Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises Directed by: Christopher Nolan.
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer based on characters created by Bob Kane.
Starring: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Tom Hardy (Bane), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake), Anne Hathaway (Selina), Marion Cotillard (Miranda), Morgan Freeman (Fox), Michael Caine (Alfred), Matthew Modine (Foley), Alon Moni Aboutboul (Dr. Pavel), Ben Mendelsohn (Daggett), Juno Temple (Jen).

Spoiler Warning: This film tells much more of the plot of The Dark Knight Rises than you probably want to hear if you are planning on seeing the movie. As I saw the film late, and am posting my review even later, I assume most people interested would have seen the film already. But if you haven’t, you’ve been warned.

Making a great movie is hard enough – but making a great trilogy is nearly impossible. Most series seem to run out of steam after their second film, with the third installment being a letdown – made merely as a cash grab or as an attempt to regain some past magic. But with The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan has completed a great movie trilogy. The film itself is the longest of his three Batman series – and yes, it is a little bloated and a little messy in parts, and you could easily point out some logic flaws in the film. This is not a perfect film by any means. It is also the most ambitious of the three Batman films – the one that pushes the darkness of this series to its breaking point. As a concluding chapter of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises gets it mostly right.

It has been eight years since the events of The Dark Knight, and Gotham City is pretty much crime free because of the so called Harvey Dent laws that allowed Commissioner Gordon to lock up the mobsters. Batman has retreated from the public eye – as has Bruce Wayne, who never leaves Wayne Manor, and is stricken with guilt and loss at his failure to save Rachel Dawes – who he believes was waiting for him. Of course, both the heroism of Harvey Dent, and Rachel’s supposed devotion to Bruce Wayne are based on lies – and when the truth comes out, things are going to get ugly again.

Into Gotham struts a new super villain – Bane (Tom Hardy) who, like Bruce Wayne, was once an apostle of Ra’s Al Ghul, but was ex-communicated from his extreme methods. Bane is a muscle bound freak of nature – whose face is covered with a mask that prevents him from being in constant agonizing pain. But his appearance masks an intelligence that equals his brutality. He knows about Wayne Enterprises “Fusion Generator” that Bruce has kept secret because he knows that it could be turned into a weapon. But Bane has a plan – that will push Gotham to the brink of destruction.

There are a few other characters added to this movie. First there is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a rich woman who shares Wayne’s idealism – and steps up when his corporate enemies try to destroy him. There is also Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who has idolized Batman since he was a child – and an orphan – and who figured out back then his true identity. His smarts and idealism make him stand out – and catches the attention of Gordon. And finally, the most famous addition, is Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman (although she is never referred to as such during the course of the movie), a skilled cat burglar, who catches Wayne’s eye when she steals his mother’s pearls. But Bruce believes there is more than just a thief in there.

The Nolan Batman films have always been about a conflict of ideals. While Bruce Wayne has always believed that Gotham City, and its citizens, deserve to be saved – to be given a chance to be good – the villains have always believed the opposite. In Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul believed that Gotham City was a cesspool, and liked previous “once great cities” needed to be destroyed. In The Dark Knight, The Joker believed that “people were only as good as they were allowed to be” – that is, when everything is going fine, people will be good – when things go wrong, people will show who they truly are – violent and amoral. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane wants to expose Gotham’s hypocrisy – expose the lies that led to them to become “crime free”. Cutting Gotham off from the rest of America, he wants the city to destroy itself figuratively – to descend into its natural state of anarchy, before he destroys it literally – and more importantly, he wants Bruce Wayne to watch, to see how completely he has failed.

I loved how this series is constantly building on its previous entries – how it evolves from one film to the next. From the first film, one of the most prominent themes in the series has been the importance of symbols – hence Wayne’s speech to Alfred in Batman Begins about how as a man, he could be defeated, but how, he would last forever. The important part of Batman is not what he did – but what he stood for, and how he gave the city hope. It doesn’t matter “who” Batman really is – he could be anyone, and that was the whole point. The city needed a symbol to rally around – and so Bruce Wayne gave them Batman. In The Dark Knight, Wayne thought his time as Batman was over – that he was no longer needed, because they had a new symbol to rally around – Harvey Dent, and despite the truth of who Dent became, his symbolic value was more important – because unlike Batman, Dent worked within the system. At the end of The Dark Knight, the audience was lead to believe that Batman's sacrifice was noble – but The Dark Knight Rises immediately calls that into question. If the city’s virtue was based on a lie, were they really all that virtuous in the first place? If you cannot trust the people with the truth, what does that really say about how you feel about them? The masses are always something to be fought over in the Nolan Batman films – seen mainly in abstract. Their starring role happens outside the scope of these movies – and will really only happen after this movie ends.

Perhaps afraid that the film would be too heavy, Nolan made the smart decision to include Selina Kyle and Blake – who, for differing reasons, inject some lightness to the proceedings. Hathaway’s Selina is pretty much the only character in the trilogy that truly seems to be having fun (yes, The Joker was having fun, but it was psychotic, creepy, scary fun that was only fun for him). As someone who believes that Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance as Catwoman in Batman Returns was her greatest performance – and the second greatest performance as a Batman villain ever (next to Ledger’s Joker), I was worried that Hathaway would be saddled with expectations that were too much for her to bare – but she more than  lives up to that high standard. Yes, she is sexy, flirtatious, seductive and cunning – but Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is given more depth – allowed to be more than just her surface. Nolan and Hathaway allow her to return to her roots – really more of a thief than the super villain that other onscreen incarnations have made her out to be. And most surprisingly – she has a conscience. As for Blake, he is the most idealistic character in the entire trilogy – someone who believes in justice and truth. He is the personification of what Batman always wanted to inspire throughout this series. And Gordon-Levitt gives him a touchingly, human dimension – in many ways, he is the supporting character you remember most about this movie. And yes, Tom Hardy is great as Bane – no he is not as good as Ledger was as The Joker, but the role wasn’t meant to compete with that. Bane has always been the most animalistic of the Batman villains (not the subhuman freak that Joel Schumacher’s film made him out to be), and Hardy, behind that mask, with that strange, breathy voice truly is terrifying.

The ending of the film will be much debated – with some already questioning whether or not Nolan ended the series on the right note. I for one, think he did. Yes, I could have done with an action climax a little more believable – the ticking time bomb clock has been done to death, as has Batman’s response to it. But that was pretty much necessary for Batman/Bruce Wayne’s character arc. In a very real way, Christian Bale has had to play three characters in these films – two of which are merely masks for the third. There is of course the gravelly voiced Batman, defender of Gotham City and the billionaire, irresponsible, playboy image he cultivates so no one will guess his secret. The third is the real Bruce Wayne – seen only rarely throughout the series in his quiet, reflective moments. As Rachel writes him in The Dark Knight, the Bruce she loved never came back at all from his seven year hiatus at the beginning of Batman Begins. In that film, he had to sacrifice his true self so he could become Batman – and in The Dark Knight Rises, he has to sacrifice Batman so he can rediscover who he really is.

I understand that much of this review talks about the Nolan Batman films as a whole group, rather than The Dark Knight Rises as an individual film. That is because I find it impossible not to talk about the series as a whole when discussing this film. While you could watch Batman Begins or The Dark Knight as individually contained films (yes, they inform each other, but no you don’t have to see one to appreciate the other). The Dark Knight Rises is the type of film that couldn’t exist without the other two. Unlike most superhero series, where the only thing that changes from one movie to the next is the villains (this was certainly true of the Burton/Schumacher Batman films), the Nolan Batman films build as they go along – leading to this final chapter when everything comes together. As a film unto itself, The Dark Knight Rises is great entertainment – filled with great action sequences (perhaps the best of the series so far, as they seem a little less muddled than before). The cinematography by Wally Pfister is once again top notch – this time much more in the day than at night, which is when pretty much all of the previous films took place. The performances are across the board top notch (someone not getting nearly enough attention is Michael Caine, who all through this series has succeeded in making the ever faithful Alfred into a real character and not just the dry, witty fount of comic relief he is often used as). Yes, the film could probably have been cut down a little bit – at two hours and forty-five minutes is the longest superhero movie I can remember – but I was never once bored by the film. Yes, there are logic flaws at points – mostly in terms of some of Bane’s motivations, although I do believe that for the most part, those flaws were in the movie to develop the movie thematically and move the story along. As a film by itself, The Dark Knight Rises is far and away the best blockbuster this summer has to offer. And when taken as part of Nolan`s trilogy as a whole, The Dark Knight Rises becomes more than the sum of its parts.


  1. This comes close to three hours, but it didn’t matter to me, because I just couldn’t take my eyes off of this from start to finish. The story did hit some pit-falls here and there, but they weren’t enough to take me out of the grand, epic scale of this movie and I have to give a lot of that credit to Nolan who ends everything in a nice little set-up that I think Batman, as well as all of these other characters, deserve. Great review Dave.

  2. this movie is just "wow" for me... easily one of the best movies so far... chris nolan is my hero...!!