Monday, September 3, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Much time passed between my first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises and my writing of this review.  Actually much time has passed between now and my second viewing too, a delay due an urge to give this film the necessary attention in this post.  It had probably been since The Return of the King that I had been this excited for a film.  While The Dark Knight Rises is not the greatest film ever made (like so many were expecting), Christopher Nolan’s third and final chapter in his Batman trilogy packs a ton to take in; I needed time to see it again, let it stew in my brain, and devout a good deal of time to write about it (and also time to get lazy, wait too long to write about it, and then wait to see it a third time before writing).  Having finally taken the proper steps, I can say that The Dark Knight Rises comes awfully close to satisfying the incredible hype that preceded it.  Back on July 19th, I was standing outside with my friends in a misty rain waiting for one of the theater’s eight midnight screenings.  The communal excitement felt in the air at its beginning had turned into speechless exhaustion (in a good way) by the time the credits rolled a little after 3:00am.  Nolan puts his audience through the wringer while watching Batman and the city of Gotham combat its most dangerous foe yet.  This is a long film with a lot of new characters and many twists and turns, and it does feel long.  

But after investing so much time in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham through Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and enjoying it so thoroughly, this epic of a conclusion feels necessary to unite the three films into a single 7.5-hour legend.  I have no problem saying that Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is a masterpiece, and the second greatest trilogy of all-time (Lord of the Rings ranks supremely in my book).  However, for the rest of this review, I will try to narrow my focus to only its most recent third.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, with Batman taking the blame for Harvey Dent’s death to leave Gotham with its “white knight” in tact.  Most of Gotham’s organized underworld is behind bars thanks to the PATRIOT Act-like “Dent Act,” which takes away basic civil rights for the sake of “justice.”  Bruce Wayne, with a broken body and broken heart, has secluded himself in Wayne manor.  For the people in control, things in Gotham have never been better but this utopia is obviously not meant to last.

Gotham’s desperate and hungry have not benefited by the city’s rejuvenation, and that desperation has added weight to preaching of a rogue mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy), who meticulously plans to turn the city on its head. When Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), the fascinating cat burglar with darkly Robin Hood-like values, warns Bruce Wayne of the upcoming “storm,” in a beautiful ballroom scene, it becomes time for Batman to rise from the shadows.  Once Bane’s assault on the city begins, Nolan’s Gotham gets bleaker than we’ve ever seen it before – which is quite the accomplishment.  Batman is overmatched.

The lead up to Bane’s Gotham takeover in The Dark Knight Rises is very complicated and dense; the film sure does earn its nearly three-hour running time.  Beyond Bane and Selina Kyle, we must keep track of many other new characters that play important roles in the narrative.  Among many, there is the sleazy Wayne Enterprises board member Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), an unknowing pawn in Bane’s master plan.  We meet Miranda Tate (Marion Cottiard), another board member with an obsession over the company’s dangerous energy project.  John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), in the "good cop" role becomes something of Commissioner Gordon’s protégé, sharing his unwavering faith in Batman.  Old favorites Gordon (Gary Oldman), Afred (Michael Caine), and Lucious Fox (Morgan Freeman), are also given their fair share of screen time.  The Dark Knight Rises becomes a juggling act of stories that would fall apart in less capable hands.

After the incredible “airplane-jacking” opener, setting up this complicated plot takes over the first act of the film.  You almost forget that it is even a Batman movie.  However, Nolan knows just when to turn the switch from crime drama to superhero epic.  Bane’s exhilarating and brilliantly organized attack on the Gotham stock exchange marks the return of Batman.  Like the airplane heist topped The Dark Knight’s semi-truck flip in spectacle, this sequence tops the Joker’s bank robbery.  With Batman and a whole police on his tail, we get sense just how powerful this new foe is.  To match Bane, Batman is given a new toy, the Bat, a badass plane that makes its debut in this sequence.  Batman needs help to defeat Bane but makes critical mistakes with whom he trusts, to dire consequences.

As far as villains go, Tom Hardy’s Bane is a great one.  Anyone who has seen Bronson knows the kind of expressive and deranged villain Hardy can be, but with Bane that madman quality is largely obscured by a mask.  With his voice muffled and face covered, Hardy’s eyes and body language must  express Bane’s menace.  With each viewing of The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve begun to admire Hardy more and more.  His cold stare, bravado-filled posture, and fanatical monologues send chills down your spine.  The fun evil of Heath Ledger’s Joker is long gone.  Bane's plan is so thorough, so perfectly realized, that I was left with a pit in my stomach for what would happen to Batman and the people of Gotham (at least on my first viewing).  The Joker in The Dark Knight remains my favorite movie villain, but I have to give the nod for most dangerous to Bane.

With a mostly humorless hero and villain, Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a surprising scene-stealer as The Dark Knight Rises’ main supplier of levity.  Her humor and her sexiness are needed to ease the tension, and Hathaway excels at both.  Without ever uttering the name, she is the perfect Catwoman (though she does have cool sunglasses that give just the right hint of her feline persona).  She is agile, slinky, dangerous and tough, which pulls Bruce Wayne out of his early recluse funk.  She is also given the film’s best lines, said by Hathaway with the right amount of sass.  Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is something of a boys’ club, but Selina Kyle can hold her own next to anyone.  Only Bane’s evil can shake her worldview.

Few films have ever garnered as much hype as The Dark Knight Rises, and Christopher Nolan had to ratchet up the scale in every way to reach that hype.  He successfully reached an epic scale without sacrificing a compelling story (à la Sam Raimi and Spider-Man 3).  The story is complicated, the special effects are state of the art, the battles are huge, the score is pounding, and the stakes have never been more dire.  This trilogy transcends the superhero genre, and its third installment is the conclusion it deserves.  At a pivotal moment when Hans Zimmer’s score harkens back to the Batman Begins theme, the realization will hit that we have been witnessing a unified cinematic legend these past seven years, and that legend gets its perfect ending (a much discussed ending that I will not comment on here).  One of pop culture’s most iconic figures has never been, and will likely never be, depicted better.

All discussion of The Dark Knight Rises, and discussion of any trilogy frankly, devolves into talk of ranking each entry; this discussion will be no different.  When one film is head and shoulders above the rest (like Spider-Man 2) and one is so clearly bad (like Spider-Man 3), this talk is easy.  However, Christopher Nolan has made that task extremely difficult.  After seeing The Dark Knight Rises three times, I can say that I like it more and more with each viewing.  The complications become easier to follow with familiarity and one can enjoy the details more when the twists are expected.  But The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect crime thriller hidden in the guise of a superhero blockbuster and it lacks one of the greatest performances ever put to screen.  For those reasons, The Dark Knight remains the most perfect superhero movie and best of the three (and my only “10” in the trilogy).  Batman Begins is a fantastic introduction, but it lacks the awesome scale of its two sequels and falls third in my Dark Knight Trilogy pecking order.

Mark it 9.

No comments:

Post a Comment