I admit that, like everyone else in the Batman-watching world, I walked into The Dark Knight Rises wondering how Christopher Nolan could possibly top The Dark Knight. And how could any villain be more fun to watch than Heath Ledger as The Joker? I walked out of the theater with the one and only answer: there is no answer. There is no answer because, it turns out, those are not valid questions. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are so different in theme, feel, message and overall goal that they are incomparable. The Joker and Bane are so entirely opposite in their motivations, goals and tone that it simply isn’t fair to compare one with the other. These movies and their respective villains are on totally different playing fields. The Dark Knight had a wild, frenzied feel to it, due in part to the The Joker’s manic attempts to create chaos and mayhem in Gotham. TDKR is all about resolve, the summation of an epic tale and the final resolution for Gotham’s vigilante hero. Like The Joker, Bane wants to destroy Gotham and its citizens but not through anarchy. Instead, he cunningly and deliberately manipulates Gotham’s richest and most powerful people into collapsing in on themselves. He is calculated, controlled, and intimidating as hell. In short, The Dark Knight raised the bar for superhero/comic book films, to which The Dark Knight Rises responded: I see your bet and raise you.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet,
what are you waiting for??? please stop here. Below this sentence, SPOILERS abound.
I’m not saying TDKR is perfect. It isn’t. But it is damn good and worlds apart from other blockbuster summer films. Christopher Nolan knows how to craft a story while still giving the masses what they love (i.e., action, awesome CGI effects, drama) without ever cheapening the characters or the plot. The Batman has surprisingly little screen time in TDKR and because of that, he feels more like a real person than ever before. Yes, he is a human being underneath the suit and like all other humans, he has weaknesses, vulnerabilities, frailties. Especially considering he is, at the beginning of TDKR, somewhere in the vicinity of 35-40 years of age and even with extensive training and all the heating pads money can buy, the physical toll of being Batman would have to be catching up with him. Batman is not invincible. In fact, his chosen career has a shorter lifespan than most, for the same reasons athletes’ do: the human body can only take so much. Throughout the whole of TDKR, the demise of The Batman is hinted at, implied, inferred, even flat-out referenced at points. I expected Nolan to kill him off before the end of the film but Nolan is too smart for that. Death would be the easy way out. Nolan knows this and, therefore, his Bruce Wayne comes to know it as well. Early on, it seems Bruce is looking for death. Leave it to Nolan to make him grow and evolve until finally reaching the realization that death is too simple. Having the balls to seek the things you want in life, to turn your life into one you actually want, that’s a challenge. And that is where Nolan takes his hero. But the journey isn’t cheap. It isn’t easy or full of holes and convenient turns in plot. It isn’t perfect, but it is good. Nolan does justice to every character, every plot point, every story line.
Of course, there are a few holes. The fact that Bruce Wayne’s broken back heals within 4-5 months without drugs or medical equipment, just a swift kick to the vertebrae and vertical positioning for hours (days?) – please. Also, how does he get from India to Gotham with no money? How does he get back into Gotham when the tunnels/bridges are inaccessible?
Whatever. The holes are entirely forgivable in light of all that works. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to be The Shit and this is the most I’ve ever liked Bale as Batman, probably because this is the most of his humanity we’ve ever seen. I also loved that Catwoman isn’t just another villain. In fact, she’s never once called Catwoman. Her given name, Selina Kyle, is most often used and once, I think, she’s referred to as a cat burglar. Her character has some actual depth and plays a very different role than anything Halle Berry or even Michelle Pfeiffer offered us.
And Bane! Oh, Bane. He’s so much more than I expected, than I could have imagined. He’s a fierce, intimidating, powerful villain. Everything about him works- his huge, bulking mass, the mask, his voice – all of it. I really had no idea what to expect from the character or from Tom Hardy. I’ve never followed the comic books and I opted out on the disgrace that was Batman & Robin so I knew next to nothing about the character. And, while I really liked Tom Hardy in Inception, the only other thing I’ve seen him in was a film adaptation of Wuthering Heights and I didn’t think he quite caught the brooding intensity and anguish of Heathcliff. Here, he kind of steals the show. He is focused, controlled, inhumanly strong and seemingly unstoppable. Without the use of most of his face, Hardy somehow manages to convey more conviction than most actors can summon with full use of all of their features.
Where TDKR takes its predecessor up a notch is in the reflection of current affairs. Don’t misunderstand me: this film is not political. It isn’t making a statement or preaching any particular agenda. Nolan does not use it to push his (or anyone else’s) opinions/views. He simply tells a story. But, in doing so, he touches on a few nerves that, right now, feel a little exposed. The idea of a revolution wherein the richest few lose what they have to those without has such relevance in our current state. I don’t want to get political but come on, we live in a society wherein the richest 1% has more total wealth that the bottom 50% combined. As someone outside that 1%, I could totally relate to Selina Kyle when she said, “You’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” The idea of class warfare is topical and adds a richness to the plot that is rarely, if ever, seen in blockbusters.
I could go on, and on and on, especially considering I haven’t even touched on the excellent surprise at the end or what it means for the future of this franchise, but I’ll stop here. If you’ve seen it already, you don’t need me to keep gushing. And if you haven’t, you have much better things to do than read this. You have a movie to see.