Dark Knight Rises – The Batman Movie We Deserve AND The Batman Movie We Need Right Now

Author’s Note: I have decided to write this review/critique/discussion of The Dark Knight Rises with the only mention of the tragedy in Colorado being this note. I do not want the monster who committed that atrocity of being the subject of my or any readers of this blogs discussion except to condemn it, voice an opinion that I believe he should suffer the fullest extent of the law, and be afforded pity for his inability to cope with reality. I don’t believe he should control the cultural discussion the way he has, and I believe that allowing him to stop me from writing this would be tantamount to giving the brand of terrorism he perpetrated. Much of my prayer and meditations will be with the family of those who were affected by this tragedy, and if any of them are reading this, I am very sorry for your loss. I want to discuss this movie in a sometimes comedic way, and I hope that you do not take it as disrespectful or irreverent, because that is not the intention. With that said, I hope all of you enjoy this article.

Let inaugurate this column with this: The Dark Knight Rises is an AMAZING film, and I will get to my gushing, love-filled review of it in a second. But I need to say something, and I want to preface my next statement by saying I’m a huge Batman fan. Not the biggest (I’m sure there’s someone out there who carved the bat-symbol into their chest and prances around all Silence of the Lambs-style), but I did wear a Batman costume to school at least once a week from Pre-Kindergarten-1st grade, and to this day I get the urge to growl “I’m Batman” whenever I’m asked for a name at a coffee shop. That being said, I have a confession to make: I’m no longer impressed by The Dark Knight.

When it first came out, I was thrilled. I thoroughly loved The Dark Knight, feeling (obliviously) that it was indeed the Batman movie I so richly deserved after the awesome set-up of Batman Begins. I have no idea when the honeymoon ended; maybe it was a growing ennui brought on from repeated viewings, or from me picking every tasty morsel of bat-goodness from the bat-carcass (I promise, I’m working on my bat-hyphen problem) of the film, but it happened and I felt my love for The Dark Knight grow tepid. I’ve gone over in my head (over and over until I get the bat-spins) all the problems with The Dark Knight: the Joker’s almost omniscient ability to read the future right up to the very end of the film; the fact that the only choice Batman is allowed to make in the movie is to not kill the Joker (because the Joker makes every other decision for him); or the fact that Christopher Nolan, despite his groundbreaking cinematic achievements, decides to follow the trend of killing off/never bringing back a villain for a sequel (except for Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow, the only villain-skein that runs throughout this trilogy). Heath Ledger is the shining bat-light in The Dark Knight, and I might feel differently had Heath Ledger been able to come back for a sequel, but alas his tragic death left a pair of clown-shoes no one could fill.

But my digression done, let me open up the flood gates: The Dark Knight Rises is amazing. Truly amazing. More amazing than The Amazing Spider-Man by far, and I feel a worthy competitor for the title of best comic movie ever, right next to The Avengers (they are both amazing in different ways). What sets The Dark Knight Rises apart from The Avengers is that while they are both excellent comic book movies, The Dark Knight Rises is an excellent FILM. It is a piece of art, and while it lacks spandex-ed super heroes CGI-ing bad guys through buildings and running amok through awesome set-pieces, it succeeds in concluding a Trilogy in a way that George Lucas could only hope to hire someone to imagine for him.

THE REST OF THIS IS CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS! DO NOT READ AFTER THE JUMP IF YOU A) HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE AND/OR B) DON’T LIKE PEOPLE DISCUSSING FACTS (IF IT’S A, GO OUT AND WATCH THE MOVIE. DON’T WORRY. I’LL WAIT. IF IT’S B, I’M PRETTY SURE YOU HAVE ROCK TO GO HIDE UNDER).

So where were we? Ah, that’s right: discussing The Dark Knight Rises. Let’s start by comparing DKR to The Avengers. They are both satisfying, deliciously so, but they hit two different sweet-tooths (sweet-teeth?): The Avengers is over-the-top, science-fiction, Golden-Era comic goodness with enough grit to add texture without destroying the whole feel of the slightly-comedic, action-packed, fairly good-natured universe Marvel and Disney are building. As a matter of fact, my main (possibly only) complaint about The Avengers is the lack of stakes. Sure, the world is in danger from aliens and demented demi-gods, but the aliens apparently decided to attack midtown Manhattan on the one day that no one was at work or inside any of the giant buildings that are under siege or outright destroyed. In the closing sequences there is never a discussion of the death toll that The Avengers or their foes inclination for destroying giant buildings would realistically wreak in possibly the BUSIEST SECTION of New York City, and the only news we get are on-the-street interviews of people discussing whether or not they can trust the mythical figures who destroyed half of Manhattan while protecting New York from threats of both alien and governmental nature (I haven’t forgotten that the shadowy Uber-Government folks tried to nuke New York City).

The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, holds New York (I know it’s Gotham, but I can recognize the damn bridges I’ve been riding and walking across for approximately 25 years) under siege in a much different way: a threat that arises from inside of the city itself, perpetrated by a terrorist mastermind and his brain-washed band of unemployed and homeless assassins, that leaves a city under a state of martial law. The fact that this was filmed on Wall St. while the Occupy folks were a few blocks away at Zuccotti Park speaks perhaps to how Mr. Nolan viewed the movement (misinformed, mistreated, and malleable in the hands of skillful orator wearing a robot mask). His choice of having the antagonists use the tools of a hero to hold a city hostage, destroying the police force’s ability to respond to crimes (I mean they literally BURIED them), and driving out the rich inhabitants of Gotham before putting them before a French Revolutionary-esque tribunal where they are murdered or forced out onto the thin ice of the East River shows us a dangerous alternate version of how the Occupy Movement could have played out. Despite the dubious message of the dangers of populist movements, the movie is still breath-taking.

As a comic film, The Dark Knight Rises succeeds far more than either of its bat-predecessors. To my mind, it feels like an interesting Elseworlds issue from DC, with a more near-future/semi-realistic vibe replacing the super-futuristic, hyper-technological dimension that DC is more associated with. There is no mention of other locales in the DC Universe, but the action is all over the top and kinetic, the fight scenes make you grimace with every bone-jarring punch, and there is an acceptance of the costumed villains and vigilantes that wasn’t seen in either of the previous installments.

As a Film (capital F), the titular Rising of the Dark Knight is beautifully displayed (if somewhat heavy-handedly) in his escaping the chasm-prison that Bane has whisked him away to. Before this starts sounding like a Freshmen Art of Film paper, I’ll just say that this movie is shot beautifully; characters are given personalities and character arcs that feel natural and in-line with the universe in which they take place; and of course, the acting is amazing.

I would also like to give props to Michael Caine, who speeched so hard at Christian Bale that I almost cried. You felt the pain and the anguish of a man who loves his surrogate son, and has decided he can no longer enable his destructive habit of vigilante justice. It hit me right in my cry bone, and I’m not ashamed to admit my snuffling. Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman show up once again, and turn in predictably great acting, but the newcomers Gordon-Levitt and Hardy steal the show.

Gordon-Levitt as Robin Detective John Blake leads a hunt for the Batman in the first part of the movie, and slowly becomes the possessor of the bat-cape and cowl. I’m also intrigued by Nolan’s decision to Prestige the audience by introducing Robin, despite the fact that he said he wouldn’t. If you combine that with that fact that he’s involved in both the upcoming Man of Steel, as well as slated to be an executive producer for the 2015 Justice League movie, and I feel that we may not have seen the last of Nolan’s bat-franchise in the wider DC Universe.

Now, let us discuss the villains: Tom Hardy as Bane, the menacing-but-refined big baddy; Anne Hathaway, as the femme fatale/cat burglar Catwoman; and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate/Talia Al-Ghul. Tom Hardy is spell-binding (see, I’m aiming to find new synonyms for great) as Bane, and is basically just a bigger, badder version of Batman (as he should be, according to comic canon). His voice is no less ridiculous than the smoker’s growl that Bale puts on for Batman, and the W.C. Fields-Chewing-On-Taffy voice that Bane uses is great for the threats and taunts he hams at Batman. Despite the hamming, it all feels in character for Bane, who has decided he needs to be bigger than life, a symbol like Batman but one willing to embrace the praise of the masses, coming from a place far lower than Wayne/Batman ever did, and ready to tear down the system that has so far failed Gotham. You can see him shepherding the 99% into full on rebellion, while at the same time preparing an army of Assassins who will gladly kill themselves and others at his whim. He is the figure that many hoped/feared would come out of the 99%/OWS movement, but of course he is planning on completing the job (destroying Gotham) started by Ras-Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson).

Oh, yeah, let’s talk about the Al-Ghul clan, here. I really enjoyed Nolan’s take on the immortal Ras-Al-Ghul, who rather than taking acid baths to keep himself young and virile is instead a figure head and title that a member of the League of Assassins takes up (as far as I could tell). His return as a figment (?) of Bruce Wayne’s pain addled head was fun to watch, although even as I write this, part of me wants to think that perhaps it was him, and Nolan was totally Prestige-ing again, planning to bring Ras back for the Justice League movie or something. As his daughter, Talia, Marion Cotillard does a great job (wouldn’t expect less from an Academy-Award Winner), and even though I called it months ago, her turning out to be Talia and not the Eco-Warrior Miranda Tate was a pleasant surprise.

As Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Anne Hathaway is fun to watch. In every way. She plays an excellent foil to Bruce Wayne, she struts her stuff in her Catwoman garb, and her fight scenes are particularly note-worthy, because you really feel the impact of her hits (unlike some action movies, where the female fighters aren’t entirely believable). I think the main problem with Catwoman in this is that Nolan couldn’t decide whether her macguffin is actually a macguffin. Other than that head-scratcher, she’s a blast to watch, and looks like she had fun doing the film.

As discussed earlier, Cillian Murphy reprises his Scarecrow role, and does a decent job for the scenes he’s given, but I feel that he is just standing in for scenes that were meant to feature the return of Ledger’s Joker. The tribunal that judges and destroys the elite of Gotham seems like a perfect insane courtroom for the Clown Prince of Crime, although Murphy is still a blast to watch, and gets across the kind of madness we (I) hope for in an Arkham Inmate. I wish we could have seen his character’s resolution, though, because that is left mysteriously blank.

I was sad that Aaron Eckhart did not return as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, but I guess Nolan is whimsical like that in which promises he breaks.

Who have we forgotten? I feel like there’s at least one more character in The Dark Knight Rises to discuss… Oh yeah, Mr. Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman! You know, the main character? He’s here, and far more present than in The Dark Knight, where he existed only to give Ledger, Oldman, and Eckhart someone to steal the scene from. When first introduced in DKR, he is hobbling around on a cane, far skinnier than he was at the end of The Dark Knight, and resigned to his sad lot as just a billionaire in the richest country in the world. Through the movie, though, he loses his fortune, his city, and even his confidence as Bane bests him in every contest (to be fair, I don’t think anyone would confidently go into a fight with Tom Hardy). He is brought low so that he can rise (oh, so that’s where the title comes from), and sheds his safety net and embraces the fact that Batman is more valuable as a symbol than Bruce Wayne is as Batman.

There’s a fun aside where he goes to see a doctor (played by Tom Lennon), and is told his entire body is falling apart. This is the starting point, and the rest of the movie is just reassurance that while he still has some bat-fight left in him, perhaps his days as someone who can repeatedly be concussed, blown-up, broken, and flying on a zip line through a major metropolitan city are numbered. The ultimate demise of his Batman persona is the resurrection of Bruce Wayne, and his ride-off-into the sunset happy ending with Ms. Kyle is nice (if a bit anti-climactic). Maybe it was just me projecting, but he looked genuinely happy and satisfied at the end of the film.

This movie actually feels more like a sequel to Batman Begins than Dark Knight in terms of acting, tone, and continuity. The happenings of Dark Knight are mentioned, but aside from Dent’s death being the reason that all crime is done in Gotham, there’s little to no mention of the Joker (I’m actually blanking as to whether he’s even brought up), and everything that Bane, Talia, and the Hobo-Assassin army are hoping to achieve is a continuation of Batman Begins. Even Bruce Wayne, who is reeling over the death of Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhall) in The Dark Knight, responds to the renewed threat of the League of Shadows/Assassins with no mention of her after he begins his flirtatious back-and-forth with Catwoman.

In summary, the movie is great, amazing, splendiferous, astonishing, and just an all-around good time. I’ll probably dissect more as time goes one, but this Nerd was thoroughly appeased by the final offering in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. As to whether it is a better comic book movie than The Avengers, I cannot say, but certainly it is co-ruler of the comic movie pantheon.

P.S. Extra Points for The Dark Knight Rises for the appearance of Aidan Gillen in the opening of the film. Any excuse to hang out with Carcetti-Littlefinger.

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3 thoughts on “Dark Knight Rises – The Batman Movie We Deserve AND The Batman Movie We Need Right Now

  1. I heard (from no reputable source — just somewhere on the Internet) that the absence of the Joker, even in mentioning him at all (you are correct that they don’t even mention him) is “out of respect” for Heath Ledger. Not sure that I agree or disagree with that sentiment, but that’s what the kids are saying.

    Other quick points:
    – Agree that Michael Caine rocked Alfred’s spat at Wayne, but really disappointed at his random switch to cockney accent. His cockney was great, but inconsistent with Alfred from previous films in the trilogy (Begins for sure, can’t remember DK)
    – How in the hell did you “call” Miranda Tate turning out to be evil? You are brilliant. I was had.
    – I think I am the only person on the planet that didn’t love Anne Hathaway’s performance; I haven’t been able to articulate why, though, so possibly I am just jealous. Very possibly.

  2. Alright, you have convinced me, I will go see it.
    I’ve been disappointed by the Batman movies in general, with their overall dark mood and almost unwatchable cinematography. Literally, I can’t see many scenes they are so ill-lit, and I hate interrupting all the time to ask “What was that?”.
    However, I have great respect for Christoper Nolan’s work; he assembles such great casts and has interesting ideas.
    Just waiting for my teen daughter to return from camp and go with me or she would never forgive me for letting her miss a Tom Hardy movie (even if he is wearing a mask).

  3. Pingback: Comic Books: Out of the Basement and into Your Mainstream | Casual Gentlemen

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