Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

I would like to see it again to confirm my suspicions, but I believe that Christopher Nolan has outdone himself once again, writing himself out of the unparalleled challenge of both Heath Ledger and the Joker’s deaths, and facing down the negative stigma of horrifying recent events. This movie shines as a reminder of why thoughtful filmmaking will always overrule crass cinema, and why movies should emulate Inception not Battleship. The plot is contrived like a hard-boiled detective novel. The pieces are set in motion expertly. Batman is no longer Batman. The man formerly known as Batman is now billionaire shut-in Bruce Wayne, a wounded bearded shadow of a man. Wayne is still torn-up about the death of his either-actress girlfriend Rachel who exploded in the previous movie. The threat of a new criminal mastermind, Bane, looms over Gotham City and Batman is nowhere in sight. Gotham needs a hero. Should be easy work for Brick alum Joseph Gordon Levitt who ends up chewing a majority of the screen time. While this story is about Bruce Wayne’s personal journey, don’t be mistaken. This is a puzzle with many working parts. As usual, this movie centers on a core moralistic mythology, and the way in which its story unfolds is masterful albeit weighty.

Catwoman was the nicest surprise of this entry in the trilogy. After the Halle Berry botch-job and the tough-to-follow Michelle Pfeiffer act, Anne Hathaway surprisingly rises to the occasion in a wonderfully charming performance. It’s enough for the ticket price, actually. While not as breathtaking or mind-blowing as Ledger’s Joker (what is?) the comparison is hardly fair as the two characters share a disproportionate amount of screen time and serve functionally different roles. Bane is the challenger for the villain of Gotham throne, and while Hardy’s performance is admirable, I do not think it quite measures up. That being said, I think it is an interesting and charismatic portrayal of an oft-maligned character (see Batman & Robin, no wait don’t). His delivery of the key moments is impeccable. But even as written, Bane is not meant to be a sole successor to the Joker. He is the delivery boy for the League of Shadows, those dark bastards you’ve probably forgotten about from Batman Begins. That’s right folks. This is a trilogy. And like Harry Potter, or any other shamelessly self-important thing, it deserves your respect! So pay attention!

I like Bane in small doses, and that’s exactly how he’s delivered. After a skillfully shot opening sequence in which Bane decimates Tommy Carcetti on an airplane, the terrorist sneaks right into Gotham turning Wayne Co’s own weapon against them. Uh-Doy! Watch your back door Lucius Fox! (That must remind him of Shawshank.) Speaking of which, the oldies in this movie (Morgan Freeman and Grandfather Time, I mean, Michael Caine) deliver immensely subtle and beautiful performances, showing just how much they care about this supposedly overblown picture. The nuance in this movie thrives in abundance and almost outweighs the unwieldy plot, which meanders into an Inception-level conundrum or two in the third act. It’s one thing to hint at a twist, and it’s another thing to rewrite history. With five seconds left in the clock, The Dark Knight Rises throws a few hail marys. Their success or failure depends on your individual level of involvement with these characters and knowledge about their universe. I saw one of the twists coming a mile away, but I was surprised by how long they waited to reveal the cloak and dagger. There was more to be done with the character in question, and clearly very little time in which to do it. That being said, it’s not bad if a movie series leaves you wanting more.

I am impressed that I have gone this whole review without admitting how much I love Batman, Nolan’s style of filmmaking, and the weird strange places this movie takes us (like that desert prison- yikes!). I think that upon repeat viewings I will be just as enamored with, confused and thrilled by The Dark Knight Rises as I was the first time, even if I don’t completely understand it until the fifteenth. In preparation for this movie, I watched the first two again, and what I noticed is that all three are vastly different movies that all center on the same man in the same universe. What is most consistent about the universe is his character. The one thing that Nolan really understands is Batman. And while some of the edges are polished to make the story slicker and more cerebral than it ever really was in the comics, the psychology behind it holds true and believable. There is rarely a question of motivation in this series, which is strange given the questions of motivation raised by the villains in most superhero fare (see: The Lizard, Whiplash, Loki). In this case, all you need to answer your questions is a Netflix account and a DVD player. The story’s only weakness is ending here in its current form. A fourth movie in this universe would be nice, but I know whatever Nolan makes next will be spectacular. He’s always surprised me, and the Dark Knight Rises is no exception.