‘The Dark Knight Rises’ goes beyond the cape and cowl
Millions watched one of the most popular and successful comic book franchises in movie history come to a climactic end this summer.
After four years, Christopher Nolan (“The Prestige,” “Inception”) returned to direct a fitting– albeit dark– conclusion to his saga of the caped crusader in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Many will ask if such a film could ever live up to what was set by its prequels both in size and scale and the answer, to be quite honest, depends on whom you ask.
Is this the epic conclusion that we have been patiently waiting for? It’s hard to say really. Overall, it was a masterpiece in filmmaking, with spectacular set design and a solid script penned by Nolan, his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer, but this isn’t your typical hero-in-tights story everyone was expecting.
To understand a movie like “The Dark Knight Rises,” you have to go into it not expecting another masterpiece like “The Dark Knight.” Where “The Dark Knight” had tightly-shot action sequences, a fast-paced and easy-to-follow narrative, and Heath Ledger’s legendary performance as The Joker, “Rises” finds its focus on its characters and the struggles they are forced to endure. You can’t go into this thinking that you are going to see more of what has been done before.
The film opens eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight.” Gotham is in a time of peace, thanks to the newly-passed Harvey Dent Act, which provides law enforcement the utmost freedom in apprehending criminals, and has since rid Gotham’s streets of the mafia and other organized crime affiliates. Batman has been cast out as Dent’s murderer, and this utopian idea of peace has been based on a lie set in place by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman (Christian Bale) in hopes of giving Gotham its proper hero in Harvey Dent.
Bruce Wayne, unable to adapt to life after his crime-fighting days, has lived a life of seclusion and uses his abilities as a businessman to help Gotham by funding nonprofit organizations and developing an energy reactor that will bring forth free, clean energy to the city. He is a beaten man both in body and mind, and has become more of a late-era Howard Hughes, as opposed to the billionaire playboy he is so often portrayed.
Enter the film’s villain, a mercenary criminal mastermind called Bane. In a remarkably-shot opening scene, Bane makes his presence known by executing a well-planned escape aboard a U.S. military plane, while also managing to capture a nuclear physicist that will help him create the ultimate weapon to bring forth Gotham’s reckoning during the film’s final hour. The character is the embodiment of everything we fear in terrorism– an unstoppable force both in size and power.
Bane’s goal is to infiltrate Gotham by building an army in its sewer system to overthrow the police force and to take over the city. As Bruce Wayne gets wind of this, he begins considering putting on the cape and cowl for one last ride in order to save his city once and for all. But are his motivations pure, or is this a death wish he has been carrying around for eight years?
Other new characters welcomed into the fold are expert thief and martial arts beauty Selina Kyle played by Anne Hathaway (Catwoman to everyone else, as she is never called in the movie), Officer Blake, a hard-headed rookie police officer struggling to understand the ins and outs of Gotham’s law enforcement played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception,” “500 Days of Summer”) and Miranda Tate, a business investor that has what it takes to save Wayne Enterprises’s energy project from going under and falling into the wrong hands, played by Marion Cotillard (“Inception,” “La Vie en Rose”). Series regulars Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine return as Wayne Enterprises’s genius inventor and Bruce Wayne’s ever-loyal butler, confidant and father figure.
The majority of the film’s second act focuses on the series of stories surrounding this overabundance of new characters. Bruce Wayne is taken out of the picture after his first confrontation with Bane, and the rest of the story centers around Gotham’s ultimate downfall at the hands of Bane and his minions. They manage to completely destroy the stock exchange, seize Wayne Enterprises and all of its weaponry and trap nearly every member of Gotham’s law enforcement underground inside a collapsed subway system.
This is where the film stops being the kind of movie that millions of fans have waited so long to see– a Batman movie. The majority of the story deals with other characters’ struggles, and really is more a movie about Bruce Wayne as he fights to leave the past behind and seek redemption. It is more about the characters’ personal growth than it is about high-flying action and popcorn frills.
That isn’t to say “The Dark Knight Rises” is short on action, because it has plenty. Christopher Nolan’s talents as a director really come alive in the aforementioned opening sequence involving Bane’s escape, but there are also other eye-popping scenes, such as when Batman makes his first appearance during a high speed police chase in the center of Gotham or even the elaborate third act which consists of Batman and the now-freed Gotham police force rising up to fight for their city in an epic final showdown.
Aside from all of the action that is sure to whet any comic fan’s appetite, the story is a daring take on the familiar hero. Christopher Nolan does what no other director has before him with the character, and takes us deeper into the man behind the mask. Christian Bale puts his acting chops to work during his scenes as the frail, troubled Bruce Wayne rediscovering what lies within himself that called him to become the Batman in the first place.
It is a story of triumph in the face of defeat and about knowing your limitations as a human being. This isn’t your average comic book fare and without that kind of expectation in mind, many will come away disappointed. This is probably because they were preparing to be dazzled just as they were when “The Dark Knight” made its premier four years ago. If fans are willing to see the film for what it is, they will come away with a deeper appreciation for the character and the series as a whole.
This doesn’t mean that the movie is without its faults. The story is overlong and tends to get a bit convoluted and bogged down with so many new characters that by the end of it you forget that you are in a Batman movie. It almost comes off a little too ambitious.
The film takes cues from darker tone of “The Dark Knight,” but where the prequel had slight bits of humor thrown into it, “Rises” only casts more doom and gloom. The nature of violence depicted in the film is only amplified when considering the real-life violence in Colorado at the film’s premiere in July.
In the end, Batman is able to overcome all that has defeated him in the past and finds redemption in a fitting way. Christopher Nolan has done the impossible by giving closure to a character that has been on and off the screen since the early 1940s.
But will this be the end of our caped crusader? It appears so, at least until the next hotshot director comes along with another reboot. But for now, we say goodbye to a series of films that has both challenged us and shown us the proper method in bringing a comic book character to life in ways that have never been done before.