The Dark Knight Rises… into theaters: A Review
It’s pretty safe to say that the release of The Dark Knight Rises was one of, if not the most, anticipated film this summer. Since 2005, Christopher Nolan has kept us on the edge of our seats with his wonderfully macabre telling of the Batman tale. On a personal level, I have always had a very strong fondness for the entire Batman world. The dark knight has always ranked at the very top of my list of superheroes, particularly because he’s the antihero. When you think about recent films, shows, and projects, antiheroes have really stepped into the spotlight lately (consider works such as Dr. Horrible or Breaking Bad). I’m sure we could spend all day considering the psychology of this, but today we’re more focused on Batman, and suffice it to say, the recent Nolan Batman films fit right into this antihero craze. Add the long-standing fandom of the Batman world to the antihero love, and cap it off with the brilliant success of the highly acclaimed last installment, The Dark Knight, and you have a recipe for some high levels of excitement. I do believe, in a lot of ways, the ending to this trilogy lived up to the hype. However, some aspects left me looking for more. Let’s get to that now.
From here on out, all you’ll see is SPOILERS. If you have not seen the movie, and don’t want it SPOILED, skip to the next article instead.
One thing I greatly admire about Nolan’s take on the Batman story is his ability to reinvent characters. Nolan faced the challenge of demystifying the characters in the Batman realm, bringing them more to life by making them more human, while still remaining true to the comics. In some ways, this leaves us with a lot of questions about specific characters and their origins, while lending a new sense of intrigue to them. Take, for instance, Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight: we never got a solid origin story out of that, but the way he spoke about his potential origins, he gave us a deep look into the psychosis of this character. This relates to the newly introduced characters, too. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, put simply, was brilliant. Throughout the film, Selina Kyle hints several times at a past filled with bad mistakes and regrets. We never get the details on what happened with her past, but we’re told why she wants it erased to badly, and certainly feel her sense of urgency to the point that we can feel her justification for all of her devious plots. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse at the remnants of Bruce Wayne’s internal torment. We see old, exalted photos of a half-forgotten life hindering his ability or desire to move on. We also get to watch him come back to life and force himself to be the hero he is, not because he wants to, but because he has to. This need to return to Batman is also hastened by Gotham City PD’s Officer Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Blake was an orphan, himself, who depended on Wayne’s contributions to local charities growing up, and who was inspired by Batman’s moral influence and strong will to help the people of Gotham. So with that in mind, we enter into this film being immediately greeted by three strong characters in desperate situations.
Next, we have Bane. In many stories, Bane has pretty much been the equivalent of a pumped up hired gun. However, the original Dixon story that influenced Bane’s presence in The Dark Knight Rises, “Knightfall,” gives him a much stronger presence. Because of that story arc in the comics, Bane became known as “The Man Who Broke the Bat,” for having broken Batman’s back during a fight. This is also true of TDKR. The very first fight between Bane, played by Tom Hardy, and Batman is an extremely powerful scene. After teaming up with Catwoman, Batman is brought down to the sewers to find Bane and confront him head-on. Before they get all the way there, Batman is pulled away from Catwoman, and thrown onto a metal walkway, going across the sewers below, with Bane, and locked there. Instantly, the music drops, so all you hear are select sounds from the confrontation and fight. The entire time, we see Catwoman clinging on to the bars of the walkway, obviously distraught about double-crossing the dark knight, and very concerned for his life. The blows go back and forth rather evenly for a while before Bane takes a very commanding lead, tossing Batman around like a rag doll. Eventually, true to the story it was adapted from, the scene turns more serious when Bane lifts Batman over his head, then drops the Bat onto his knee, breaking his back. To add insult to injury, Bane peels half of the broken mask from the fallen hero’s face while he’s writhing in pain on the ground, and tosses it aside. Leaving the scene with the symbolic gesture of discarding something that was meant as a beacon of hope for the people of Gotham.
Above all, though, I’d have to say my own personal favorite character here was Miranda, played by a fantastic actress, Marion Cotillard. Miranda is Bruce’s business-associate-turned-love interest throughout the story, growing more and more prominent in his life. While Batman is recovering, Bane is taking over Gotham, with the promise of destroying it with a nuclear bomb, and the entire city is left to fight and scavenge. During this time, Miranda appears to be working with Bruce’s business associates, but of course we come to find out this is a ruse. After Batman seemingly defeats Bane, we get Miranda’s reveal. Throughout the entire film, we’ve been teased with what is presented to be Bane’s backstory. A small child in a prison made out of a giant hole in the ground, nicknamed “Hell.” The child is the only person to ever escape this prison by climbing the walls. This is the same prison Batman is exiled to while recovering from his broken spine. To get out of the prison, he has to climb the same wall the small child did. After several tries, he manages this feat while the rest of the prisoners are shouting “Rise! Rise!” in their own language. We hear the story of the child – the spawn of a mercenary and a noblewoman – in pieces, but we hear the ending from Miranda. This child turns out to be Miranda, who reveals that she is actually Talia al Ghul, there to fulfill the legacy of her father, Ra’s al Ghul. In the Batman universe, Talia is a character with a long history of being Batman’s love interest, Catwoman’s rival, and Bane’s accomplice. However, showing Talia as the little girl escaping “Hell,” supported by her childhood friend and protector, Bane, gives a whole new level of emotional depth to both of these characters. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Marion Cotillard presents this reveal scene with a certain stoicism that makes the entire twist seem that much more significant.
However, aside from those highlights, there were several bits in the latest installment that really irked me. One being the score. Between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the score was kept similar with that same sort of dark and foreboding feel, but they were still quite different for being very closely related to the scenes at hand. Think back for a moment at the screeching violin sound prominent in The Dark Knight whenever the Joker was about to unleash a nefarious scheme. That extra element given to those moments really added to the suspense. The soundtrack for The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, really kind of sounded like a recycled version of The Dark Knight. In fact, the sound design was overall disappointing. Tom Hardy did a fantastic job as Bane, but you still had to strain to hear what he was saying under that mask. Another little nitpick I have is the relationship between Catwoman and Batman. These two characters have always had a way of playing cat and mouse (pun intended) with their emotions, both in and out of costume. While it’s certainly not necessary to follow the same pattern, I feel like it was halfway approached, which felt sloppy. The two did have a small spark here and there, but the vast majority of their time together was spent talking about their personal needs: his need to get Bane, and her need to escape. This never involved each other. We do see Catwoman lamenting her decision to double-cross Batman, but it’s presented much more as a regret over hurting someone that trusted her versus any romantic interest. They do share one dull, anticlimactic kiss toward the end, and this is still nothing to insinuate exciting chemistry. Yet they run off together. It’s understood that they’re both set on getting a fresh start, but with that being their only unifying reason for being together, this ending felt forced. Considering that those were the only major flaws I’ve seen in an otherwise very entertaining movie, I think I’ll let them slide.
All in all, I have never seen a character in the Nolan Batman movies give anything less than 100%. The entire trilogy has been a very impressive and engaging ride all the way through. As for an ending to this much anticipated story, I do feel that The Dark Knight Rises gives us just what fans wanted to see. From a solid wrap-up to the legacy of the al Ghuls, to all the riveting characters me meet along the way. Gordon gets the truth out about Harvey Dent, and still manages to rediscover the spark that drove him in the first place. Bruce Wayne even secures a tidy escape while giving his home to help children who were in his situation, and bequeathing the Batman legacy onto a detective that has proven himself worthy. And really, let’s all go ahead and take a moment to imagine Joseph Gorden Levitt as NightWing.