad Two-Face persona. Wayne (Christian Bale) hides now in his mansion, a reclusive shell of his former self.
Not to worry: A new threat will be arriving soon to force our hero out of retirement. That threat comes in the form of a hulking super-terrorist known as Bane. Tom Hardy (Inception, This Means War) plays this masked monster, introduced in a zesty, James Bondian pre-credit sequence. Hardy has gotten a lot of flack for his acting choices here, hiding his facial expressions behind a weird mask and talking like Darth Vader as played by Sean Connery. In trailer-sized doses, it’s disconcerting. But in full-length practice, it works just fine. Hardy is forced to do a lot of physical acting and—to his credit—he turns Bane into a positively terrifying figure. If there was ever a character to threaten Batman with great bodily harm, this menacing muscleman is it.
The scariest thing about Bane, though, is that he’s a True Believer. He’s a man on a mission. Nolan taps into some contempo worries, casting Bane as a left-wing psycho intent on collapsing the ruling class and handing mob rule over to the 99 percent. The film hedges its bets, equally mocking both sides of the class warfare debate. But it’s hard not to be scared by the brutal world Bane succeeds in creating.
Oh yeah, he wins. Big time. Regular readers of the comic book know exactly what Bane does to The Batman. But the filmmakers take it one step further, pulling in heavy inspiration from the “No Man’s Land” crossover event DC Comics ran in 1999. This is dark, apocalyptic stuff—the antipodal opposite of Joel Schumacher’s campy, candy-colored series-killer Batman & Robin.
Those who criticized The Dark Knight for being “two movies, really” will only get fuel for the fire. The Dark Knight Rises is like four movies in one. Personally, I admire this quality. These are the first films to nail the ongoing, episodic, soap opera-ish quality of comic books. The storylines in Batman, Spider-Man and others have run for 50, 60 years in some cases. Feeling like this is all part of an immense, never-ending narrative is crucial. Nolan has done amazing work creating his own stand-alone universe with recurring themes, evolving characters and swiftly accruing plotlines. The tradeoff is that some viewers will be bored by the tangents. Batman, it must be admitted, doesn’t appear in a lot of the film. There’s heavy rumination on the short-lived nature of vengeance. There’s a lot of philosophizing on justice, equality, institutional corruption and economic parity. There’s a huge section about the usefulness of fear as motivation. These are all topics the Dark Knight films have been simmering for years. Here, the pot explodes.
When Nolan does get down to some action, it’s worth the wait. The car chases (a real strength of these movies) are visceral and heart-pounding. Kudos for sticking with practical effects. Heck, even that jaw-dropping pre-credit airplane stunt is primarily real and not some CGI effect! Sure, there are those who will bitch up a storm about plot holes, confused politics, messy character motivations and crowded cast lists. Keep in mind that it takes a great work of art to inspire passionate debate, rather than shoulder-shrugging disinterest. Any way you attack it, The Dark Knight Rises is an impressive feat of filmmaking: Ambitious, sweeping, scary, emotional, thought-provoking, nail-biting, exhausting, masterful. What’s next, Mr. Nolan?
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