THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Review

Much like its predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises is not just a movie but an experience that deserves to be viewed for the impact it will leave on you. I will do my best to keep my personal love for the series contained and not to the point I find no faults with it, certainly there are a few and I can notice that and take those into consideration when evaluating the film. Still, when discussing a movie of this magnitude I also feel that it cannot seriously be taken as a commonplace review, a piece of entertainment that can be so easily dismissed. Even if it did not meet the expectations of what one might have wanted from the film, it can not be denied that it will still be of a higher quality, more of a thoughtful, ambitious, and exquisitely made movie than you have seen or will see the rest of the year. I was completely happy with it. The Dark Knight was a piece of work that will likely stand the test of time and be considered more of a landmark film than this third entry if not for anything other than the performance and character Heath Ledger created. There appears no such disoriented character in the third and final movie but that second film earned this final chapter the opportunity to be even darker and more of an orchestrated chaos tale that reaches a scale no longer seen in cinema today. This is, in many ways, a throwback to those grandiose films of the past that brought to life the unthinkable through practical thought. It is an inspired movie that does justice to the two films prior and brings the story of a man halted in his development and driven to extreme lengths for the cause of justice to a beautiful and satisfying close.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) slowly allow the real world back in.
As I previously mentioned the first act would likely leave any fan of Batman or Nolan's films a bit worried about where all of this might be going and if he will be able to continue to pull of what is in many aspects a fantastical tale with many outlandish characters in a way that feels just as real and gritty as his previous entries in the Batman story. The opening sequence is very much like that of The Dark Knight, an introduction to our main villain in the film that exercises his capacity for destruction while illustrating their depth of thought. The clear distinction between that of the Joker and Bane is Bane's physicality. From day one it has been a question of how Batman might fare against a real physical threat, something he had never truly been asked to encounter before. In Bane's introduction we know nothing of what is to come but we can tell what he is planning will be something on a massive scale. The simple exchange between he and a henchmen where he tells the man he must sacrifice himself and there is no resistance to his word demonstrates the kind of power he has. That it is not simply an intimidation factor, but a superiority of intelligence that will lead him to be a formidable challenge for the Batman, especially considering Bruce Wayne has been retired for eight years and has become a recluse. What Nolan has always been praised for and has pulled off so flawlessly is his ability to mesh his story and spectacle. While this was pulled off in near perfect execution with The Dark Knight Nolan escalates the scale for his Batman swan song while twisting a tale to match that holds more surprises than any other chapter while still digging just as deep into the psyche of our protagonist.

The entire point in telling this story, the main theme throughout has been to create the character of Batman as a symbol rather than a man. To make the citizens of Gotham believe their savior could be any one of them. Bruce Wayne the man, has turned to these tools of "theatrics and deception" as a means to present his symbolic alter ego as a catalyst for change in a city his deceased parents cared so much for. As he discovered who he was, what he wanted and needed to be in Batman Begins this idea was only pushed and questioned further in The Dark Knight. With the antics of the Joker bringing up the dilemma of whether the way Bruce had chosen to go about achieving his hopes was actually inspiring change or inspiring an army who wanted to fight for what the Batman stood for. Bruce only ever wanted to bring Gotham back to the days of prospering economics and peaceful existence, but instead has seemed to inspire as much bad as good, possibly caused more trouble than he has been able to rid. There is more to the quest of Batman than going out and fighting bad guys one by one though, and that is what the symbol is present for. That is what made the ending of The Dark Knight so profound, so utterly unexpected, and leaving it open for what would no doubt be an even more engaging and complex third act.

Where The Joker wanted to watch the world burn, Bane (Tom Hardy) is here to pull the trigger on the grenade. 
And with that, Rises opens to what feels like a cold and barren time of peace. The twist here is that all of this, the low crime rates and prospering citizens, is all based on the lie that Batman killed the idealistic and righteous Harvey Dent rather than letting them know the truth in that even their "White Knight" was corruptable at the hands of the Joker. This has clearly weighed heavily on Commissioner Gordon (a wonderfully honed in Gary Oldman) as it does on Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne who is now more regarded as a Howard Hughes-type than the playboy billionaire we watched him pull off so well in the first two films. When Bruce is forced back into the world at the hands of two women, it is with an instant feeling of dread that he knows the lie can only be covered up for so long, before the roof's blown off and the truth is exposed. That is where the mercenary Bane steps in. As the bombastic terrorist, actor Tom Hardy has little more to work with than his eyes yet he uses them to his advantage as they speak mountains more than his muzzled mouth and muffled speech could ever manage. Bane comes to Gotham looking to finish what was started long ago. This leads to a somewhat similar trapping that Batman Begins fell into, having a weaponized tool from Wayne Enterprises stolen and used to his advantage but we buy it and Nolan learned from his misstep as the focus here is more on the characters motivations rather than following the structure of what a superhero film might be expected to fulfill. Tying in Wayne Enterprises also means the introduction to a new board member who catches the eye of a Bruce Wayne trying to re-introduce himself to a society he once stood at the top of. Miranda Tate, as played by one of three Inception alum Marion Cotillard, is sly and sexy, but is also the one relationship of the film that feels underdeveloped for proving to be such a critical point.

In what is a more minor, side character than I expected her to be (and also my biggest worry going into the film) is Anne Hathaway who ends up pulling off Selina Kyle with a sultry flair that does justice to her cat burglar profession while also possessing a fantastic sense of sarcasm that takes full advantage of those that underestimate her strength due to her sex. The character stays true to Nolan's world by being more of a femme fatale type con-woman rather than a campy thief who wears a costume to be provocative. Hathaway is never referenced to as Catwoman and I liked that choice of not labeling the characters with names as if they were media sensations. For the same reasons I love little choices like throwing "the" in front of Batman, it simply gives the whole world a better sense of credibility; not to mention reinforcing that allusion to the bat being more a symbol than a character itself. It is likely a wise choice that Nolan and his screenwriting collaborator/brother decided to keep Kyle to a minimum as her presence is certainly welcomed and her storyline integrated nicely into the multi-layered plot, but her character gets to no real exposition or backstory. There is far too much else going on here to give everyone their due, but the cuts are wisely made. We see what we need to see and though I feared if anything was going to shake the foundation Nolan had built for his bat trilogy that it might be Catwoman, I was proven wrong not only by Hathaway's performance but by the naturalistic sense with how she came to be a part of and continued to fit into the world of both Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is a sneaky cat burglar.
What idea the character of Selina Kyle does push forward in the film is that of the economic crisis that has always loomed over Gotham yet the fact remained there was an elitist group of wealthy that included our heroes alter-ego, Mr. Wayne. It has always been a fact of the story that Wayne was a billionaire and that this fact is what separated him from the others that could not make the statement he chose to make. In being born into such wealth he was not only blessed with money, but with what he came to see as a responsibility. Sure, this allows him the luxury of all the cool gadgets Lucius Fox (the always reliable Morgan Freeman) supplies him with, but in this large and deep movie Nolan also touches on this unavoidable fact in reference to the world around him. He is making a statement about the current status of our society and those who have too much, or all they want and those who struggle every day to get by. It makes a case for having a real message without alluding to the easy target of politics. I honestly don't think Nolan intends to mirror the political landscape of America at the moment with these themes and characters. Those parallels can naturally be drawn when such care is taken to provide a story about a society and how it functions when rooted in as stable a reality as Nolan has. What The Dark Knight Rises does is to show the economic downfall of its most prized possession: Bruce Wayne himself. He is bankrupted after years of neglecting his company and some slight tinkering from the new guy in town. And from here the bottom just continues to fall out from under him. Bruce Wayne, not Batman, is knocked down so many times in this film he is pushed to a point that is in one instance total desperation and determination. He is literally and emotionally forced to crawl out of a very dark place, that same place he fell into as a boy, and we are with him every step of that emotional journey. This not only solidified my belief in this movie as a success, but as a relevant and important piece of filmmaking that shows the basic elements of good vs. evil are much more complex when there is a history to them and the person fighting for good has just as much pain as those fighting for evil. It is even more powerful when we realize the strength it took in a person to fall into that former category.  

Speaking of those falling into the category of good, while Bane Terrorizes, Miranda Tate takes over Wayne Enterprises, and Selina Kyle slinks around with an agenda of her own that gets her caught up in the eye of the storm we also have Gordon who is put out of commission by the masked terrorist and a new character mysteriously titled with a generic name that sees something much more going on than the lie that has saved Gotham for the past eight years. In a role that almost takes over the duty of Batman for the first half of the film John Blake, a young and idealistic cop played in an environment of pure cynicism with vigor and heart by Joseph Gordon-Levitt quickly ascends to become the right hand man of the Commissioner. Through the course of The Dark Knight Rises Blake comes to be our view of the world. Our set of eyes as Alfred (played again, but with stronger emotionality than ever by Michael Caine) is limited to a shorter amount of screen time. Blake knows the truth of the conspiracy as we do, he understands that Batman is the hero, even moreso for what he has taken the fall for. In this idea that Batman and Gordon had to keep the truth of what really happened a secret from society in order for it to bring about change is where Nolan inclinates his biggest social commentary. That the idea that the truth is too much, too painful or damaging for people to handle is to say that we as a race, as a society of human beings are unable to deal with the harsh truth sometimes. That is a scary thought and as a movie goer it isn't exactly where you would like to see things go. This idea is turns out to be a positive attribute for the film though in that it never takes you down a road you feel you've traveled before. In all its layers of story with massive amounts of action we never know what is around the corner and with stakes that high, it matches the level of tension we felt as an audience while watching the Joker blow up a hospital or fail to corrupt the truly incorruptible.

Batman returns after an eight year absence to Gotham City.
With all of that said, this does feel like the true completion of the greatest trilogy ever put to film. Chris Nolan has taken movies about superheroes to a place no one has ever been before and will likely ever venture to again. Everything about the film is gorgeous, from the pounding and perfectly placed Hans Zimmer score (I especially liked how the music dropped out during the first showdown between Batman and Bane) to the cinematography by consistent Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister. Having over an hour of this two hour and forty-five minute film shot in actual IMAX makes this a must see in the format and hopefully a signal for Hollywood to change its trend of chasing the 3D and switch to this much more rewarding way of watching movies. It takes us back to a storytelling that creates a world we as an audience can get caught up in, lost even, not only because of its bigness but because the image is as important as the storytelling. The scale completely influences the story. It raises the stakes on a situation that was already extremely heightened. This story of great depth features an amazing ensemble, all of which are at the top of their game, only enhancing the quality of the viewing experience.  

Chris Nolan set the bar ridiculously high for himself with The Dark Knight, but this final film in his trilogy is every bit as visionary and as epic a piece of filmmaking. It should also be noted I think that each film is very much its own. With a mood to itself and an idea that takes each new movie that one step further into why this story is so captivating in the first place. Where Batman Begins was in many ways a story of romantic ideals, The Dark Knight was a sleek piece of chaos and The Dark Knight Rises is a bleak and painful account of how that chaos has left the world it affected. The verdict of a movie should always come down to the feeling it leaves you with though and with this film I left the theater after the credits and I was happy. It had a power over me, it left an impact with serious weight that captures a specific moment in time. I have no issue with acknowledging my moments of nervousness through the first few scenes in the film. Whether it be that my expectations were so high I began to worry too early this would not be what I wanted or maybe after repeat viewings I will actually find there is an incoherent tone to the first act remains to be seen, but I can look past a few small complaints because what this film builds to is one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had with any kind of film.