The Dark Knight Rises is not a feel-good super hero movie, nor were its predecessors. But even more so than Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises brings us to our knees as we are hurdled through an apocalyptic Gotham and faced with something that is quite possibly more fearsome than anarchy. While yes, some men just want to watch the world burn, when you devote yourself to destruction in the name of a powerful ideal, you become even more unstoppable than chaos itself.
The Dark Knight Rises begins 8 years after the havoc wreaked by the Joker and his fallen protege, Harvey Dent (aka Two Face.) Thanks to the Dent Act, the streets of Gotham have been largely cleaned up, most organized crime behind bars, and the citizens of Gotham enjoy a time of peace and prosperity (but not for all, of course.) The thorn in the side of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), however, is that he knows the truth about Harvey Dent, about the crimes he committed the night he died, and that the scapegoat for it all, Batman, has been unfairly vilified by the city he has worked so hard to protect.
As the audience, we know that peace and prosperity built on lies is as delicate as a house of cards. Sooner or later, it will come tumbling down. And boy-oh-boy does it ever. It does not take long for us to be introduced to the film’s primary villain, Bane, whose ingenious takeover of Gotham is nothing short of terrifyingly spectacular. I don’t want to ruin the fun for moviegoers, but I feel confident in saying that you’ll be gripping your seat the entire time.
The other piece of the puzzle is Bruce Wayne’s self-imposed exile after Batman’s public relations demise. What brings him out of this exile is an encounter with demure cat burglar Selina Kyle, (played with surprising verve and wicked savvy by Anne Hathaway.) Unexpectedly, Hathaway is a stupendous Cat Woman: smart and sexy, and at the same time impossible to look away from in those moments when her large brown eyes well with emotion and purpose. She’s the full package. Christian Bale, too, pulls out all stops in his final performance as the caped crusader; he is as haunting and tortured as ever.
Of course, there is always a darker, and more tragic side to these types of films. We are faced with new sets of moral conundrums in the Dark Knight Rises, far different and perhaps more grave than those in the Dark Knight. Although the activities of Bane and his thug accomplices might seem reprehensible, there is without a doubt some sort of righteous truth at the core of their motives. As Ra’as al Ghul tells Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, “If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely. Legend, Mr. Wayne.”
There is nothing more frightening than a man so fiercely dedicated to an ideal that this dedication is immovable and unchangeable. What makes it all the more potent is when even a small piece of you identifies with this ideal. No doubt, there are moviegoers out there who, down on their luck and maddened by the injustice of corporate America will identify with Bane’s haunting monologue in the middle of Rises. Perhaps I am overreaching, but I am certain the possibility exists. However, while much will be said about the allegory of this film in relationship to the 99% versus 1% debate and our post 9/11 world, I think the most important takeaway comes from the film’s atmosphere as a whole; it invokes a certain wariness about our uncertain times, provides vague warnings about adhering blindly to the musings of ideologues, and will, I think, leave the audience with a certain kind of dread about the state of things.
It takes great courage to look into the heart of terror and find humanity. What Christopher Nolan has forced us to do with these Batman movies is to look beyond good and evil and hold a mirror up to ourselves and to the world that we live in. One of the beauties of comic books is that they exaggerate moral situations that force us to reflect on reality. What Nolan does best is take these exaggerations and ground them in reality. They become all the more potent, all the more terrifying, all the more real.
I have to take a moment to comment on Bane, who many have written off as being a less exciting villain than the Joker. To this I say, he is most certainly a different kind of villain, and is not to be compared. Just as the scenarios in these Batman movies are not black and white, good versus evil, nor are the villains at the heart of them and they should not be compared as such. To me, Tom Hardy’s performance was nothing short of brilliant, especially given the restrictions placed on his actions. I highly suggest those who see this movie for the first time to pay close attention to the way he carries himself the way he uses he hands and his eyes. Oh, his eyes. Who knew such depth and fear could be portrayed in only one’s eyes? Pay close attention to this character and his entire body, and I think you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
Due credit must also be given to all of the other supporting players. In fact, this is a movie as much about the other heroes as it is about the hero, the Batman. I was most surprised by the emotion wrought by Alfred (Michael Caine.) He has always played a small but important role in these films, but in the Dark Knight Rises his purpose seems to come full circle. Commissioner Gordon and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have equally important and inspiring performances that are as important if not more so than Batman’s heroic actions. Indeed, an outcast for much of his existence, Batman is no longer alone.
Christopher Nolan does not make action movies. He makes smart movies, full of important questions, strong emotions, and characters we come to care about. To me, the mark of a great movie is one that makes you think. Even between the fantastic action sequences, the gripping fights, and terrifying explosions, there is always room for well-placed dialogue, meaningful moments, and glass shattering realizations. Even the villains themselves have a purpose that is deeper than pure evil. The Dark Knight Rises is a bit clunky at first, and takes a little bit of time to get going. But as the movie progresses towards its finale, it becomes nothing short of spectacular and legendary. Credit must be given once again to Hans Zimmer, who has created a masterful score, more percussion based than anything. His ability to create a theme that literally becomes a part of the plot has been seen in the likes of Inception and the Dark Knight (think Non Je Ne Regrette Rien and the Joker’s theme) and is apparent here, and it rockets us forward like a steady guide through a movie that is at times frenetic and jarring.
I must repeat my point once again that, as a whole, Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a force to be reckoned with. I highly recommend that the first two movies are revisited before seeing the Dark Knight Rises. The weight of its origins in Batman Begins and the weight of the Joker as one of the greatest movie villains ever written will be far more potent and appreciated, and the importance of these movies all the more apparent.