D: Christopher Nolan. W: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan. DP: Wally Pfister. Starring: Christian Bale/Gary Oldman/Tom Hardy/Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Anne Hathaway/Marion Cotillard/Morgan Freeman/Michael Caine. (Based on the DC Comic characters created by Bob Kane.)
In all honesty it took my awhile to get to this review. I was very tense after the Aurora shooting, which I actually felt in the theater. I keep my thoughts with the victims’ families and communities. I echo Mr. Nolan’s comments, the movie theater is my home and it saddens me that someone has violated that safe space.
The Dark Knight Rises is probably the most anticipated summer release this year. Not only due to its subject matter, but also because it officially concludes Christopher Nolan’s cinematic interpretation of the Batman story. Nolan’s dominance is hard to ignore and his influence can be seen in this summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man and the upcoming summer 2013 Man of Steel, which he executive produced. But did his final installment live up to all the hype?
Where The Dark Knight Rises succeeds is mostly in mood, visuals, and giving fans a clear conclusion to the Batman’s story. Firstly, Hans Zimmer must be praised for his score. His score adds a pulse to the entire film and his Batman theme still resonates after three films. Zimmer’s work creates a base for the mood of Nolan’s Gotham, which despite the Dent act (which gives harsher sentences to criminals) is lit just as dark and gloomy as in the previous films. Yet this darkness echos Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) pain, grief, and loss of identity. Bale’s decision at the end of 2008’s The Dark Knight to put away Batman has clearly robbed him of his purpose. This reclusive Wayne finally allows Bale to show Bruce’s orphaned, damaged edges that have clearly deteriorated his personal life.
Bale, for me, has easily been the best Bruce Wayne. Not only do I prefer this darker interpretation of the story, after all Bruce is just a man with expensive resources, but the films are well balanced between the two spheres of his life. Nolan allows Bale to grapple with Bruce’s need for Batman and his ultimate ignorance that he does, in fact, need his life as Bruce as well. Thankfully, Bale embraces the conflict between these two spheres and provides an intensity and depth on screen that cannot compare to previous incarnations of this character. In this film, Michael Caine steps up his game as Bale’s butler, Alfred. The scenes between them are not only poignant and moving, but act as marker’s for Bale’s journey.
Batman’s journey in this film is littered with clear visual winks at the audience and acknowledgements of Batman’s legacy. When Bale first appears donning his once abandoned suit, the music pulsates, and cinematographer, Wally Pfister, shoots his Batman in one shot. From toe to pointy ear as his cape billows behind him and he pulls up a bad guy with just one hand. Pure idealism at best, but also pure fun. Later in the film, Bale as Batman is seen, with one leg up, atop a skyscraper, surveying his city below. And ultimately, it is these visual moments that remind all of us that though Nolan’s interpretation of this comic book character are considered more realistic, he has not forgotten the origin and the thrill of the orphaned boy who becomes a city’s crusader.
However, where The Dark Knight Rises falters is in its female characters, plot anomalies, and simply put…Bane. Unfortunately for this franchise, Nolan is not adept at casting women or let alone directing them. Marion Cotillard’s Miranda comes out of nowhere to seduce Bale’s Bruce, but is giving so little to work with that she seems ancillary to the story. Rumor has it Nolan even re-worked the shooting schedule to accommodate her maternity leave, so to speak, from films. Although she was wonderful in Nolan’s 2010 Inception, this seems to much like she was left to her own devices and came up short. Where the real travesty lies is with Anne Hathaway’s Selina/Catwoman. Thankfully, she does not ruin the film. But one cannot help but begrudge Nolan for not using the character to cast someone completely new and, ahem, interesting. With Hathaway the film’s casting just seems too safe. Her Selina is clean, crisply articulate, and just far too all-American. Personally, I believe Hathaway was probably far too focused slaving away at the gym to fit into her latex suit to bother with developing a character. And at some point we have to concede that Catwoman needs to be a little bit sexy and a little bit dirty, like Bruce. And Hathaway is just not that.
As for plot anomalies there are a few. Some characters will connect Bruce Wayne and Batman rather seamlessly, others apparently take three years to put it together. For a powerful corporation, Wayne Enterprises apparently has some glaring cracks that conveniently show themselves. Yet you almost want to forgive these misgivings as it is clear that Nolan and his co-writer (his brother) had fun writing this film. The Dark Knight Rises has the most one-liners and silly goofs out of the three films. And one walking silly goof is Mr. Tom Hardy as Bane. Thundering and massively built, Hardy tries his hardest (har-har) to act his way out of his face mask. Nothing compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker (but no one will ever top that), Bane’s purpose seems far too simple and literal to mean anything. Apparently he seeks revolution and a chance to give the city back to the people in order to eliminate corruption. An apparently direct analogy to the state of this country, somehow something is lost in translation. Rather Hardy, with a hilarious sort of Sean Connery spoofed voice that is at times inaudible, does all the groundwork for a later reveal that proves he’s just as null and void as his brain.
But Nolan does not succumb to his faults. He gives us an ending. He gives us ever present and loyal Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and introduces Joseph Gordon-Levitt to more fans as Officer Blake. These strong supporting roles actually carry the film and help to balance out the moments that get out of hand and the plot holes that will leave some shaking their heads. At the end I left the theater sad the films were ending, yet smiling as Batman is forever re-incarnated on screen and like all creative things, never truly an end.