There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne…
I waited a week to even start writing this review because of one good, solid reason: I would be unable to be objective about my first viewing of The Dark Knight Rises. It is the third and final film of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a film that would be best described as what you’d get if you pumped $300 million dollars in to one really badass fireworks finale extravaganza – if you’re an American, and you happened to be alive for any number of 4th of July celebrations, you know the finale. The intensity picks up, the stakes get higher, the platitudes start stacking up and the gigantic terrorist with a voice that sounds like Darth Vader imitating Sean Connery and a body that resembles nothing short of a silverback gorilla starts ruining your world. Why my lack of objectivity? Well, it’s pretty simple to explain, really: my childhood revolved around Batman, and one could even go so far as to say that I’m still what you’d call a – ahem – Batman nerd. In ninety-percent of all childhood photos of me I’m wearing something Batman related, whether it’s me as a baby, asleep, clutching my black-and-yellow blanket with the logo from Burton’s ’89 adaptation; or, maybe you stumble across a picture of me dressed as Batman for Halloween, hunting the streets for candy or The Joker or getting bored and destroying a fucking pumpkin. One year I even went as The Riddler, though admittedly it was pretty goddamn lame. I’ve seen every single Batman movie released in my lifetime at the theater, the notable exception being the 1989 Batman (give me a break, I was only a year old when that movie came out). I even collected the comic books.
Being that I’ve dilligently made sure to catch all the previous Batman movies in theaters – a dilligence that I’m sure my parents enjoyed the hell out of – I’ve also been exposed to some real disappointment. The Schumacher incarnations were mostly garbage, and in some aspects the Burton movies can start to look kind of flimsy when put under the microscope. But, alas came Christopher Nolan, a writer and director who vowed to bring Batman back down to Earth, rendering our iconic hero as a noir-ish piece of hyper-reality and moral fable – part spectacle, part psychological examination of how one man can use all his resources to battle pain and fear and anarchy just to bring hope to one relatively shitty city, a city that views him as a murderer, albeit one wrongly accused of murder.
Warning: there might be spoilers. If you continue on and somehow get something spoiled for you, proceed to headbutt the sidewalk until you can not do math anymore. It’s for the good of us all, so be a good citizen and get a-crackin’!
The film begins eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, a time when Gotham is seemingly at peace. Batman has disappeared, Rachel is dead, The Joker is cackling away somewhere deep inside Arkham Asylum, Harvey Dent died a monster but because of a lie he is now viewed as a matyr and, because of his death, the Harvey Dent Act is passed, a highly effective piece of legislation that locks various criminals and mafiosos away en masse. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, shunning himself away from a world that has nothing to offer him. His various injuries and damaged soul has caused him to become disengaged from the world, a regular old Howard Hughes, and because of this disengagement the company his father built, Wayne Enterprises – the source of our hero’s incredible wealth – is starting to tank. He invested a bunch of money in to the pet project of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a fusion reactor that with a little bit of creativity can be turned in to a fairly powerful nuclear weapon. You know, your standard mixture of psychosis and science invented all in the name of clean energy for Gotham. You can probably see where this is going. Go science. On top of being hobbled and making investments in clean energy/nuclear weapons, there’s a rat bastard on the board of directors named John Daggett – a douchebag name if you’ve ever heard one – who would really, really like to wrest control of Wayne Enterprises from Bruce and knock the rich weirdo down a peg or two.
How does Mr. Daggett plan on taking control of Wayne Enterprises? He fucking hires Bane (Tom Hardy) to help in his incredibly aggressive takeover. If Daggett was a smarter man, he would’ve realized that you should never, under any circumstances, hire a gigantic mercenary who only goes by one name, especially when that name is as sinister sounding as Bane. Bane is hyper-intelligent and massive, not to mention ruthless, cold, and filled with enough willpower to pull off taking an entire city hostage. As part of the master plan, Bane pulls off an attack on the stock exchange and with some stolen fingerprints acquired from Bruce Wayne by the cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, looking as hot as ever), he successfully bankrupts the Batman and in the process pulls the reclusive hero out of hiding, setting the stage for the massive spectacle that is the majority that is The Dark Knight Rises.
When you view this movie as the end of the trilogy, you can understand why Christopher Nolan would want to end everything with a bang. Nolan has a special eye for spectacle and at points you can tell that he’s going absolutely fucking nuts with the possibilities of how big he can make this movie. While this is an admirable pursuit, it also leads to the movie’s biggest problem: how drawn-out the motherfucker feels at points. Half-way through the film I started to have the sneaking suspicion that the movie was showing all the signs of being a bloated manic-depressive, a massive hulk of a movie that can at some stretches grind to a halt, slow and miserable and draped in despair, and then all of a sudden go delirious and haywire, dazzling the eyes with gunfire and explosions and heroism. Even with the amps turned up to eleven – seriously, how cool was the final forty-five minutes of this movie? — you begin to get dizzy with just how many plot-points are being juggled and thrown at you. There’s Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) getting shot and spending a majority of a movie in a hospital bed; there’s an idealistic young beat cop/detective named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who plays a significant role in the final battle for Gotham City; romance is in even thrown in, with Batman being obsessed with Selina and Bruce being wooed by the idealism (and amazing tits) of Miranda Tate. In bringing everything to an epic, booming finale, Nolan took on too much and thus gave the movie the feeling of just going through the motions until Bane finally makes his appearance known.
But, when the movie is hitting its stride, it’s un-fucking-believable. Bane is stronger and faster than Batman, maybe even smarter than him too, and when he finally breaks the Dark Knight and takes Gotham hostage – easy to do when you blow all the bridges and get a hold of a new-age nuclear weapon – the movie finally finds its footing after the laborious early chapters. He condemns Bruce to a prison where there is seemingly no hope of escaping and then takes over Gotham, using a bunch of weapons stolen from Wayne Enterprises’ R & D department to control the streets and set up a sort of extreme version of the Occupy Wall Street movement. He even lures the police department underground and then sets off some well-placed explosives to trap them all beneath the city.
At times it can feel like the movie is trying to bury you with pure spectacle, but through this cloud of information the movie can be absolutely captivating. Hardy had the hardest task of all, trying to follow-up Heath Ledger’s iconic take on The Joker, but he wields the character Bane like a hammer, brutal and bone-chilling with that processed voice; Hardy, with his size and commitment to the character, controls the entire screen with presence alone. Just by standing on the steps of Blackgate Prison, holding aloft an indictment of the public officials who lied to cover up the true demise of Harvey Dent, you can just feel the savage, defiant evil speaking directly to you. He is evil incarnate, ready to burn Gotham to the ground and stare coldly out as the city rips itself apart in mass anarchy. By the time Batman arrives for the final battle for the streets of Gotham and the twists begin to reveal themselves, the Batman we knew from the earlier two films – shunned and misunderstood, more folk legend than hero – has now become The Dark Knight, the protector of Gotham, leading the forces of good against those who wish to destroy the city his parents helped turn in to a metropolis.
Nearly a week later, all introspection almost put to rest, I can’t help but feel conflicted about the film. As much as the film is an absolute fucking blast, it was also bloated and heavy; as much as I wanted to see Batman beat the shit out of Bane, I also had a harder time caring about the stakes, especially his connections to Selina Kyle and Miranda Tate. This film is bigger than its predecessors, but with those films I actually felt invested in what was going on, whereas with this one I was left feeling like it was all a hollow exercise in explosions and Moral Philosophy 101. It was like what you get when you combine an incredible action movie with a lesson in civics, or mixing School House Rock with a summer blockbuster.
Final thought? If I had to give it a grade, I’d give it a solid B…it’s worth the ticket price, but if you’re expecting anything transcendent like all the godawful fanboys were expecting, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The performances are pretty great, especially Hardy, Bale, and Michael Caine (he could turn in a great performance just by reading a fucking grocery list). Hathaway holds her own as well, resisting the urge to go full cartoonish and start purring about milk or scratching or whatever the hell people who dress like cats like to do with their time. The action is fantastic and as for that ending, I feel like I didn’t hate it as much as some people did — I saw it coming simply because of how these movies work, and there’s also the fact that Nolan basically told us that we would be able to tell that this was his swan song for the Caped Crusader. I’m not sold on the whole John Blake thing either — clever use of a middle name, by the way — but I’m sure whoever helms the eventual reboot of the Batman franchise will decide to do their own thing and throw continuity right out the window where it belongs. This is Nolan’s universe and I feel that adding on to it would almost be disrespectful at this point.
While you’re in the theater, just appreciate that Nolan was able to take this hero we all thought we knew so well and made him even more real, more engaging, and most importantly he gave us quality instead of the hit-or-miss tripe that can plague the entire superhero genre. It was the series of movies that all my fellow Bat-Nerds have been dreaming about, and the dude did it with class and reckless abandon, which is refreshing when you think about how easy it would be to do such a legend injustice. With his trilogy, he not only legitimized the Batman mythos, he also gave considerable gravitas to the entire superhero genre. Just enjoy the show and don’t expect too much. Fucking have fun, for once, and embrace your inner nerd. Do it for your souls, bros.
P.S.: go fuck yourself, James Holmes. You suck.