The Dark Knight Rises – 2012
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marian Cotillard
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan made a wise choice with the ending of The Dark Knight when he decided to imbrue two of the integral characters with a magnificent lie. The false story of the demise of Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) presents the blame for his final reign of terror firmly on the shoulders of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego. The result allowed for stronger laws, such as the Harvey Dent Act, giving teeth to the police force and prosecutors of Gotham City. The two caught up in the lie, Commissioner Gordon (Oldman) and Batman (Bale), see different results on the outside, while a similar rot on the inside. Forward eight years, and we have the start of the last film in Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
A vision of life, presented by Selena Kyle (Hathaway) wakes Wayne from his slumber by, ironically, knocking out his support and, simply, stealing from him. Wayne, living in the East Wing of Wayne Manor as an injured, aging recluse with comparisons to Howard Hughes flying around him. His great love, Rachel, has been killed, along with her, Batman. Since Batman Begins, he has not feared death. Now, according to his father figure and butler, Alfred, he almost welcomes it.
As Bruce Wayne investigate Kyle, news of the mercenary terrorist, Bane (Hardy) passes by. He lets it go until, in a bold takeover of the Stock Market, Bane makes his presence unmistakable.
The first hour of The Dark Knight Rises plays in a similar way as its predecessor as somewhat of an investigative story. This allows for a natural progression in the characters that could bring an invalid Bruce Wayne into someone who, as Batman, is in fighting shape. The feeling is one of a rising optimism for all characters save one.
Alfred, who has been paying more attention to Bane than has Wayne. His feeling is that Batman won’t survive this fight after so long away. Wayne / Batman fails to take Alfred seriously and this gets him into a hole that takes a long time to get out of. This takes the film into a strange second act where much destruction occurs and many proclamations are made. Mechanisms wound up in the first act kind of set into a routine that could have destroyed a tale made by lesser filmmakers.
Thankfully, the Nolan brothers introduce two key characters that offer some grist and guile to the plot. The characters are the afore-mentioned Kyle and John Blake (Gordon-Levitt). Blake is a young police officer on the force with an uncommon desire for justice. His methods are enough to gain the ire of less worthy cops than Gordon, who likes what he sees, even when his protegé sees too much. Gordon-Levitt made a breakthrough with an excellent performance in Inception and he has rolled ever since. His work here, just like in Nolan’s other masterpiece, is some of the best in the film. It is quite telling that Nolan’s trilogy gets so much traction in scenes absent people in costumes.
Indeed, it is because Kyle so rarely in a silly cat costume that her character is so intriguing. She goes through many of the machinations that we have seen Catwoman go through in earlier films, but with Hathaway’s grounded performance, the moves seem less choreographed.
Caine, Freeman and Oldman once more provide necessary elements to the story. Freeman as the caretaker of Wayne Enterprises and, more importantly, the R&D department, is an intelligent component. Freeman is allowed to drop several more clichéd parts of his repertoire and concentrate on the character.
Oldman has redefined himself with the role of Gordon. His dedication to service is augmented by his completely fallible nature. Every task he sets about seems rife with the possibility of failure. In an action film, this is invaluable. One gets a genuine sense of tension with Gordon that may not be as prevalent with the other characters.
Michael Caine just gets better with age. His Alfred has redefined the role from an aloof supplier of goods to an old man who truly loves his charge. His tears when he confronts Wayne with his fears are genuine. A lesser actor would have given a hint of a grin with those lines. This time out could net him a supporting nomination, perhaps an Oscar. Deservedly so,
Tom Hardy, as the masked man, Bane, infuses the him with as much as one could. The limitations of the character are as big as the benefits of playing the Joker were for Ledger. It’s hard to fault Nolan for trying to complete the trilogy with the character. I just could not imagine The Riddler or The Penguin in this world. He marches along to his own beat to the last, and is given a sense of purpose in the revelation of his background. This purpose fits perfectly with the overall arc of the storyline to a “T.” Time will give more appreciation for this character.
Bale exceeds all of his earlier work in the cape this time. By not playing a traditional “gimp” he gives more than a single dimension to the crucial character of Bruce Wayne. We are curios with him about Selina, we feel secure when he smiles at a seeming early loss, and we feel pain when Batman receives the beating of his life. Most importantly, we are with him when he learns yet another life lesson at the bottom of a prison in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. We are, subsequently, with him, when he begins to rise out of that prison. His journey is our journey. That is a tough thing to pull off in a movie about a superhero.
After a slow second act, the movie seems to crawl out of the hole with Wayne. The tension begins a slow build, taking things steadily to a ratcheted tension that feels like a relief, even as it gets darker.
The conclusion is telegraphed, but satisfying nonetheless. One can feel good about the path in which this bat has flown: straight, and almost entirely true.
Nolan’s visual style is one of a kind. His landscape is as vast as his characters are humble. There are many iconic shots in this magnificent work, but his wisdom lies in the ability to get power from simplicity. Something as moving as Alfred’s strong plea to Bruce Wayne, with tears on his proud, old face grip as strong as anything else. Wayne’s climb out of the magnificent prison, with his life in his hands, means more because of what we know it means to him. Batman’s second duel with Bane would be meaningless without what we know has happened since the first.
This is the true gift of Christopher Nolan’s Batman journey: we care about him as much as his butler does.
(****1/2 out of *****)