Film Reviews

The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan

Rating - 8/10

Christopher Nolan’s films of The Dark Knight have increasingly obsessed themselves with achieving order in fearful and chaotic times; after a viewing of the conclusive 164-minute grand spectacle in his trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, one can only feel besieged with the director’s utilization of the Gotham City universe transplanted into a bleak, volatile modern world with notions of social class unrest, terrorism, and ultimate ruin.  Prior to Nolan’s undertakings, the live-action Batman films were merely characterized by intriguing superficialities and pun-riddled camp.  In 2005, the rousing Batman Begins changed that, presenting a proper origin story for the character that follows Bruce Wayne from his childhood through his adult years.  With adequate weight and introduction, Wayne creates the Batman persona to protect his loved ones from reprisals and combat the crime that decimated his childhood in an instant.  In this final chapter brimming with massive content, intelligent moral issues, and a plethora of characters to fill two films, The Dark Knight Rises crafts incredible gripping terror despite a fractured narrative and occasional incoherent dialogue (mainly due to the villain’s Eastern European accent filtered through his breathing apparatus).

The opening theme of the film deals with aging and fragility, as a hobbling, half-anemic bearded figure watches from above during a commemorative Harvey Dent ceremony at Wayne’s rebuilt home eight years after the events of The Dark Knight.   Thanks to Batman’s secret selflessness, a sense of order has revived the city, but Bruce Wayne (the versatile Christian Bale), the man inside the costume, has atrophied.  Soon, however, he catches a crafty ‘cat’ burglar, Selina Kyle (played devilishly by Anne Hathaway) pilfering his mother’s pearls, and the world’s greatest detective in Wayne reemerges; he’s then found diving into his archives to uncover the true motive behind her thieving.  Paralleling Kyle’s personal plotting and social climbing philosophy is another more sinister one underneath the city in the form of hulking brute, Bane, a deadly masked revolutionist mercenary with connections to Wayne’s past under Ra’s al Ghul’s League of Shadows.  An unrecognizable Tom Hardy plays Bane in a masterful physical performance almost purely through his brow.  As he makes his presence known in Gotham, the complementary theme of mental and physical pain momentously builds with compelling construction even amidst the technicality of business schemes unfolding in and out of public sight and the police drama.  Most notable among the associates is Miranda Tate (a striking Marion Cotillard), who has joined the Wayne Enterprises Board to champion the investment and creation of a new energy project that involves a fusion reactor in the Wayne Enterprises tower.  The other is the young and determined beat cop John Blake (a well-cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who fearlessly rises above his peers and believes in Batman’s return.

Despite its title, The Dark Knight Rises has a stronger kinship with Batman Begins than its immediate predecessor; the film integrates flashbacks from the first in the trilogy as inspirational signals or reminders of loss.  The Joker is not once mentioned in the film out of respect for the late Heath Ledger.  His complete exemption naturally draws the film closer to the more personal journey of ...Begins.  In fact, Wayne in his Batman outfit/Kevlar armor does not occupy significant screen time, which is a courageous decision on director Nolan’s part.  Deviating from the comic tradition, Nolan suggests that the man’s true identity is Bruce Wayne and the symbolic Batman is the alter ego – a reversal of the established duality.  Here, man is greater than the myth.  When considering the gritty noir roots in contemporary reality, this revelation is faithful to the films’ enduring emphasis on mortality and uncertainty.  This is all further reinforced by Wayne’s butler and fatherly conscience of the three Nolan films, Alfred (a constant Michael Caine), in a scene where the two clash verbally on the decision to revive Batman after the outfit has spent many years in its figurative glass coffin underneath Wayne Manor.

As The Dark Knight Rises marches on, the plot is pulled apart.  In expected fashion, Selina Kyle’s own ambiguous vigilantism propels her to lure Batman into what will be remembered as the film’s defining moment of physicality: the caged fight underground between Batman and Bane.  It is remarkably choreographed and horrifying, and Nolan’s ability to coherently and steadily frame the action since the jerkier montage days of Batman Begins is the sequence’s notable asset, leaving one simply mesmerized by the sheer brutality.  The essence of Bane and his attempt to overpower and break Batman relies less on speech and more on intimidating body language thanks to Tom Hardy’s remarkable sense of control.  After his unfortunate encounter with the hulking behemoth of a man, Bruce Wayne is forced to sustain and rebuild himself in a prison pit where he is kept to watch the televised devastation of his beloved Gotham City by the likes of Bane and his mercenary army.  Simultaneously terrorizing and exploiting the disenfranchised, the crew implements an apocalyptic plan that involves everything from corporate fraud to freeing the convicted criminals of Blackgate Prison.

Escalation is the only due course.  As Bane proclaims his conquest of Gotham City standing atop the steps of City Hall, it elicits a clash of idolatry.  The fictionalized city of Gotham recreated by Nolan resembles more of a New York City (especially with the scenes on Wall Street), which echoes the tumultuousness of modern political developments.  The former purveyor of good, Batman, once the city’s symbol of prospective hope and fearlessness, has allowed skepticism to once again triumph.  Bane spouts faux-Marxist rhetoric that morphs him into as much of a metaphorical monstrosity as his literal appearance promises by bringing forth “Gotham’s reckoning.”  In light of recent symbolic interpretations, perhaps one of the more overlooked messages in the film is the railing against forms of totalitarianism.  Bane manipulates the current faults in the social fabric to bring the simmering belief in the necessity of radical violent measures to a boil.  His character complementarily highlights the vulnerabilities as the result of current economic tensions.  At this juncture in modern history, Nolan more objectivity presents humans’ susceptibility to suggestion that can only plunge society further into darkness.

The concluding action sequences, augmented by several tumbler tanks and the Lucius Fox-designed “Bat” plane (that looks a little like …well, a bat, crossed with a car out of Blade Runner) sprawl out for an even greater duration than the last act of The Dark Knight; yet, the pervasive tension is somewhat alleviated by the witty one-liners that disrupt the terrifying tone.  This banter has steadily grown to be more respectful of this comic stylization and progressively strengthened the trilogy.  In his seemingly relentless self-seriousness, Nolan has even managed to poetically taunt or pay homage to Tim Burton when Batman and Selina Kyle (who is never officially referred to as “Catwoman”) are framed lovingly and quietly together as a heroic duo amidst the falling snow in the latter half of the film; the image brings to mind Burton’s Batman Returns that occurs during the Christmas season and features Catwoman as a villain.  Right until the end, The Dark Knight Rises adapts and twists the Batman mythos in unique ways, true to the manner in which Nolan has overlaid his universe upon the one established in the DC comics.  Most evidently, Bane has been altered to wear a mask that drips an anesthetic instead of intravenously administering a drug called venom that inhumanly bulks him up in the comics.  Amidst its successful artistic vision, the film is simply overstuffed and packaged in a typically overbearing score from Nolan regular Hans Zimmer.  While it does not quite obtain the sense of order its narrative necessitates, it certainly rises to the occasion.