The Dark Knight Rises

Whenever I review movies that the fan boys love, I have to issue disclaimers.  As I’ve stated before, the only thing I claim to be passionate and knowledgeable about are movies.  If a movie was based on a novel, I may or may not have read that novel. That being said, I didn’t grow up reading comic books.  So I don’t approach The Dark Knight Rises as a person who is checking for accuracy or wants to make sure director Christopher Nolan “gets it right.”  The only measuring stick for me is other movies: other “superhero” movies and the first two Batman movies of Nolan’s trilogy.  I was looking forward to it because The Dark Knight, Nolan’s last edition – was simply outstanding.  It’s one of my favorite movies, and I saw it three times in the theater.  I also think that Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception) is brilliant, so I’m inclined to see nearly anything he’s attached to (within reason).

When we last saw the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale, The Fighter), he was allowing Harvey Dent to live on in the hearts of Gotham as a hero.  Although Dent devolved into the nefarious Two-Face and held Commissioner Gordon’s son at gunpoint, Batman sacrificed his own reputation rather than shatter the city’s image of its fallen district attorney.  Sacrifice is the recurring theme throughout the trilogy, as Batman selflessly gives his all for Gotham’s residents, though the city doesn’t always appreciate him.  Eight years have elapsed since that fateful night where Dent and Batman swapped destinies, and Bruce Wayne has been a recluse ever since.  Having lost the love of his life and been vilified by many, he has been holed up in his mansion, and Wayne Industries has suffered significant financial losses.  This is where we find our hero, down and quite possibly out for the count.  The time is ripe for any one of the comic’s infamous rogues gallery to emerge and wreak havoc while Gotham is vulnerable.  The city passed The Dent Act, which resulted in the incarceration of many dangerous criminals – but the drop in crime lulls Gotham’s residents into a false sense of security.  That coupled with Batman’s prolonged absence leaves Gotham vulnerable, setting the stage for our latest villain.

Enter Bane (Tom Hardy, This Means War, Inception), successor to The Joker and Two-Face as Gotham’s newest tormentor.  Bane can best be described as a wrecking ball with legs.  He is simply massive, and ably portrayed by Tom Hardy in what is probably his most brutal role since his turn as a notorious British prisoner in Bronson.  Bane escaped from prison and subsequently organized a coup, funded by American businessman John Daggett, a competitor of Bruce Wayne.  Daggett brings Bane to the United States so that he can obtain a clean energy reactor held by Wayne Enterprises and turn it into a nuclear weapon.  Bane’s plan will come to fruition unless the Batman ends his self-imposed exile and more importantly proves himself a worthy adversary of the most physically imposing villain he’s ever faced.

I don’t want to fall into a recitation of the entire plot; nor do I want to give away too much.  There were many plot twists and turns, and several very good performances. The Dark Knight Rises delved deeper into Bruce Wayne’s psyche.  He wasn’t just reacting to things happening around him, rather we see him in a prolonged state of despair, pain, and defeat.  I felt like we journeyed with him as the familiar senses of justice and duty were rekindled within.  This time around we are also treated to Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway (Love & Other Drugs, The Devil Wears Prada).  Hathaway is a very good actress and I thought she balanced the role perfectly.  Not too campy and corny, strong enough to help Batman instead of merely requiring his rescue.  While I didn’t grow up reading the comic books, I did watch the cartoon series that aired in the 90s.  I remember that Catwoman was a bit “on the fence.”  She wasn’t always Batman’s ally, but she wasn’t out to foil him at every turn, like The Riddler or The Joker.  The same was true of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, as she betrays Batman one minute and saves him the next.  Also featured were strong supporting roles by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 500 Days of Summer) and Marion Cotillard (Contagion).  Gordon-Levitt plays an idealistic young police officer that was orphaned as a youth, much like Bruce Wayne.  He instinctively knows Batman’s true identity and gently implores him to help Gotham.  Cotillard was effective as Wayne’s business investor, brief love interest, and…I won’t tell you anything else about her.  You’re welcome.

The best thing about the film was the way Nolan captured the atmosphere of a city on the brink of anarchy.  It always felt like something big was about to happen, at any minute.  But brace yourselves, because this was not “the best movie ever,” as people born in the 1990s might have you believe.  Pump. Those. Brakes.  This wasn’t the best movie made or even the best superhero movie ever made, because it wasn’t superior to The Dark Knight, in my opinion.  How can you be the best movie ever made when you’re not even the best installment of your own trilogy?  The Dark Knight had a more complex villain with a richer backstory and a more layered performance.  I’m not knocking Tom Hardy, and I’m not saying there is anything more that he could or should have done.  Nor am I saying there’s anyone who could have done it better.  I’m just saying it was different, that’s all.  Additionally, The Dark Knight explored deeper psychological themes, and I thought Two-Face nearly stole the show.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy came close, but there was no secondary performance that really jumped out at me.  But you know what?  Forget all of that, I can give you a very simple complaint that I had with the film: I couldn’t even understand what Bane was saying the whole time!  I know I’m not the only one who strained to decipher the dialogue when he spoke.  I liked the inflection of Hardy’s voice, and I noticed an almost imperceptible West Indian accent creep through.  When I researched his role after the movie I discovered that he did draw on his Caribbean (who knew?) heritage in the interpretation of the part.  That’s impressive, and it didn’t go unnoticed – but I couldn’t always understand what he was saying!

Of course I think you should go see The Dark Knight Rises, what are you stupid?  Nothing should stop you from seeing it; it will probably be the biggest movie of the year.  Some movies just feel big.  They feel like an experience.  I’m sure it will obliterate existing opening day records, despite the tragic shooting that took place at the midnight screening in Colorado earlier this week.  Now that the trilogy has concluded (Nolan’s not doing any more), I can safely say that it’s probably the greatest trilogy.  But don’t confuse that with me saying that The Dark Knight Rises is the greatest movie.  It’s not, for the aforementioned reasons.  But it was damn good. Grade: A.

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