An epic movie rises!
At one point during The Dark Knight Rises, I thought, “This isn’t a superhero movie at all; it’s James Bond.” While 007 movies can be a little cartoonish, they’re grounded in reality. And this portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman by Christian Bale, directed by Christopher Nolan, is possibly the most realistic superhero movie I’ve seen.
Of course, Batman isn’t really a superhero; he has no special powers, just the best technology and toys that his fortune can buy. It’s usually his foes that push the boundaries of imagination. Even as realistic as The Joker and Two-Face were played in the last Batman movie, The Dark Knight, they still approached the excess of their comic book origins.
Now, I loved The Dark Knight for those reasons; the characters were fantastic. But The Dark Knight Rises transcends anything that has come before by taking a step backwards. It reminds me more of the first movie in the series, Batman Begins. In fact, the screenplay by Nolan and brother, Jonathan Nolan, creates perhaps the most solid trilogy in film history, both structurally and thematically.
The story begins eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, but by the time it ends, it not only references Batman Begins, but also ties the three movies together into a series nothing less than epic. If you recall, Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s murder at the end of The Dark Knight. On the anniversary of his death, Batman hasn’t been seen for eight years. You know something is going to happen to force him out of early retirement… what (or who) will it be?
The answer is Bane, a character in the comic books who broke Batman’s back, opening the door for someone else to put on the cowl and cape. I won’t say whether or not the same thing happens in the movie; however, Bane possesses the physical presence to do it. And while the mask he wears does keep him alive, he doesn’t inject himself with chemicals that pump him up to a Hulk-sized villain.
Bane is a terrorist of the worst kind. His purpose is murky at first, but, like a well-crafted mystery, becomes clear as the movie progresses. He causes chaos of apocalyptic proportions in Gotham City, bringing to mind the comic book stories “Cataclysm” and “No Man’s Land”. And he seems unstoppable, whipping the citizens into a frenzy so they can do a lot of the dirty work for him. In a way, that’s even scarier.
As Bane, Tom Hardy is barely recognizable, in either appearance or voice. He does a great job with the physicality of the character, especially the way he carries himself and ambles along his way. But it’s really the supporting cast that makes The Dark Knight Rises shine. Michael Caine especially has some genuinely touching moments as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s more-than-a-butler, whose conflicts over ideology force a breaking point.
Let’s talk about Catwoman. My expectations were not so good for Anne Hathaway in this role, but let me tell you, she’s nearly the best thing about The Dark Knight Rises. Her character injects some humor into the story, which, as dark as it is, really generates the most laughs of the entire trilogy. Her wisecracks are timely and appropriate, though, never moving into caricature. And she plays an integral role; she’s not shoehorned into the movie just to have another character in it.
Nearly as impressive is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake. This original character is vital to the theme of the movie. He reflects the mirror image of a caped crusader and begs the question, “What is a hero?” Is a hero someone who puts on a costume and fights crime in the shadows of the night? Or is a hero a normal guy who puts on a uniform and simply does his job every day? Blake’s backstory is similar to that of Bruce Wayne’s and, more than anyone else, I wonder what will happen to him when the movie ends.
The Dark Knight Rises falls just short of being perfect. However, except for one plot hole that I can’t reconcile, Nolan does an incredible job of steering the movie away from cliché. Every problem that starts to brew is corrected before reaching full boil. For example, the climax is a race against time to literally prevent a ticking time bomb from exploding. How many times have we seen that? But I guarantee we haven’t seen it the same way. And it’s conclusion is somehow surprising, yet simultaneously, the only way it could have satisfactorily ended.
This is a smart movie that will be dissected in reviews by critics far smarter than me. While I see obvious commentary on issues such as terrorism and the financial meltdown, I don’t know what they mean. The genius of The Dark Knight Rises is that it is still darned entertaining even if it’s trying to make a statement (which I don’t know that it is). And the most telling compliment I can pay it is that when the credits were rolling, I had a huge smile on my face. As a lifelong Batman fan in all his incarnations, I have never wanted to see more.