The Dark Knight Rises★★★★

July 20, 2012Movies, Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises (Poster).pngSuperheroes are enduring. Villains, pain, loss, or even death, superheroes in comics find a way. In 2005, Christopher Nolan came out with his take on Batman. It was a hyper-real world in which actions had lasting consequences and as we were to soon find out, death was final. Seven years later, Nolan revisits his Gotham City for one last time in The Dark Knight Rises. In doing so, he brings back a sweeping arc of themes and characters to finish Bruce Wayne’s journey. Nolan doesn’t provide us with answers to the philosophical questions he has raised in each film. Instead, he is content in giving us a satisfying conclusion to the characters and their arcs.

The Dark Knight Rises is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. At the end of the latter, Harvey Dent was hailed as a hero. The cutting down of Harvey the White Knight brought forth the Dent Act. Gotham has become a cleaner city. Batman a villain, Bruce Wayne turns into a recluse in his rebuilt Wayne Manor. However, it is not long before the events of the world tease Bruce back into the shadows.

If Batman Begins was an adventure, and The Dark Knight was a psychological drama, then The Dark Knight Rises is a suspense thriller. The movie revels in perfectly timed reveals that provide the beats for the film. The first of these is the new villain Bane. In a daring airplane attack and escape, the movie sets a tone for just how grand its set pieces will be. Bane is the antithesis of Batman, a masked man who wears his mask not by choice. Bane puts together a dedicated force under the sewers of Gotham to topple the City from the bottom.

Awaiting the Police.pngTom Hardy’s Bane is larger than life. Bane is from the same mold as other characters in Nolan’s world. Meticulous, he provides a challenge to Bruce that is both physical and mental—a page from the comics. Unfortunately Bane has less of the distinguishing features that previous villains, notably Heath Ledger’s Joker, had that made them so unique. In a mechanically tinted voice, Hardy has a hard time properly emoting through his mask. He attempts to convey as much as he can through his eyes, but unfortunately that only takes him so far. However, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is a shift from the characters portrayed in this world.Catwoman at work.png She is the only character in the trilogy without an agenda. Not once through the movie is Selina referred to by her alias, but she borrows heavily from her comic book counterpart. Selina’s motives are her own and she traverses the line of good and evil as it benefits her. Anne Hathaway holds her own against the established hero and the new villain. She also levitates the mood of grim and brooding, so much so that she is missed whenever she is off-screen.

Nolan’s Batman movies have mixed the established requirements of action, explosions and cool toys with thematic questions of morality and change. These themes are continued in the final installment. Unfortunately, they are neither brought to a whole nor fully realized. Since the first movie, Nolan has consistently asked whether change can be affected from inside the system. The movie’s villains hold an opposite view. For them only a clean slate, tabula rasa, will purge the underbelly of Gotham. In the first and last movie, the villains provide this outside change by razing Gotham. The second movie demonstrated the possible failure inherent with change from within through the character of Dent. The Dent Act in this latest installment asks the question whether a police state is a valid response to combat such lawlessness. The answer or directoral preference is never finally revealed, though the binary nature of good and evil has hamstrung any real exploration.

Showdown with Bane.pngA trope of the superhero genre, Batman through each of the three movies always stands for good and those opposed to him fall on the side of evil. Though in The Dark Knight Nolan attempted to search the nooks and crevices of this line, the Batman and the Joker ultimately stood on clearly opposite sides. In the final installment, Nolan does not go further to subvert our perception of these tropes. Instead, Batman is raised by the people into a longing savior. His actions move from any murky gray of vigilantism into steadfast good, the binary growing more discrete. As Bane stands on the prison steps and delivers a speech of the people in rhetoric of the French Revolution, he only talks a good talk and these people are only pawns. The line ultimately is one of “loss of life,” one too simple to draw in the real world Nolan created.

As the last movie in the trilogy, the film also picks up some themes raised solely in the first movie. Batman’s place as a symbol beyond the man is of paramount importance, as Bruce’s journey comes to its end. In bringing the trilogy to a close, Nolan takes pains to emphasize that a superhero is not a lone symbol of change. One man alone cannot achieve it all and true change is brought only through the effort of a group of concerned individuals. The Dark Knight Rises brings back Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. Added to this group of individuals is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s earnest cop, John Blake. In changing Gotham, Batman needs those around him—from the police to his confidants—just as they need the Batman. This is Nolan’s last word on the genre, never one man alone.

A Christopher Nolan production is now a top-notch affair with each team bringing their best. The cinematography of Wally Pfister is breathtaking in IMAX and the sound continues the resounding bass that has been a staple of the Batman movies. The special effects are so grounded in real stunts that picking out the CGI is almost impossible. Christopher Nolan started his career with the flashback fueled Memento and that skill is used to full effect as three movies of story lines and character motivations are tied up. The camera in the action sequences has lost its manufactured frenzy and the scenes benefit from this immensely. Mostly importantly, as the third act ties together six different and concurrent story lines, Nolan’s editing does a great job of keeping the audience thoroughly informed even with its kinetic pace.

Gathering for a fight.pngAs The Dark Knight Rises plays out its coda, it provides a satisfying conclusion that was unimaginable seven years ago, but inevitable in hindsight. Though Nolan attempted to raise the genre by asking hard questions, he never went beyond simply raising them. Nolan may have been saddled by the conventions of comic books, but just maybe he was more intent on entertaining us. Like the first two movies, The Dark Knight Rises provides such entertainment even though the subject matter inches towards the darker. Along the way, Christopher Nolan did indeed take Batman and comic books to some place new.