I’m not sure yet if it quite holds up to deeper scrutiny, but my in-the-moment response to The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s exactly what you’d want and expect for the concluding chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. You’ve got the spectacle, the angst, the gloom, the thematic grandiosity and the gravity, but there’s also a bit more humor and emotion, a bit more sex appeal and, perhaps for the first time since Nolan took over, Batman himself isn’t upstaged by every other character in the film.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Dark Knight was watching Bruce Wayne walk the moral tightrope of vigilantism. He had the power and the clear cut sense of right and wrong, so why not exercise that power? And exercise it he did. From rendition to a surveillance system that the NSA could only dream about, it’s not for nothing Wayne was compared in some analyses to George W. Bush. In the end though, Wayne realizes that the law as a symbol is more important than order by itself so he agreed at the end of the film to return to the shadows a fugitive while the mantle of hero was placed around the shoulders of fallen District Attorney Harvey Dent. The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years later with Batman’s whereabouts unknown, Bruce Wayne a recluse, his empire crumbling and the fragile peace of Gotham City about to be shattered by the revelation that it’s based on a lie.
The villain this time is the mysterious Bane (Tom Hardy), who we’re introduced to in a spectacular opening involving a midair hijacking and a kidnapped nuclear scientist. Coming across like The Road Warrior’s Lord Humungous if he was a Mexican wrestler and sounding like Sean Connery crossed with Darth Vader, Bane is one of the creepiest and most ferocious of all Bat-villains. Bent on destruction, he sets his sights on Gotham with a plan to finish the job left incomplete by R’as al Ghul in Batman Begins.
Loosely involved with the businessman who believes he can harness Bane’s power to help him take over Wayne Industries is cat burglar Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. As Kyle, Anne Hathaway is no Michelle Pfeiffer, but she doesn’t try to be and she brings a welcome note of humor and sexiness to the often too-serious and asexual franchise. Though frightening, Bane is a charmless villain, particularly compared to Heath Ledger’s magnificent Joker, and Hathaway goes a long way toward bridging the personality gap. At the same time, she dials back her performance a little bit. She’s an actress who can sometimes come across overeager to impress, but here she’s relaxed and confident, just like her character. It says a lot that the film sags a little during a middle stretch when she’s conspicuously absent.
Though the “just gargled with hot gravel” voice he uses as Batman even to people who know Batman is Bruce Wayne sounds as silly as ever, this might be my favorite Christian Bale Batman performance. He’s not just brooding and not just angsty. Though he starts out the story as a hermit, The Dark Knight Rises is all about reconciling the man and the myth and there’s a real human edge to the character this time around as he slowly finds himself.
Nolan has shown repeatedly that he has an eye and an imagination for pure spectacle and he delivers once again, starting with the previously mentioned hijacking. He still has a frustratingly impressionistic and choppy handling of action sequences, but by this point you have to acknowledge it as an intentional aesthetic rather than as incompetence. It is what it is. I don’t personally care for it, but a lot of people do. Plus, if anything, it feels like there’s more action this time around and it has a little more spatial coherence than normal. Maybe I just knew what to expect and tried harder to make visual sense of it going in. Anyway, impressionistically edited or not, the Bat copter is really cool.
In terms of the plot, some of it in retrospect doesn’t make a lot of sense though in the moment there were no glaring plot holes. I don’t understand why Bane’s plot took 5 months to execute (other than the fact that a lot of stuff had to happen in between) for example, but maybe that’ll be more clear after another viewing.
Thematically, I’m not sure The Dark Knight Rises is quite as satisfying as the previous film’s engaging puzzle box of ideas, but these too might get stronger on repeat viewings. Whereas we were all still preoccupied with terrorism and our national response to it in 2008, this time Nolan turns his eyes toward the country’s class divisions typified by the occupy Wall Street movement. He’s on record as saying part of the film’s inspiration came from A Tale of Two Cities and there’s a very real sense of how, as in Dickens, anger can be subverted and used to a bad end no matter how righteous that anger is to begin with. Bane uses class anger as a shield to justify his campaign as a popular uprising. While the film for a while feels like the nightmares of the 1% come to life with unruly, angry mobs taking over the city, the sacrifices of at least three characters in the end shows Nolan’s sympathies lie not with the powers of individualism and laissez faire capitalism, but in the hearts of decent people doing the right thing regardless of the personal consequences.
With The Dark Knight, I complained that the material and inherent violence really deserved an R-rated treatment. No one agreed with me, but I still think it’s dishonest to justify a comic book movie as being more adult on one hand and saying it should be scrubbed clean for kids on the other. I continue to find consequence free violence to be offensive and tonally it’s at odds with the adult nature of the rest of the film. The same goes for The Dark Knight Rises. It would be a better film if it hadn’t had to be sanitized and shrink-wrapped for pre-teens, but I also understand the economics involved in the decision.
Despite not having to include an origin story, The Dark Knight Rises comes in at a full 30 minutes longer than the already lengthy Batman Begins and 15 minutes longer than The Dark Knight. Nevertheless, it manages to keep you fully engaged. As I said, there are some draggy spots especially when Hathaway isn’t on screen, but it never wears out its welcome. The ending is a little too neat and it reeks of unnecessary fan service, but I have to also admit it was emotionally satisfying and a worthy bow tied on top of what turned out to be a pretty terrific trilogy.
Filed under: Review