The summer blockbuster season hits its peak this weekend with the release of the long-awaited conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman saga. To call this film “highly-anticipated” would be an understatement.
In Batman Begins (2005), Nolan took a franchise that had declined into a punchline about nipples and gave us a darker, layered, and more reality-based re-imagining of the story of the billionaire vigilante (Christian Bale). The next chapter, 2008’s The Dark Knight, was a critical and commercial juggernaut, managing to surpass the previous film to redefine the genre of the superhero movie. Needless to say, the expectations for the third, and final, installment were high. Pretty much impossibly high.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the end of the last film. Crime is down in Gotham, a result of “The Dent Act” which was introduced after the death of Harvey Dent, now revered as a hero by the city thanks to Batman taking the blame for the crimes he committed as Two-Face as well as for killing Dent himself. Only Bruce Wayne and Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) know the truth. Gordan is troubled by this secret and wants to set the record straight but can’t seem to work up the nerve to. Wayne, well he’s just troubled. Now a recluse, the man formerly known as Batman is shattered, emotionally and physically. He’s unshaven, lives in his PJ’s, walks with a cane, and speaks only to loyal butler/best friend Alfred (Michael Caine).
Say it ain’t so Batman!
Wayne Enterprises is falling apart too, no longer turning a profit after the shutdown of a clean energy project, but he’s in too much of a funk to notice or care.
Bruce still has plenty of money to throw some swanky parties at Wayne Manor though, not that he ever attends any of them. During one shindig, a cat(!) burglar (Anne Hathaway) disguised as one of the maids sneaks into his off-limit chambers, cracks his uncrackable safe, and makes off with a pearl necklace (between the title and the pearl necklace bit, the porno version of this movie writes itself). After being busted via a hot confrontation, the mysterious woman escapes and disappears into the night. Wayne soon discovers that in addition to the contents of the safe, she’s also lifted his fingerprints. This sparks something in Wayne and he heads into the Batcave for the first time in years to fire up the old computer (which is probably way behind in software updates by now) and do some detective work to find out who she is and what she plans to do with his prints. Tracking her down sets off a chain of events leading to something much, much bigger, and Wayne, and eventually Batman, must face his greatest challenge yet, both external and internal.
Nolan had a huge task on his hands for this film just to be on par with, let alone exceed The Dark Knight (and to an extent, the overshadowed Batman Begins). He certainly stepped up to it and while I personally wouldn’t say the latter was accomplished, the final act in his story of Batman/Bruce Wayne is nothing short of a successful achievement. All of the elements of the first two films in the series are present and a marathon viewing of three back-to-back (to back) flow into a complete and fulfilling journey exploring the very real-life subjects of fear, chaos, and pain, Nolan’s themes for each film respectively. This trilogy has set the bar for the genre, a bar that I just can’t see being met anytime soon.
Christian Bale is very much to thank for this. He changed the face of Batman. He complicated Batman. He will forever be many people’s favorite Batman (even with the voice). After taking a backseat to Heath Ledger in the last film, this time around it’s his show. More than any other actor that has ever portrayed the character, Bale reminds us that the Batman is, well, a man. He doesn’t have superpowers. He has faults. Bale superbly illustrates this in his scenes as Bruce Wayne. And this is definitely more a Bruce Wayne film than a Batman one.
When Anne Hathaway was announced as Catwoman, there was much speculation as to whether it was a casting misstep. (Cough…Katie Holmes) I had my doubts too. However, those doubts were quickly dismissed in about five minutes once her character morphed from timid maid to slinky criminal in her first meeting with Wayne. Really, she’s fantastic and nearly steals the entire movie. Every moment she’s on-screen she kills it. Her mannerisms, speech patterns… she is Catwoman, even if she’s never referred to it by name.
No meowing here.
Tom Hardy had some huge shoes to fill as the main antagonist. And while his Bane is never as maniacally menacing as Ledger’s Joker, he sure is scary. Larger than life and seemingly indestructible, Bane is Goliath to Batman’s David. He’s Andre the Giant to Batman’s Hulk Hogan. He’s Drago to Batman’s Rocky.
Okay, you get the point.
Hardy does an exceptional job acting with his eyes and body language, since the majority of his face is hidden behind a mask and his voice is distorted.
Also new to the saga, but not to Nolan’s films, are Joseph Gordan-Levitt as John Blake, an idealistic rookie police officer and Marion Cotillard, a Wayne Enterprises board member named Miranda Tate. Gordan-Levitt once again proves himself to be one of the best actors of his generation and the chemistry between his and Bale’s characters made me wish they had more scenes together. I can’t say the same for Cotillard–hers is the most underdeveloped of the leads, but there is a reason for that.
“Wait, is this a dream?”
Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox) reprise their roles and are, of course, flawless, which each getting an important story arc. Well, not so much Freeman, though he delivers one of the funniest lines in the film.
Speaking of, something else I loved about The Dark Knight Rises was the comic relief. Make no mistakes, this is a dark, dark film and while there wasn’t a whole lot of it (though more than The Dark Knight), when used, it was used smartly and provided a welcome break. My favorite instance has to be a cameo of a former character that is just so perfect the entire audience at the screening I attended reacted. Some even broke into applause. It’s delicious. I won’t say any more about it for the two of you that haven’t seen the film yet.
The action scenes, though fewer than the previous films, are as big and spectacular as one would hope they would be. Never resorting to cheap tricks like excessive CGI, jerky camera work, or 3-D, Nolan’s action sequences are easy to follow and look real. The football stadium scene made me wish I had attended an IMAX screening.
Also, I want one of these.
With a retelling so mature and grounded in reality, Nolan cleverly side-steps the campiness of too many characters having “superhero” names. As I mentioned, Hathaway is never directly referred to as Catwoman. Her costume’s “ears” are actually night vision goggles pushed back on her head. Also, a one word reveal of another character at the end of the film is all that is needed for a rewarding “a-ha!” moment.
Hans Zimmer once again has constructed a perfect score which enhances but never distracts from what’s happening on screen. The music (or at times, lack of) seamlessly and beautifully complements and punctuates every visual.
My final toast is to the ending. As a whole, the film is by no means perfect, but the last ten or so minutes is. It brilliantly ties up all the loose ends and gives us closure on the complex character we’ve followed for the past seven years. I’ve head some arguments that the ending is ambiguous. Though I’m sure it will be debated for years, it most certainly is not. Sorry folks, no spinning tops here.
I wish I didn’t have to do this, but I have to assign a second beer for the middle. This was the only time in film that I was reminded of the nearly three-hour long running time.
(May contain spoilers)
Batman is temporarily defeated and left to suffer while Bane occupies (sorry, had to) Gotham. I understand Nolan’s reason for the extended scenes of Wayne’s suffering—he’s broke, broken (literally), and all hope seems lost for the Batman ever returning. He needs to find his inner strength and rebuild himself once again.
Yeah, again. See, the thing is, we already just saw 45 minutes of this in the beginning of the film so even though the obstacles are amplified and the consequences are much greater, it doesn’t have as much of an impact as it should.
Meanwhile, the chaos erupting in Gotham is really not as chaotic as you would think it would be with the entire police force sequestered and the prisoners freed and armed. We see a few socialites get their purses snatched, but everyone pretty much just stays in their homes. The whole class warfare subplot (which is way too topical to be a complete coincidence) concludes with a big showdown between the police and the rioters that, while massive, is pretty disappointing and anticlimactic, resembling a WWE Battle Royale more than a brutal kill-or-be-killed war.
You can almost see the background actors going over the choreographed punches in their heads.
It’s also during the takeover of Gotham and Bane’s “giving power to people” segments that many questions regarding plot holes pop up, either during the film or in hindsight.
Still, most of this is forgiven once the finale kicks in and we get back to the action.
Though a bit overlong and sometimes over-ambitious, The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy and satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s masterpiece of a series.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: at every first appearance of a returning character.
Take a Drink: for every new fancy gadget.
Take a Drink: whenever you wish there were more new fancy gadgets.
Take a Drink: people still can’t figure out Batman is Bruce Wayne?
Take a Drink: when the derpy football player realizes what just happened.
Take a Drink (and pat yourself on the back): if you were able to figure out the big plot twist.
Take a Shot: if Bane’s mask reminds you of something you wish you never saw on the internet.
Bane’s real mask was hotlinked.
PERSONAL NOTE: It’s a shame that this film will forever be associated with the horrific and senseless actions of a coward. I can’t begin to imagine the pain so many people are experiencing. In their honor, take a minute and tell someone you love them.