By Todd Matthy
What sort of person goes out into the pouring rain to attend a screening of The Dark Knight Rises? This guy. So was it worth it? HELL YEAH! Want to know why? Read on but be weary, there are a few MINOR SPOILERS….
When The Dark Knight Rises opens secrets have been eating away at the main characters. Batman’s been missing for eight years after taking the fall for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. His alter ego Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse while only Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth about Harvey Dent and it’s been eating away at him emotionally. Even Alfred (Michael Caine) has been keeping secrets and yet, Gotham City has never been safer thanks to “the Dent Act” which has allowed the Police to purge organized crime. But, beneath the city is a powder keg that thanks to a corporate coup, a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway aka Catwoman), and a terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) that explodes and cuts the city off from the world.
Christopher Nolan has broken the curse of the threequel. The Dark Knight Rises is a masterpiece, inspired by real world events, classic literature, classic movies, and the Batman stories Knightfall, No Man’s Land, Year One, The Long Halloween, and of course, The Dark Knight Returns that sucks you into it’s black hole of despair and doesn’t let go. And yes, it is a black hole of despair. The Dark Knight cannot rise until he falls and believe me, he does and he does hard. The audience watches helplessly as Batman is defeated, the Gotham Police Force are trapped underground, and Gotham is cut off from the world and occupied by the inmates of Blackgate Prison and Arkham Asylum. The wealthy and influential are executed while the common people live in fear of Bane’s thugs. Hopeless. When Batman returns and turns the Gotham Police Department into his army, you cheer because hope has returned to the city.
Much of this emotion is felt thanks to Hans Zimmer’s operatic score. It is Zimmer’s score that makes you feel the pain and hope of Gotham City, which is as much a character in this movie as Batman and all the others. It just can’t speak.
Tom Hardy’s Bane is not charismatic. Thanks to his mask he almost like Darth Vader in terms of emotion. What he is cold, unencumbered, brute force! Bane is out to fulfill a mission. He wants to bring down and destroy the upper class and he does it with the calculations of a general and the force of a Mack truck. His first target is Batman and he is more than a match for him. Unlike the Joker, Bane is a physical match for Batman. He was trained by Bruce’s mentor Ra’s Al Ghul (played by Liam Neeson in Batman Begins) so he knows how Batman fights; only he’s homicidal and much stronger. But he doesn’t want to kill Bruce. He wants Bruce to kill himself. Bane wants Bruce to watch helplessly as the city he’s obsessed over protecting is destroyed brick by brick by the same thugs he put in prison. Bane doesn’t want to just beat Batman physically; he wants to destroy his mind, body, and soul. Bane is also methodical. His entire plan is meticulously constructed and when a wrench is thrown in his plans he doesn’t throw a fit, he adapts.
There is no doubt that Christian Bale is a better Batman then Michael Keaton. Bale’s Bruce Wayne starts off as a bearded recluse who is frozen in time and haunted by the ghosts of those he lost. He is brought back to life when Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) steals his Mother’s pearls. Unfortunately, Bruce is cocky and thinks he’s still the same man he was eight years ago. It isn’t until he meets Bane that he is humbled and has to rebuild himself. It is this emotional arc that drives the story and Christian Bale gives it life through his delivery and body language. At the beginning, Bale’s Bruce Wayne walks with a limp and speaks in a haggard voice. When comes out of his shell and pursues Selina he is slick. When he disagrees with Alfred he stubborn. When he is broken he is angry. And finally, when he is Batman he is heroic.
Anne Hathaway is the best Catwoman I’ve ever seen on screen. (I’d say purrfect but that would be too much.) She is a classic femme fatale that is confident, sassy, smart, and slick. You know this just from the way she walks. It’s easy to see why Bruce is so smitten with her. And while she is clearly out for herself, Hathaway’s Catwoman has a heart. Like, Batman, she stands up for those who can’t do it themselves she just does it in a less moral way. While she hates the upper class, she doesn’t believe they deserve what Bane is doing to them and it is the horror of watching these people be judged by murderers, madmen, and thugs that she agrees to aid Batman in his war on Bane. Yes, Hathaway does purr once or twice in classic Catwoman fashion, but it is never over the top or as a pun. Instead it is for sex appeal and emphasis. She also looks great in a one-piece and drives a mean Batpod.
You cannot talk about Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy without mentioning Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon. The trilogy is as much Gordon’s story as Batman’s. Gordon’s gone from dispirited Police Sergeant, to heroic Commissioner, to a General in the span of the trilogy. When we first see Gordon in Rises, he is living a lie. A lie that serves a greater good but cost him his family. He wants to retire and reveal the truth about Harvey Dent, but after being jumped in the sewers, Bane does that for him. With Batman gone, Gordon is Gotham’s only source of hope and with the help of Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gathers what remains of the Gotham City Police Force to form a resistance against Bane. Speaking of Levitt’s Blake, he is clearly the Robin figure of the movie but he’s more of a Robin to Gordon then to Batman. But don’t worry he is a fully formed character.
Finally, there is Michael Caine’s Alfred. Sadly, he does not have much screen time but the time he has is significant. Alfred tries his hardest to talk sense into an unresponsive Bruce Wayne. Eventually, they have a falling out and the falling out is heartbreaking. Caine’s expressions and delivery in that scene make you feel his pain. I want to talk about Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, but he doesn’t really do much in this film. Although, he still shows Bruce some new pieces of technology with the same fatherly charm. As for Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate, she is beautiful and smart but I can’t talk about her character without a spoiling anything.
The Dark Knight Rises is not without flaws. The movie plays a little fast and loose with Bruce Wayne’s secret identity. Also, some leaps in storytelling had to be made in order to move the story and characters from Point A to Point B. Also, the movie references Batman Begins very heavily. The specter of Liam Neeson’s Ras Al Ghul hangs heavily over this movie. He is often quoted, puts in an appearance, and is connected to both Bane and another character in the movie. I’ll say no more.
I’m not going to spoil the ending. What I will say about it is Christopher Nolan makes an artistic statement about the character of Batman. The statement is that Batman doesn’t belong to one actor or director. Batman is an icon and Nolan is merely a caretaker of the mythology. Nolan symbolically passes the torch to the next director with his ending. And it is a satisfying ending to be sure.
The Dark Knight Rises is not just the movie of the summer. It is the movie of the year. The acting, the script, the music, the action, and the effects all click together under Christopher Nolan’s vision, a vision that is informed by previous incarnations of Batman from the comics. Batman is no longer just a pop culture icon. Under Nolan he has become a legend. Nolan’s trilogy has joined the ranks of The Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars as one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time. See it! A solid five star movie.