For the last week or two we’ve all been bombarded with review after review of The Dark Knight Rises, which only made us even more excited for when we’d finally sit down and watch Christopher Nolan bring his trilogy to an end. This is another review to add onto the thousands (actually, probably millions) of reviews, another personal perspective on Nolan’s third and final installment to his Batman trilogy.
And yet another review telling you that this movie is great. If not great because of some small flaws, then at least really, really good.
Gotham may have been in “peace time” for the last eight years, but you can feel the unrest that’s been bubbling and waiting to explode like a time bomb. Bruce Wayne has been a recluse since the events in The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon hesitatingly puts away his speech that would reveal the truth about white knight Harvey Dent, and despite all the smiling faces you can still spot unease in the eyes of everyone around.
But the underlying layer of unease and uncertainty never goes away, and it’s what takes away The Dark Knight Rises’ superhero movie feel while replacing it with this very real and human sense of fear. Fear of what the future brings, fear of its unpredictability. The kind of fear that we face every day where we wonder if everything that is going so right will one day go terribly wrong.
And this fragility is the link between every major player in the film. Once powerful and full of belief, Bruce Wayne has tumbled from the heights and spends his time hobbling around Wayne Manor with a cane, leaving us to wonder how he was ever the caped crusader. Christian Bale returns to successfully embody a Bruce Wayne so full of guilt and regret over Rachel Dawes’ death that we’re left only with remnants of the once-great Batman. Even Alfred and Lucien Fox, once the only reliable sources of stability amidst all the chaos, break down for the first time, giving us a first glimpse at the storm that is to come and reminding us of the strength and vulnerability that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman bring to each role.
With a star-studded cast alongside Bale, Caine, and Freeman, Nolan recreates the conflict between hardened belief and fear that made its appearance here and there in Batman Begins, but sprung to life in The Dark Knight. The duality defines all interactions and relationships in Nolan’s universe, lending them an uncertainty that underscores the constant presence of Gotham’s breaking point. Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt shine in their roles as the washed-up Jim Gordon and new, optimistic John Blake, acting as foils for one another as Gotham plunges deeper into chaos. Both feed off of one another so dynamically that by the film’s end, you can witness some of Blake’s optimism in Gordon while the young detective has been brought down to earth by Gordon’s guidance and all questions he’s had to answer.
Then there is, of course, Tom Hardy’s Bane. While many critics have dismissed Hardy’s Bane as simply a brute, they miss the complexity the controls the villain’s thoughts and actions. Bane is not just a simple brute. His calculating mind, strong physique, and goal of stopping the seemingly evil Gotham with the city’s destruction directly opposes Heath Ledger’s Joker whose calculating yet insane mind, weaker physique, and seemingly purpose-less penchant for destruction makes him a completely different villain. Nolan has, essentially, succeeded in his goal of presenting Batman with a new villain who takes the caped crusader beyond his limits, but in ways that directly contrast with The Dark Knight‘s Joker.
You can see Nolan try to extend this contrast with the introduction of Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. But where Nolan’s other characters are well-constructed, Tate and Kyle seem underdeveloped, making them less significant than Nolan originally intended them to be. While Hathaway fully embodies Catwoman’s feminine power and vulnerability as needed throughout the film, the absence of a seamless transition between the two reduces her portrayal of Selina Kyle into the typical femme fatale role so common among female superheroes. Cotillard, for her part, is terrific as Tate, but the absence of screentime allotted to the Wayne Enterprises executive interrupts her character arc, chopping it up into blocks that make Tate’s role in the plot hard to follow. Once it’s revealed that Tate is actually the long-lost Talia al Ghul, we’re surprised not so much because it’s a well-concealed twist, but more because it’s odd to let such a seemingly insignificant character suddenly take power over the terrifying Bane.
Aside from the plot holes in Tate’s story, a few other instances could have been played upon that would have dynamically changed some aspects of the film. The one that immediately comes to mind is the revelation to all of Gotham that Commissioner Gordon had, in fact, lied about the events surrounding Harvey Dent’s death. In Nolan’s universe, Harvey Dent had been immortalized after his death, with Gotham’s citizens so in love and grieved over his death that they passed a law under his name and created the annual Harvey Dent Day. So why such a limited reaction to the revelation that Gotham’s white knight was actually its nightmare? Not to mention that the lie had been told and concealed by one of Gotham’s most trusted men. Apart from Blake’s reaction, however, it seems as though Gordon never actually faces the consequences as even Blake eventually drops the subject and it fades from memory. The limited role of Gordon’s lie is somewhat unfortunate, as it would have been interesting to watch the relationship between the Commissioner and Gotham’s citizens change, and the changes’ effects on the fight against Bane.
Nevertheless, Nolan does offer us a relatively tight conclusion to a dark and twisted saga. Everyone seems to reconcile their ethics with their actions, allowing them to find a peaceful end to a long, devastating struggle with their uncertainties and fears. Nowhere is this most apparent than when Gotham is a mere few minutes away from destruction with Bruce Wayne at the helm of the Bat, flying out to the bay. Though the Batman’s imminent death threatens to put an end to Nolan’s iconic version of the hero, for once Bruce Wayne is no longer confined to Gotham and its tall dark buildings full of corruption and sin. Instead, he is flying with no boundaries, as if he is free despite the bomb hanging right beneath him.
With immense action sequences, dynamic storytelling, and a cast of largely engaging characters, Nolan transforms the classic battle between good versus evil into a reflection of our very fears and insecurities. While The Dark Knight Rises possesses the same characteristics as other superhero and action films, it forces us to look deeper and examine our own vulnerabilities and that of the world around us. Nolan’s juxtaposition of light versus dark, courage versus fear, and hope versus despair is what ultimately makes The Dark Knight a wholly satisfying end to a new Batman era, and a defining film for the superhero genre.