Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises


Christopher Nolan
Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
164 min.
Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.

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A lot of critics have the privilege of walking into a pre-release screening, sitting down without knowing what other critics will think and being able to pass judgement without too many outside influences. Never before have I truly envied those critics. Their reviews were written before the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Writing a review now without even mentioning the tragedy or how it affects our emotional sensibilities when sitting down to a film is impossible. You can separate the wanton slaughter of innocents from your analysis of the fundamental craftsmanship of the film, but when it comes to how your outside world’s perceptions have changed in the blink of an eye, it makes a difference.

I write my review having been emotionally impacted by the heinous act carried out against more than 60 regular movie fans, just like myself. They paid for their tickets, some of them in advance, to sit down to the final film in one of the epic franchises in film history. They were blown away by what director Christopher Nolan did with his first two entries in the series and wanted to see how it all played out. They sat down to a midnight showing, never realizing their lives would be forever changed. And for twelve unlucky souls, it would be irrevocable. Looking over their names, ages and brief bios prior to heading into the movie, I was struck by one thing. Many of them may have been in a similar age range, but those demographics are really unrepresented. They were reporters, soldiers, students and regular workers. They ranged in age from 6 to 51. The one thing they shared in common was a love of the movies.

Movies are a communal event unlike few others. It’s what brings sports fans out to the ballpark on a Sunday in the Summer or a stadium in the winter. Sharing an experience with others who also share your passion is one of the few joys of human interaction. While there’s no denying that seeing a movie alone has its benefits. Comparing notes afterwards with friends, gasping and cheering with strangers, it’s one of the few even playing fields that exists. For that brief span of time, we are equal, a united front against all that ails us and frightens us. For me, the movie theater is something of a temple. It’s where passion and creativity combine to create works of pleasure and art. I may not feel the same about every movie as the guy or gal sitting two rows in front of me, but the experience is the same. We find our own little piece of escapism.

That escapist venue has been tainted. Not forever. It will one day become what it once was, but our trust and security have been violated. A single coward walked into our home and destroyed whatever solace we once found there. In the back of our minds, the persistent grain of sand will always sit. All we can do is move on and try to realize that whatever peacefulness we find in a darkened theater, we can once again discover. Before the film began at my IMAX showing, one of the employees came in, opened the emergency exit and shut it forcefully. Part of me was amused by the act, but another part of me was comforted. No one wants a repeat event even though many of us rationally realize it wasn’t going to happen again so soon. Yet, that simple gesture eased those who witnessed it long enough to allow The Dark Knight Rises to do what it was designed to do. Provide the escape. Give our minds and imaginations places to run and frolic. We found our home again.

Those who died on July 20, 2012 cannot be forgotten. Their spirits of adventure and joy at the simple act of going to the movies must be supported, uplifted and celebrated. May their lives be an example to us all. Even in the worst of times, none of us is greater or more important than that person sitting next to us. And as long as we live and for every movie we see, those twelve human beings will be by our sides in our hearts and minds.

Seven years ago, a filmmaker of great potential, brought to the world a vision of Batman that few had ever expected. The Dark Knight Rises represents the culmination of events that began with an idea that Batman didn’t have to be a fantasy figure battling exaggerated personalities for the safety of a fictitious city. Batman was living in our world, living by our rules and saving us one haunting villain at a time.

Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is hard to watch now without seeing all the ways it changed the superhero landscape. Before Batman Begins, superheroes tended to be otherworldly figures whose influence on the world was more colorful than accurate. Sure, many of those visions of the world were steeped in allegory, but Batman Begins bravely brought those modern parallels to haunting reality. The Dark Knight Rises blends a lot of what Nolan learned in his prior two Batman films with a sense of entitlement that sometimes feels disingenuous. His film is bloated and lengthy; whole scenes that don’t seem important to the rest of the film play out as if their significance were paramount. Nolan gives his film urgency despite its ungainly length, which thankfully keeps the film from feeling too listless.

This third outing finds Bruce Wayne drawn into himself, avoiding the public at all costs and allowing his company to founder in his absence. The machinations of a talented cat burglar lead him into a mystery that unravels as a vicious terrorist takes Manhattan hostage, destroying all access to the mainland and giving the public and the prisoners an opportunity to fill the streets and wage war on the rich and righteous for the injustices they’ve inflicted on the public. Our villain wants the people to liberate themselves from the shackles of money, but does so in such an abhorrently violent way that he does little more than cow them into subservience.

Along with his screenwriting brother Jonathan Nolan and series mainstay David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan’s film falls into a trap frequently triggered by hero films: too many characters. Sure, many of them we’ve become familiar with over the course of the series: Alfred (Michael Caine), Gordon (Gary Oldman), Fox (Morgan Freeman), but Nolan adds eight new characters who play pivotal or somewhat pivotal roles in the film. There’s our classic villain Bane (Tom Hardy), the morally conflicted cat burglar Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Bruce Wayne’s new love interest Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and the conscientious cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), each rather important cogs in the machinery. There’s also Detective Foley (Matthew Modine), scheming businessman Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), his toady Stryver (Burn Gorman) and nuclear physicist Dr. Pavel (Alon Moni Aboutboul). They aren’t all significant, but each have their purposes even if minor and almost tangential.

Christian Bale’s final time under the cowl of the Caped Crusader goes as expected. His selfishness eventually gives way to selflessness, which is the only way Bruce Wayne seems to grow in this franchise. Freeman and Cotillard sleepwalk through the film, leaving much of the heavy dramatic lifting to Hathaway, Caine, Oldman, Hardy and Gordon-Levitt). Caine doesn’t have a lot to do in the film, but what is there is significant. He lectures Wayne on his moping and eventually reveals his duplicity from the first film, leading to a rift between the cantankerous butler and his employer. Caine gets two of the most emotional scenes in the film and kills them. Caine may have been struggling in recent years to display talent while seeming to collect a lot of paychecks, but he’s definitely earned this one. The same can be said for Oldman whose now-Commissioner Gordon is one of the franchise’s most endearing characters. He’s imperfect and conflicted, but always works in the best interest of the city. As the community he’s cared for all these years slowly crumbles around him, his bruised and battered body is a small price to pay for its protection.

For having a massive gas mask covering his face the entire film, Hardy does a rather impressive job conveying the malicious complexity of our front-and-center villain. As Bane, he must rely entirely on physical gestures and his expressive eyes to share anger, conceit and even sadness. It was a role that could have been hamfisted, but was handled almost elegantly. And that’s probably the best word to describe Hathaway’s performance. In the face of insurmountable odds and a criminal record that is destroying her freedom, Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, steals to survive. She has no issue looking out for herself alone, but as Hathaway gracefully projects, her determination is tempered by a genuine heart. Gordon-Levitt does fine in a role that may have been underwritten. As a young boy who rose from the orphanage where Bruce Wayne’s foundation once donated heavily, he’s the only person who understands all too well what agony and frustration Bruce Wayne is going through. Much like Wayne, Blake is determined and honest, always looking out for the greater good even when his life is at risk. Gordon-Levitt does a fine job conveying this, but the character seems a bit too fresh and idealism-driven for the minorly nihilistic film that contains it.

Nihilism isn’t a word easily ascribed to Nolan’s films. They are indeed bleak and they paint rather painful portraits of corrupt governments, betrayed trusts and of societies collapsing. Yet, among all this pessimism, there’s a genuine faith in human perseverance. In the worst of times, truly great men and women rise to the challenge, even at their own risk. Although Bane’s purportedly altruistic goals are more selfish than practical, his commentary on the state of our world is accurate. Those of privilege seem to believe that those below them are merely stepping stones to further riches. They don’t care that their actions are eroding the trust the public has in their beneficence. Big business has been fighting the work force for decades and Bane and his ilk attempt to bring balance. However, fighting fire with fire isn’t always the best course of action, nor is the destruction of life at the expense of your own principals. Many of the film’s twists and turns are fairly predictable, but one late in the film as Batman has his final confrontation with Bane, changes the dynamics of the discussion entirely. It’s this revelation that examines the motives of revenge.

Bruce Wayne has spent his life fighting crime not just as a way of protecting the city around him, but as a method of seeking revenge against the people who killed his parents. It’s that moment where Bruce may have finally realized he needed to let go of the past. Revenge does not serve the greater good, it only creates more agony. This is what makes The Dark Knight Rises feel a little more grounded. For all the marvelous technical wizardry on display, the sound is phenomenal, the effects seamless and the cinematography compelling, this franchise would be little more than an effects bonanza if it weren’t for the interaction of its characters.

At its heart, Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a character study exploring the depths of human emotion and strength. Would we each stand up for those next to us regardless of their social or economic status? Or do those distinctions drive us further apart. To succeed as a society, we need to relieve ourselves of the burden of prejudice, hate and greed. Nolan’s observation that we are stronger united than we are divided has added resonance with all the grief and turmoil going on in our country. The phrase is sometimes easy to forget, but as The Dark Knight Rises exemplifies, it will always be true. Stand up for your fellow man today, for tomorrow you might not have that opportunity.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects
Probables: Picture, Art Direction
Potentials: Original Score
Unlikelies: Supporting Actor (Michael Caine), Director, Adapted Screenplay
Review Written
July 22, 2012

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