Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises
It’s kind of hard to talk about The Dark Knight Rises without the context of the rest of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, and the reaction to them. Nolan’s hyper-realisitc take on the Batman mythos began with Batman Begins, but it was the 2008 sequel The Dark Knight which received widespread critical acclaim, in large part for the late Heath Ledger’s gripping portrayal of Batman’s nemesis the Joker. Personally, I believe that The Dark Knight is a good movie which is largely carried by Ledger and Aaron Eckhart’s (Two-Face) performances. However, I think it’s reached a level of deification among fans that it doesn’t deserve, and I wasn’t hugely excited for TDKR, since it lacked the elements which drew me to The Dark Knight.
BOY, was I wrong. The Dark Knight Rises is phenomenal, a fitting end to the series which ties elements of Batman Begins to themes explored in The Dark Knight, while simultaneously adapting and homaging a number of seminal Batman storylines. It’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t believe if I hadn’t seen it, since historically the execution of a lot of these things has faltered. But as far as I’m concerned, TDKR tops The Dark Knight. Let’s take a look at why. (Mild spoilers ahead. Nothing too terrible, but don’t read if you want to go in completely cold.)
TDKR picks up eight years after the events of the previous film. Gotham is at peace, Batman has disappeared, and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse, shut away in stately Wayne Manor. He’s roused back into action after a break-in by cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and rumors of assassin/criminal leader/all around bad guy Bane (Tom Hardy), related to him by increasingly disillusioned cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). After dealing with setbacks both personal and business-related, Batman confronts Bane. As anyone familiar with the comics can imagine, it does not go well for him.
Nolan’s movies have always shined in their translation of comic book characters into grounded, relatively believable people played by great actors, and TDKR is no slouch. Hardy’s Bane ditches the luchador mask and steroid dependence of his comic book counterpart, but the core is the same: Bane is a villain who understands Batman, what he stands for, and how he works as well as, or better than, he does. He’s a perfect choice for Nolan, whose Batman stories play out as battles of ideals and the power of symbols just as much as action movies. John Blake, a mostly new character, is a great foil to Batman, someone who struggles to help people within a broken system rather than eschewing it entirely. But the real standout here is Hathaway, whose layered, sexy, and sometimes frightening Catwoman is far and away the best adaptation of the character yet, staying true to the core elements but avoiding the increasingly unpleasant male gaze she’s become associated with.
(Quick aside on Bane’s voice: I actually didn’t mind it much. It conveyed a lot of information about him very quickly; he’s a villain, he’s intellectual and cunning, he’s theatrical and charismatic. That said, it did take some getting used to, and occasionally it veered dangerously close to anything from Dr. Evil to Sean Connery.)
Everyone behind the camera is on their A game as well. Zimmer’s score has plenty of varied, interesting choices, from the drum and chant drive of Bane’s theme to the disarmingly melodic piano motif used for Catwoman. The fight choreography has never looked better, or been shot more clearly. While some of the later events of the film strain suspension of disbelief a little bit, they work on the symbolic/philosophical level Nolan favors well. Despite a groaner reveal towards the very end, I found The Dark Knight Rises to be a powerful end to Nolan’s Batman tale.
RATING:FOUR STARS (OUT OF FOUR)
Now I’d like to discuss some specific elements of the last act and ending of the film. HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD, you probably shouldn’t read any further until after you’ve seen the film.
Let’s start with the Talia Al’ Ghul reveal. There had been a lot of suspicion from pretty much the beginning that Marion Cotillard, despite claims to the contrary, would be playing the daughter of Liam Neeson’s character from Batman Begins, whose role is the comics is as a former lover of Batman torn between her love for him and her duty to her father. I know of a couple people who didn’t like the reveal because it lacked the backstory normally associated with Talia and turned her into a straight villain. I actually liked it a lot for that very reason. Talia’s an interesting idea for a character, but she’s been pretty stagnant until very recently. I like the idea of taking a strong stand one way or the other with the character. It also was a great payoff to the “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” bit from Begins, which irritated me initially but is clearly framed here as a mistake. The use of Talia also jives well with what Grant Morrison’s been doing in Batman, Incorporated of late, although the timing leads me to believe it’s more coincidental than anything.
And now, for that ending. I was caught off-guard by the reveal that Bruce Wayne had faked his death the first time I saw TDKR, and I didn’t like it very much. After some thought and a second viewing, I’m much more onboard with it. Nolan’s Batman story has a luxury which the Batman comics don’t; namely that the story can end. Although there have been a bunch of alternate “the last Batman story” comics, there hasn’t ever been a definitive end to the character the way it was presented here. In that regard, I’m glad they chose to go with a more optimistic outlook, that Bruce Wayne can move beyond being Batman and find some real happiness. The series of scenes at the end was also a nice way of delivering that information, as opposed to a scene where Batman sits everyone down and says “I’m retiring but it’s cool though because John Blake’s gonna take over.” The only bits I still have a problem with are that the reveal necessarily weakens Batman’s sacrifice and Alfred’s scene just after, and that I don’t think the movie laid out that he wanted to move on quite clearly enough beforehand. But overall, it was a fitting end to the story.
That “you should use your legal name, ‘Robin’ John Blake” bit though? That was dumb.