Friday, July 20, 2012

Recommended Viewing: The Dark Knight Rises

Like there was anything else I'd write about today.

I think I'm really going to need more time to really sit back and process everything that happened in The Dark Knight Rises. The film is nearly three hours long, and is a dense movie, with tons of stuff happening, plus lots of symbolism and weight. I can say that I loved it, that I thought it was an excellent film in general, and an incredible superhero film in specific.

In my commentary on Starman, I mentioned that I feel, with the continuing nature of superhero comics, characters rarely change, and endings are at best artificial. Christopher Nolan, knowing that he was building a trilogy, actually created a final chapter for his Batman. While I'm sure another writer/director could pick up the character and run with this version of it, I think that would be a disservice. Nolan, over the course of his trilogy, has crafted a complete tale: the beginnings of a hero is Batman Begins, the hero at the height of his legend in The Dark Knight, and the hero giving the last full measure of devotion in The Dark Knight Rises. When all three films are watched together, as I did at one of the marathons last night, you can see a very clear arc for Nolan's Batman, one that I will get into in a little bit.

Nolan has done something throughout his trilogy that previous Batman films have not: he has taken inspirations from specific comic book stories and played with them to best fit his view and themes.The three that leap immediately to mind for this film are not three you would expect to be mentioned in the same breath: the quintessential Dark Knight Returns, and the mega-Bat-family crossovers Knightfall and  No Man's Land. Nolan takes aspects from each, an aged Batman who has retired and a city under siege by villains, and puts them together in a way that works.

This film is a bigger movie than it's previous two installments. It's longer, of course, but more than that, it has more of a superhero plot, with massive armies of criminals, super science, and as many settings as Batman Begins. The more fantastic aspects might seem to counter to what Nolan had done before, especially in the supremely gritty and "real" world of The Dark Knight, but one of the themes established in the first film is one of escalation; that great acts of heroism only inspire greater acts of villainy. And so a plot that seems a bit more outlandish than the previous two films (one of which ended with a train chase and a microwave emitter, so you know we're really into sci-fi land here) feels acceptable.

Beyond the theme of escalation, Nolan continues to touch on the two othemes that have run through his trilogy. The first is that of terrorism. Nolan's villains are never addressed as criminals, or supervillains; they are terrorists. Bane is even more of one than Ra's al Ghul or the Joker. He uses peoples' fears against them to turn society on its ear. We watch Gotham deal with a world where right and wrong have been overturned by the rule of fear and madness, and how people deal with that. More than terrorism, though, the theme of belief in something comes through. Whether it's Bane's belief in the decadence of the world and his right to change it, or John Blake's belief in the Batman, what we believe in, and how far we are willing to go for it, is a string part of the film.

But the theme I feel is most central to what Nolan is doing in his films is that of the definition of a hero. Bruce Wayne begins the film as a shell of his former self. He must rebuild his life and his heroic persona. He must choose what is right and what is heroic. He is given numerous opportunities to quit, or to leave, but he chooses not to. In the end, he gives his all to Gotham. The other characters on the right side of things are also shown struggling with doing what is right, specifically Jim Gordon, who begins the film still struggling with his choice from eight years prior to let Batman take the fall for Two-Face's crimes. Gordon has been as central to Nolan's films as Batman has, and so it's important to follow his journey to its conclusion as well. And the introduction of new character John Blake, a young idealist, stands as something that the others can look to as a reminder of what they were before the world tarnished them.

Nolan has made excellent casting choices in his films, and this one is no different. While I'm sure we'll hear the same complaints about actor Christian Bale's Batman voice, I think he did a tremendous job in this film. He does spend a good amount of time out of the mask, allowing to see his face and to see him work. He has a journey to make through this film, from broken man to ascendant hero, and he pulls it off. The rest of the returning cast, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine, are all legends for a reason, and none of them do anything but play their characters pitch perfectly.

As for the new cast, Tom Hardy spends the entire film under mask as Bane, but does a good job of using his eyes and his body language to make his character. The Bane voice is clearly computer altered, but not to a degree that loses Hardy's personality as Bane. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake with an earnestness that is lacking in so many of the other characters. He is a young man, noble, with aspirations to make the world a better place, and Gordon-Levitt plays his in a way that does not make his lines seem, "Gosh golly," naive, but a person who is a true believer in something. Marion Cottilard's  Miranda Tate is one character I would have like to spent a bit more time with, to make her motivations a little more clear, but Cottilard plays her as a woman who believes that she can make the world a better place, and has the steel in her spine to do it.

The final new character in the film is Selina Kyle, Catwoman, and she is ably played by Anne Hathaway. Catwoman has been played by many different actresses over the years, more than any other of Batman's rogues, and Hathaway has become may favorite. She's tough, she's sassy, she's sexy, she's everything I would want in a Catwoman. More than that, though, she has a heart, and that "will they/won't they" thing that is the cornerstone of her relationship with Batman. She had excellent chemistry with Bale, and the scenes between the Bat and the Cat popped off the screen for me.

As with all of Nolan's films, the look of the movie was stunning. Nolan does a great job of using effects not as a crutch but as something to heighten a scene. The scenes in Bane's former home of the prison were stunning, the world there so distinct from Gotham. And watching Gotham change under the actions of Bane, and seeing the way the people there reacted to it, added a layer to the film.

The Dark Knight Rises isn't a perfect movie, but really there are very few films that even approach perfection. What it is, is a film that does what it intended. It raises questions, it makes you think, think about heroism and terrorism, something that most summer blockbusters would never try. And it gives a glorious send off to an excellent interpretation of one of the most interpreted characters in modern culture. Kudos, Mr. Nolan, kudos.

On a more serious note, my heart and thoughts go out to the people hurt and killed in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.


Ms. Meg said...

Thanks for this write up, Matt! I was really waiting to hear your thoughts.

Luke said...

Hi Matt,

Great review to a great movie. Although I had some minor quibbles with it.


1) Why did Miranda Tate bother to sleep with Bruce if the plan was the break Batman and throw him in the prison?

2) Was Miranda Tate (Talia) really the "mastermind" of everything or was it just her laying the goals and letting Bane carry out details/execution?

3) Why was Gordon allowed to be Commissioner after he was outed by Bane for lying about Harvey Dent's death?

4) The public learn that Batman was Bruce Wayne? The public knew Batman died, but what was the excuse for Bruce Wayne?

The Matt Signal said...

Luke, here are my theories on your questions.

1) I can only assume she always planned on revealing her identity to him at some point, and this was an additional way to twist the knife in him.

2) Probably a little of both. I think she knew the endgame, and had the idea of using the fusion reactor, and probably set up the tentpoles, but Bane used Dagget and dealt with a lot of the day to day parts of the scheme.

3) By the point Bane reveals that, I kind of think Gordon's title as commissioner was honorary. No one was running anything besides Bane, so people were just used to calling him commissioner. Not to mention, who else would want the job in the middle of all that madness.

4) No, I'm pretty sure the public didn't learn. I would assume Bruce was just counted among the dead of the upper classes in Gotham who were massacred by Bane's army and Scarecrow's courts.

Luke said...


For point 3):

I'm referring to the epilogues, after Batman "died" we see Gordon looking at the new bat symbol and what appear to be case files so I assumed he went back to being a commissioner after No Man's Land.

The Matt Signal said...

Ah, good point.... Yeah, I got nothing there. Maybe his helping Batman redeemed him in the eyes of the city?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved the film. My only minor issue with it was swift kill of bane at the end.