Theatrical Review: “The Dark Knight Rises”
Produced by: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (screenplay), David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan (story)
Cinematography by: Wally Pfister
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
In the wake of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, I felt a bit odd about writing my previous review and preparing for my next, as I was writing it in the late night hours as the events were unfolding, unknown to me until the next morning. Much of what I wrote about The Dark Knight reflected a lot of what was happening there, none of it necessarily original or new information, but it was stirring, all the same.
I had no common connection to any of the victims there beyond our similar interest in seeing this new Batman film, all of us anxious in seeing how this trilogy would end, and, unfortunately, many of them never got to see this film, and many more will forever see this film and be reminded of the horrible things they saw that night. What was supposed to be night of fun and entertainment turned into a nightmare, and it affected me, and still does a great deal the more I hear about the events, much more than I thought it would — not because I thought of myself as some tough, emotionless, apathetic person but because it made me realize how even the most mundane things we take for granted can connect strangers based on a mundane commonality.
This just happened to revolve around a movie theatre, a highly anticipated film, and audiences across the world who waited, maybe not in the same proximity, but with the same spirit that united us all in excitement and, unfortunately, also in an unexpected tragedy. In that spirit, if there is anyone out there who is reading this and was affected in some way to those events, I hope you know that, even if I don’t know you, I send my prayers and condolences to you and your families.
Let me just say this now: Christopher Nolan is destined to go down in history as, if not one of the most influential or important filmmakers in blockbuster history, at the very least one of the most revered and respected. The man hasn’t made a bad movie in… well pretty much ever! Some have varied in quality and appeal, of course, but none have been able to cross the general consensus threshold of being considered anything less than a quality film: Following. Memento. Batman Begins. The Prestige. The Dark Knight. Inception. All masterful works of not only high art, but high entertainment. No other filmmaker since maybe Spielberg has managed to pull this synthesis of style, spectacle, and skill as well as Nolan has. And now, with The Dark Knight Rises, we have been given this amazing film that not only provides plenty of thrilling action, but is also an intelligent and thought-provoking conclusion to what will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest film series of all time, The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Starting some eight years after the previous film, Rises reveals that Batman has since disappeared from Gotham’s streets as Harvey Dent’s apparent martyrdom has inspired Gotham itself to clean up its act, as was planned. Feeling no longer needed by his city, Bruce Wayne now lives as a decaying recluse in the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor, while Jim Gordon, Batman’s accomplice in the Harvey Dent cover-up, is now a single man, his now-ex-wife having taken the kids and run after the events of the previous film. The weight of their lies has taken their toll on the two men, but both believe in the power of that lie to do more good than harm for the citizens of Gotham.
Much of what happens in the film revolves around both of these men seeking out their redemption from the lies and compromises that they have made, and both men also seek out a renewed sense of purpose. The film also returns to questions and elaborates on many themes explored in the previous films, including that of fear, order and chaos, hope, and redemption.
Fear returns in a big way in The Dark Knight Rises, personified by the film’s primary antagonist, Bane, a terrorist who exceeds Bruce both physically and even intellectually, possessing the silver tongue of a politician and the muscle of a heavyweight wrestler, and whose very name represents a painful burden. Bane has many obvious strengths, but not all of them are natural. The mask he wears delivers a pain-numbing gas that enhances his physical strength, but, like Batman’s costume, it both conceals and reflects his weaknesses, while also serving a psychological purpose. Bane takes on a monstrous image while wearing the mask, the various tubes arranged like the fangs of a serpent. Bane emerges from the depths below Gotham with a legion of loyal followers, breaking Batman both physically and spiritually in the process. In a grandiose show of force, he destroys the bridges leading into and out of Gotham and announces his presence to the city, promising that, under his leadership, he will deliver Gotham to its citizens, a city free from the oppression of law and poverty. Despite his brutality, he gains many followers, and slowly his underlying motives begin to come into fruition. He knows that, without a savior to rise up to redeem it, Gotham will inevitably be the instrument of its own destruction.
There are several other new and important characters who fit in surprisingly well within the overall story arc of the three films, joining returning characters Alfred, whose own secret regarding Rachel’s letter to Bruce takes its toll on his and Bruce’s relationship, and Lucius Fox, whose handling of Wayne Enterprises and allowances of certain secret projects has left it on the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps the most intriguing, however, are Selina Kyle and John Blake.
Selina of course is probably better known as Catwoman, a cat burglar in whom Batman sees many redeeming qualities, despite her criminal background. In her mind, the real criminals of Gotham aren’t the needy who lash out from necessity, but rather the law-abiding wealthy who have much to give and yet still do nothing. This belief system justifies her actions in her own mind throughout the film, though her development is directly tied to Batman and Bruce’s increasing influence upon her, and her ideologies are also challenged in the face of Bane’s brutal new regime.
Likewise, John Blake is also directly impacted by Batman’s influence. Unlike Selina, however, John works on the side of the law as a police officer, and he continues to see hope within the darkness. As a result, John more directly serves as a parallel to Bruce, while also reminding him of the reasons why he picked up the mantle of Batman in the first place. Like Bruce, Blake was orphaned by crime, and this had a direct impact on his career path as a crime fighter. Like Bruce, John had a hero figure influencing his journey. This hero was his own father for Bruce, but for Blake, he looked up to Batman. Blake’s character benefits the most from the eight year leap forward in time, as he represents the generation that grew up during and in the wake of Batman’s crusade. John not only represents hope for Gotham, but also the redemption of Batman’s legacy as Gotham’s hero.
None of this character development would really be compelling if it weren’t for strong performances, of course. I’m finding myself going long-winded with this review, I know, but I really can’t sing the praises of this film enough, so let me reel it in a bit and just say that the returning cast is as great as ever, delivering perhaps some of their most powerful and moving scenes in the entire trilogy with skill. However, the new additions also deliver great performances, as could be expected given the talent that Nolan was able to attract.
Tom Hardy, whose voice is sometimes muffled probably a bit too much from the mask, is nonetheless menacing as the eloquent Bane, committing to the role to the point of having gained 30 pounds of muscle and developing a unique accent for the character. Anne Hathaway is also excellent as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and you’ll never miss the hamminess of pretty much any of the character’s previous actresses. The film has her going through a wide range of emotions as the character slinks her way through Gotham’s elite and underground alike, ultimately finding herself in conflict with her own beliefs, emotions, and loyalties. Hathaway nails the sultry confidence and inner hurt of the character while also holding her own in the amazing action sequences.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides a confident but appropriately weathered performance as John Blake, and it’s only a shame that we probably won’t be able to see his character develop much further beyond this film. And though the last minute addition of Marion Cotillard to the cast maybe felt a bit too much like Nolan trying to get in as much of the Inception cast as possible, leaving the character with very little to do throughout most of the film, as Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises head who has been overseeing the development of an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, Cotillard is very good in the comparatively small role, and her scenes in the film’s very long, very big climax feel quite poignant, despite this, and the role is thus salvaged from what could have been a meaningless love triangle subplot.
It’s probably needless to say that I believe all of this all pays off in the end, and not necessarily in the most expected ways, either. Much of this film’s strength lies in the ways that it both meets audience expectations and subverts them, mixing in several surprises and interesting new characters while integrating them neatly into the greater whole. The result is an ending that is logical and satisfying in the grander scheme of the entire series. The film is so tightly packed that even its roughly 2 hr. 45 min. runtime feels breezy, despite the heavy subject matter (which is matched with the excellent, thunderous score from Hans Zimmer, who flies solo this time around after collaborating with James Newton Howard in the previous two films). There are admittedly times when it seems like the events transpiring are perhaps disconnected, meandering, or even just repetitious; however, once taken in as a whole, it turns out that the film rarely has anything in excess. The Dark Knight had plenty of these qualities, as well, though there are few who would deny that that film is a masterpiece.
The Dark Knight Rises comes very close to achieving the same level of greatness thanks to careful plotting, some very strong performances from the entire cast, and some sensational action sequences scattered throughout that keep audiences’ adrenaline going and attention spans focused. I have a strong feeling that, once audiences are able to watch this more thoroughly and repeatedly on home video, layers upon layers will be able to be peeled back, and its importance in not just the film trilogy but also the entire Batman franchise will become all the more apparent. At this time, I can say with certainty that not only is it one of the most satisfying conclusions to a film series ever created, it is also one of the most exciting and exquisite pieces of art you will ever see.
(Now someone put Christopher Nolan on the James Bond series, stat! He’s going to need something structured to do while he works on more original stories in between, after all!)
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5