Dark Knight Rises: Review And Commentary

Dark Knight Rises: Review And Commentary

Dark Knight Rises: Review And Commentary

I’ve been waiting to see “The Dark Knight Rises” impatiently. I bought my ticket over a month ago. This was supposed to be a simple film review. But since I didn’t see an advance screening,  I’m in a unique position as a reviewer. I’m watching it after the terrifying shooting in Colorado.

To say this tarnishes my experience is an understatement. I’m a huge Batman fan (read my post on why Batman is the best superhero ever, as it ties in with this review) and I was still excited to see it, but I felt almost guilty given this tragedy. After my review of the film, I’ll have some more thoughts about Aurora.

Regarding the film; director Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Rises” is a juggernaut of a movie. Although it clocks in at almost 3 hours you don’t want to take a bathroom break. This will glue you to your seat from start to finish.

It opens with one of the best action set pieces I’ve ever seen. It involves an airplane escape/hijacking by Bane, the film’s ultra creepy villain played by Tom Hardy. This scene was shot without CGI which makes it all the more impressive. Your jaw will drop.

Back in Gotham, things have changed since “The Dark Knight” . The martyred ghost of Harvey Dent has made the city a safer place.  Only Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne still know the truth of his actions. And Wayne lies in hiding, still blaming himself for Rachel Dawson’s death. While Alfred is glad Bruce has given up Batman, he’s saddened by his state of isolation.

Christian Bale and Michael Caine share some great scenes together, with Caine in particular giving an emotive performance, desperate for his surrogate son to free himself from his guilt and burden.

But Bruce is about to re-enter the world, thanks to Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, a stealthy jewel thief masquerading as one of his maids, before making off with his mother’s pearls.

When he confronts her, she updates him on how disconnected he is from the average Gothamite: “There’s a storm comingMr. Wayne. when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Hathaway is excellent as Kyle aka Catwoman. Is she a friend? Villain? Opportunist? She nails all these contradictory elements that are essential to the character.

He’s attracted to her as well, but he also has feelings for Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy socialite. She also sees him as a man out of touch with his city, and wants to help get his house in order.

Bruce then visits Gordon in the hospital. He’s been injured by an attack from Bane, who’s just arrived in Gotham. He tells Bruce the city once again needs Batman. A quick trip to visit Lucius Fox (the always welcome Morgan Freeman) for a nifty new toy (The Bat, that flying machine you’ve seen in trailers), some working out and Batman returns.

Bane pulls off a terrorist assault at the Gotham City Stock exchange. He’s here to bring the city to his knees, and this is his first declaration of intent. When Batman emerges to try to stop the raid, it’s an exciting kinetic scene.

Now, I’ve read several reviews on the political nature of this film. Rush Limbaugh stated that Bane was an attack on Mitt Romney (it’s “Bain” get it? Ugh.) , and others say this film is anti-Occupy Wall Street. I don’t see it like that. Bruce Wayne is a man out of touch. His charitable works have stopped due to apathy. The events of this film force him to realize how Gotham hurts in ways a masked vigilante can’t fix.

The script was written long before OWS, so if anything it’s simply prescient. There was similar commentary in Batman Begins, where Bruce’s parents were altruistic and Wayne embraced their legacy. So that premise rings false to me. Not everything needs to be politicized anyways. (Jeff Spross and Zack Beauchamp wrote a much more expansive post on Think-Progress about the politics of Nolan’s Bat-films that’s very well written.)

Batman realizes Bane is a massive threat. So much so that he tries to secure a nuclear generator that Wayne Enterprises has built to give clean energy to the city. Bruce realizes in Bane’s hands it would be a weapon. He entrusts Fox and Tate with keeping it safe.

Bane resonates dread simply by his body language. Heath Ledger was terrifying as the Joker, but Hardy’s physicality makes him a different kind of threat. He’s a side of beef in a bondage mask. But he’s no dumb brute. Hardy’s eyes emote a bleak veneer that stays with you. His voice is hard to discern at times. When he and Batman verbally spar it can sound like 2 chain-smoking ladies at a nursing home, but you grow accustomed to it.

Nolan’s had problems in the past with fight scenes. They often felt sloppy and poorly staged. Not this time. The confrontations between Bane and Batman are visceral and painful. They’re the most brutal hand to hand ever seen in a comic book movie.

It’s this first fight that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Batman has clearly bitten off more than he can chew this time. This sends him into a hellish limbo for the 3rd act, while Bane overtakes the city.

Bane  wants Gotham to become an anarchist state. One built on false hope. Survival of the fittest taken to its bleakest constraints. But that in itself is an illusion. Bane wants nothing less than Gotham’s complete annihilation. He wants the citizens to suffer as he did as a child. There is a legacy he shares with Bruce, but they see the outcome differently.

While our hero is out of action, Jim Gordon holds down the fort with rookie police officer John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) . He’s a believer in Batman and inspired by his actions. His performance is key to this film and Gordon-Levitt keeps showing why he’s one of the best young actors around. Gary Oldman is solid as always with his portrayal of Gordon. They make a great pair.

From here on out, Dark Knight Rises is exhausting in its depiction of chaos; Batman fighting for his life and for his city, Bane’s cruel delusions of grandeur, an epic destruction of a football field, bridges, and humanity fighting against its darkest impulses. And you can bet that nuclear device comes into play. As we race towards the finale, things get worked into a fever pitch.

Cinematographer Wally Pfister is in top form here, and his IMAX camera work is stunning. Hans Zimmer’s score is as always, excellent. His grandiose, operatic tones fit the film perfectly.

But what of the pressing questions? Does Batman die? What role does Levitt’s character ultimately play? And will Nolan allow any glimmer of hope to shine amongst the wreckage?

I won’t tell on the first two. But I found the finale uplifting and emotional (which makes criticisms of Nolan’s work seeming cold null and void) and ending on a redemptive note.

The movie isn’t perfect, however. There are moments that push suspension of disbelief to high levels, and like “Dark Knight”, it feels at times overstuffed in its portent and running time, and some of the dialogue seems excessively expository. But it’s a very strong, satisfying finish to the best superhero film series ever made.

When the movie ended the audience cheered.  This I found inspiring, given what transpired just a day before.

The shooter in Colorado (James Holmes) violated one of life’s simple pleasures. Going to a movie theater is a time of escape. He has sullied that simple pursuit.

Will we see a future with metal detectors in movie theaters, which will become like going to the airport now; tiresome and difficult?

Some will blame the film itself, which is ridiculous. The arts often get blamed in incidents like these, but insanity will always find a way to pervert interpretation, whether it be a film, book, music or even religion.

But Batman doesn’t use a gun. He doesn’t believe in retribution. That he’s now associated with the inverse of these values is troubling.

Holmes said he was the Joker. As I wrote in my Batman post, the Joker represents random violence. Sometimes bad things just happen. It’s that element of chaos that is so unsettling. We want to explain it, but it’ll never make sense. And it won’t bring back the dead.

But some examinations into lax gun laws and mental health observations would be well worth pursuing. Hindsight is always 20/20, but couldn’t we try to improve the odds? Could he have been stopped?

Nolan’s films will be scrutinized, but time will put them in proper perceptive. And when I said before that Batman will outlast Nolan’s films given his immortal status, he’ll prevail here as well. He represents the best in us. If only there had been a real Batman there that night. But he wasn’t. He’s an idealized version of how we can right society’s wrongs. It’s up to us to do the rest.

We can still look out for one another. To recognize if someone seems troubled, to try to intervene in a horrible situation. That’s all we can do.

One line in the film stood out starkly, when Batman admonished Selina for brandishing a fire arm. “No guns, No killing”.

How I wish that were true.

Want to help the victims of the Colorado tragedy? Read this article on ways that you can help.

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34 Responses to Dark Knight Rises: Review And Commentary

  1. Jack Sommersby July 23, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    Word! This was especially the case in “Batman Begins” — in fact, critic Matt Zoller Seitz wrote at the time that they were not only inadequate, but an insult to widescreen. But on non-fight scenes, he can be a master — go back and look at that dynamite chase scene in “Insomnia” with Pacino chasing Williams all the way to those floating logs which Pacino falls through and desperately tries to get back to the surface. And let’s also give praise to his ace cinematographer — at the conclusion of my “Moneyball” review:

    “Scoring big, also, are editor Christopher Tellefsen, composer Mychael Danna, and, especially, Wally Pfister, director Christopher Nolan’s usual cinematographer, taking a break from the Batman series and giving the ballparks and even the locker rooms a lovely sheen that’s an understated feast for the eyes. This stalwart technician manages to give an Oakland stadium as much visual vitality as those foreboding nighttime streets and back alleys of Gotham City.”

    As for the Bain thing, Limbaugh can go suck an egg.

  2. Greg July 23, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Truly an outstanding review. As someone who has never honestly had any interest in seeing this movie or any of its predecessors, I think you have provided me the impetus to do so. IMHO, using words (whether oral or text) to convince another to do something they otherwise had no inclination to undertake is one of the most powerful abilities one can possess. Kudos.

    I had an entire other paragraph here filled with political and policy mumbo jumbo (that’s a technical term), but I do not want to distract from the mastery of your insights or the subject of the review: the movie. What I will say is that when we all get our shit together and stop this sort of ridiculous behavior, we’ll all be a lot happier. It’s a sad state of affairs that even movies, which are in some circles intended to serve as a reprieve from reality for a few hours, become fodder for idiots. Desperation is best reserved for truly desperate situations.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Jack Sommersby July 23, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Oh, this from your review was supposed to be the lead-in to my comment:

    — “Nolan’s had problems in the past with fight scenes. They often felt sloppy and poorly staged.” —

  4. SLIS July 23, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    @Jack, I totally agree on Pfister and Moneyball. It was a wonderful film and in many ways he’s the new Dean Cundey in his atmospheric style of cinematography. I enjoyed Nolan’s “Insomnia” as well.

    @Greg, thanks so much for the praise and I’m glad you’ll give Nolan’s films a chance. They’re quite excellent, and he really took the super hero genre to a new level of cinema. I totally agree with your other points too.

    There’s been a lot of charged rhetoric with this film, whether it be political, or how fans have threatened critics who’ve given negative reviews, and how Marvel Comics fans have been rooting for this film to fail.

    I wanted to elaborate on all of that, but I thought my post was long enough and the comments could flesh it out. I think we’ve become too focused on “event” movies, and box office grosses. Perhaps it’s this overhyped manicness that prompted the killer to use the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ as the catalyst? It was the most anticipated film of the year, and he knew he’d be famous. It’s so hard to say.

    But until politicians fully explore what’s going on with our gun laws and warning signs with the disturbed this cycle will likely keep repeating. The right to bear arms is one thing, but to have military grade weapons which are designed for mass killing is a big red flag IMHO. I know many will disagree. Perhaps it was inevitable but surely we can have more safeguards in place.

    And I’m also quite upset my childhood hero is being used as a divisive political figure and that he may be used as a scapegoat for influential violence in media. Batman belongs to us all, and this sicko has cast a long shadow over him.

  5. Molly July 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Very insightful, thank you for this. I think Bane might very well be the most terrifying villain I have ever seen in a movie. Tom Hardy does such an amazing job- I see an Oscar win in his future. I was exhausted after watching this movie- going from being completely tense with apprehension to cheering, to almost crying, to tense, to sobbing (yeah yeah I know I am a sap), to cheering again… this was the best movie I have seen in a very long time!

    • SLIS July 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

      It was very emotional. In a good way. I found the cheering and applause as the credits rolled so life affirming after the tragedy. some may say that’s in poor taste, but it felt right. A Batman film should make you feel that way. Nolan ended it in such a novel, beautiful way. Best 3rd film ever.

    • Greg July 23, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      I’m going to show my better half your comments, and now I bet I can get us to watch it together! A question for you and SLIS: Should we take the time to watch the first two before going straight to this? It sounds like that may be the case, but wanted to get your opinions on it.

  6. SLIS July 23, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Greg; Yes, watch them in sequence, otherwise it might be a little disjointed. Plus, If for some reason you don’t like Batman Begins then you know the series isn’t for you. I hope you enjoy it. I never liked the Burton or Schumacker films. Nolan’s the only one who in my mind got the mythos correct on the silver screen (exception would be the animated series and film).

  7. SLIS July 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    And I’ll be curious to hear if you liked the films!


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