Review: The Dark Knight Rises

To classify The Dark Knight Rises as a comic book movie would be doing it a serious injustice. From the outset of his venture to cinematically realize Batman, Christopher Nolan has strived not simply to imbue this darkest of heroes in a realistic, grounded world, but to truly transcend his genre trappings. Much like his protagonist strives throughout the trilogy to symbolize something more than a hero, the films Nolan has made, including this powerful conclusion, strive to exceed what is expected contemporary Hollywood blockbuster fare. This aspiration comes to complete fulfillment in The Dark Knight Rises, not only an epic in every sense of the word, but more vitally, a portrait of a man and a city.

At the conclusion of The Dark Knight when the caped crusader sped away into the night, expectations for Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his trilogy were astronomical. Following up eight years after the cover up over the death of Harvey Dent, it should be noted that this film is highly different from its predecessor, much like The Dark Knight was a night and day difference from Batman Begins. Where the first film was a foreboding and gothic origin tale, the second film was a gritty and intense crime saga. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan expands the canvas of Gotham exponentially, crafting a revolutionary war epic. This is what makes Nolan’s trilogy quite special: where most trilogies tend to have a similar overall look, feel, sound, and taste, each of Nolan’s films stands apart from the other.

At the heart of The Dark Knight Rises is Bruce Wayne, who, after the death of his parents and Rachel Dawes, has allowed pain to dominate his life. At the start of the film, he is a recluse, a hermit who has not been seen in public for years, but soon enough he is called upon to take up his cowl when the ostensibly cool layer of lies protecting Gotham from the truth begins to crumble and a devious mercenary named Bane arrives. It feels like Christian Bale never seems to get enough credit for his role in these films, especially when one considers that he is, in truth, delivering three distinct performances. The first is the private Bruce Wayne, a haunted soul who yearns for catharsis, but looks in the wrong places. The second is the public Bruce Wayne, the billionaire playboy whose eccentric antics mask his private persona. Finally, there is Batman, the vigilante whose actions, for better or worse, come to define him (just as he admitted in Batman Begins). The fact that Bale has been able to make these three distinct performances all gel within the soul of one man is a true testament to his talent and the most underrated aspect of both this film and the trilogy as a whole.

Batman’s primary nemesis in this film is Bane, played with delicious verve and charisma by Tom Hardy. To compare his performance to that of Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight would be a mistake, however. Where the Joker was a devilish, gleeful anarchist, Bane is a deadly serious militant, a revolutionary whose plans for Gotham are made clear immediately. His physical presence imposing, Bane’s introduction in the film makes it clear that his brain matches his brawn. For the first time in the trilogy, Nolan presents Batman with a physical challenge and the effects are devastating. Of course, Bane is not simply bulk alone. As the film delves into his background, and as he begins to take control of Gotham, Bane’s speeches are of a fascinating nature, evoking the charismatic but insane tyrants of history, particularly Vladimir Lenin. Reactions to his portrayal may be divisive, but for the film’s purposes, Hardy’s performance is one of the film’s greatest assets.

Speaking of assets, there was a high amount of public skepticism associated with the casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, whose alter ego is the well known Catwoman. Her character is iconic for sure, both from cinema and the illustrated page, but Hathaway’s performance lives up entirely to the expectations put upon her. Displaying all of Kyle’s characteristics effortlessly, from her seductive dialogue to her duplicitous and complex nature, Hathaway integrates herself seamlessly into Nolan’s Gotham, and proves herself to be as much of a match to Batman as Bane is for different reasons. The remainder of the cast here is quite strong and committed here, from familiar faces such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman, to new blood such as the fresh cop John Blake played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a Bruce’s new love interest Miranda Tate, as portrayed by Marion Cotillard.

With each film, Christopher Nolan’s cinema becomes more expansive, and his realization of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises is taken to truly grand heights. Chief in realizing this is the jaw dropping photography from Wally Pfister, who is now a complete master of the IMAX format. Nathan Crowley’s production design is also highly commendable, especially with keeping everything grounded in Nolan’s reality. As an epic, nothing stands out more in The Dark Knight Rises than Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score, a reflection of the clash Bane’s merciless power and of Batman’s enduring strength. The best technical aspect of the film is easily the editing, which exercises both in parallel and cross cutting at times, for which Nolan had mastered so well with Inception.

Thematically, The Dark Knight Rises may very well be Christopher Nolan’s richest work to date. As Bane wreaks havoc across the city, one cannot help but draw parallels to historical events such as the French and Russian revolutions. The fact that the film was shot in several real American cities (including Pittsburgh) does not deter from any coherence of Gotham in the slightest. On the contrary, it actually supports the idea that Gotham could represent any American city for the time and place in which these films occur. A few key events and thematic moments of the film are highly reflective of America over the past decade, and are thus synthesized into a single American city. Of course, this film is as much about the individual as it is about the populace, and its investigation of tragedy of Bruce Wayne’s life and his ultimate destiny is truly rewarding. It also reevaluates the purpose of Batman in whole scope of the saga, questioning whether his actions have truly inspired anything at all. Two significant scenes occur just prior to the third act that clarify this question without a doubt, both within the mind of Bruce Wayne and in the minds of Gotham’s ailing citizens.

Though it may appear that I am singing its praises, I must admit that as much as I loved The Dark Knight Rises, it is not quite a perfect film. There are several nits to be picked, be they minor moments that are lacking in execution, or brief narrative passages that don’t necessarily cohere, but in the grand scope of things they are barely deterrents. After all, I had a couple issues with The Dark Knight too. It should be known without question that Christopher Nolan’s achievement here with The Dark Knight Rises completes his aspirations for a saga he began years ago. Batman has existed for decades, and Nolan’s contribution deserves to stand as a highlight in the history of the character. In the end, this is the true genius of The Dark Knight Rises and the trilogy as a whole: The portrait of a fictional city here and the man at the center of it stands as a portrait of a nation, making it as culturally significant now as it will be historically significant in the future.


~ by romancinema on July 21, 2012.

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