'The Dark Knight Rises'
The Dark Knight Rises is the powerful, percussive, and profound grand finale of the comic-book inspired crime saga that began with 2005’s stunning franchise reboot Batman Begins and continued with 2008’s equally stunning The Dark Knight. Expectations surrounding this third installment have been deliriously high. In a move that is sure to be debated endlessly among Batman-lovers everywhere, Nolan has allowed his trilogy to evolve away from the some of the very elements that endeared many fans to the first two installments. He doesn’t attempt to exceed our expectations, but rather, succeed them. With The Dark Knight Rises, he has saved his most troubling and fascinating trick for last.
You’ll forgive me for not discussing the story in any real detail. Most people I know have been desperately avoiding spoilers and have therefore become quite furious when movie reviewers blow even the smallest details. Rest assured, Jonathan and Christopher Nolan’s nearly-three hour story is massive and complicated, an inch away from convoluted and easily the most ambitious of the trilogy. The movie pits Batman (a graver, tighter Christian Bale) against a pitiless terrorist named Bane (a hulking, masked Tom Hardy) in an all-out battle of wills for Gotham City. Mixed in are all of the surviving familiar faces from the first two movies, and a fresh crop of new ones including Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle/Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a rugged and resourceful cop, and Marion Cotillard as businesswoman Miranda Tate.
Christopher Nolan hasn’t directed a sloppy movie in his entire career, and as expected The Dark Knight Rises is extremely well-made. This is the series’ largest collection of actors yet, and there’s not a weak link in the bunch. Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in particular bring surprising appeal and believability to highly demanding roles. Director of photography Wally Pfister and production designers Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh, all Batman veterans, present their third fully realized iteration of Gotham City: narrower streets, an abundance of concrete, less Chicago and more Manhattan. As in the preceding films, indeed as in all of Christopher Nolan’s work, the special effects are an immaculate mixture of bombastic practical effects and detailed digital wizardry. At times Hans Zimmer’s pounding score drowns out the dialogue, and some of the dialogue that is heard falls a little flat. But with so much going on and with so many crackling performances and with so many gargantuan action set pieces, it’s easy to forgive a lame line or two (or five). What people may find harder to forgive at first, and yet what truly separates and elevates The Dark Knight Rises as the series’ most daring achievement, is the movie’s relentlessly somber tone.
My guess is that the most common complaint lodged against The Dark Knight Rises will be that it’s not as much fun as its predecessor. Where some may be hoping for the The Dark Knight Enhanced, Director Christopher Nolan has given us instead something bleaker and more disturbing. Nolan seems almost conspicuously unconcerned with oohs and ahhs this time around. There are few of the adrenaline-inducing scene entrances that Batman so liberally enjoyed in the first two movies. By the time we reach the film’s bustling climax, Batman is doing most of his work in broad daylight, where his stature and theatricality are noticably diminished. Even surrounded by his technology, he has never seemed more human and tired. Rises replaces the malevolent joy of the Joker and revelatory kick of Batman’s gadget-laden capers with a grueling and protracted mini-apocalypse.
But why so serious? Because at its heart, The Dark Knight Rises is not a good guy vs. bad guy superhero movie, but a potent and philosophical urban war film in which a huge cast of characters struggles for dominance, relief, meaning, and redemption. Rises is both morality tale and mortality tale; it’s an immense, entertaining, and exhausting meditation on the tensions between freedom and security, and the near suicidal efforts necessary to achieve both. If this all sounds pretty weighty, well, it is. War is hell, even in Gotham City.
I for one am thrilled that Christopher Nolan fulfills the grim promise of the Batman story taken seriously. In all of the gravity, there’s something really rich going on here, an idea just below the surface that the world can’t be fixed, but it can be saved. One man can be struck down by evil and then he can rise, and in so rising bring tremendous good. To borrow from Commissioner Gordon’s spoken epilogue near the end of the second film: The Dark Knight Rises is not the movie we wanted, it’s the movie we needed. It’s better than a conclusion; it’s The Dark Knight fulfilled.