The Dark Knight Rises
I love Christopher Nolan. Memento. Insomnia. The Prestige. Inception . Even without the Batman trilogy the visionary director has an impressive filmography. With the crowing achievement that is The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan caps the trilogy in a way that is both artistic and crowd pleasing. It was a task that could’ve been insurmountable, Let’s face it, The Dark Knight is considered by many to be one of the greatest superhero films of all time. If the auteur doesn’t quite equal that last episode for its poetic heights, he certainly approaches it for sheer spectacle and rousing emotion.
When we last saw Batman, he had taken the rap for the crimes of Harvey Dent, Two-Face, and gone into hiding. Now branded a hero, Harvey Dent is currently being celebrated at the 8th annual Harvey Dent Day, since the once noble district attorney’s death. The lie has given the city hope in the decency of man, but it has also had the adverse effect of branding Batman a criminal. A new supervillain, Bane, comes into power aided by a business rival of Bruce Wayne. His appearance coaxes Batman out of retirement who must now fight the terrorist and put a stop to his destructive stranglehold over the city.
Batman is nothing without fascinating side characters and there are at least two worth discussing in detail. Tom Hardy is Bane, a supervillain who speaks using a digitized voice-box. He’s suitably intimidating, the brute force of a wrestler coupled with an intellectual capacity to match. Overall it’s a startling portrayal and a memorable villain worthy of the Batman universe. The thing is, his voice is so distorted, so electronic sounding, he’s difficult to comprehend at times. Because Bane wears a mask that covers half his face, we can never see his mouth so the performance sounds as if Hardy has been reduced to an actor playing the body with a different actor’s disembodied voice, a la James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. Regardless, he’s frightening and the drama more than makes up for the deficiencies in the hard to understand dialogue. The other figure is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a sleek and sexy cat burglar that has sort of a love-hate (read ambiguous) relationship with our main protagonist. This re-reimagining of Catwoman definitely is a modern update. She’s never referred to by that name and her costume bears little resemblance to the character we have come to know in previous incarnations. Nevertheless, Hathaway’s interpretation is wonderful. She’s literally given the best lines in the production and she manages to deliver them with a winking sensuality that makes her altogether captivating. She isn’t Michele Pfeiffer awesome, but she is awesome nonetheless.
These two figures would’ve been enough to maintain an interesting plot. However the somewhat overly complex storyline has an over-packed supporting cast. These include a key executive on the board of Wayne Enterprises (Marion Cotillard), a resourceful police officer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt ), acting deputy commissioner Peter Foley (Matthew Modine), Bruce Wayne’s business adversary John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) and his assistant (Burn Gorman). Of course this doesn’t even mention returning favorites Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Police Commissioner James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. There’s even a couple of surprise cameos which I won’t elaborate on for fear of spoilers. It’s a dizzying array of personalities and at times one wishes the narrative had simply focused on the Batman vs. Bane concept for simplicity. When these two face off in hand to hand physical combat, nothing matches the well choreographed scenes for raw visceral action.
As expected, what’s a summer blockbuster without grandiose set pieces designed to really wow the audience? From a football stadium attack to a prison riot – The Dark Knight Rises has edge of your seat excitement in one extravagant demonstration after another. The opening prologue aboard a CIA airplane is a breathtaking event that galvanizes interest right from the start. Later there’s a particularly chilling takeover of the city that inadvertently recalls occupy Wall Street protests. These aren’t empty examples of pyrotechnics, they’re brilliant illustrations arranged to give life to a script with a depth rarely seen in these types of films. If Marvel’s The Avengers is lighthearted, fun popcorn entertainment, this is the somber creative vision of a master at work.
Christopher Nolan realizes that none of these fantastic displays would resonate without an emotional connection to the people involved. The magnitude of despair woven into the development of various characters is indeed impressive. Christian Bale’s personal conflict to reconcile his desire to help his beloved city vs. a longing to live a normal life is beautifully played up in this installment. Michael Caine provides some of his most affecting work of the entire series. His interactions with Batman highlight this inner struggle. And struggle he does! Bruce Wayne rises not once, but TWICE in this chapter. The first time is his re-emerging from his self imposed exile. The second is almost Rocky-esque in the way it exaggerates our hero’s underdog status. It’s a bit manipulative sure, but it’s effective because it gets the viewer to cheer for someone who’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Christopher Nolan more than lives up to the daunting mission of putting a fitting coda on the Dark Knight series – a satisfying conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies ever. It stands for goodness in the face of evil and isn’t that what superhero films are all about?