The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
If you haven’t seen ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, the film will be spoiled for you if read this review.
Now that I’ve protected myself with the official, ironclad online statute of ‘Don’t come crying to me if you ignore my warnings’, on with the review.
Like a well cooked soufflé, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ in Christopher Nolan’s dense, multi-faceted conclusion to his complex, occasionally flawed but ultimately satisfying Batman trilogy. Or is it the end? Nolan has flatly put the kibosh to any further association with the character, and this particular series, but the proof is in the pudding. As the film ends and the title card appears, accompanied by the thundering embrace of Hans Zimmer’s theme, it’s clear that he (or the Warner Bros. bean counters) refuses to close the door completely. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. Nolan has kicked the door wide open, offering up not just the further adventures of Bruce Wayne’s Batman, but both Selina Kyle’s Catwoman and John Blake’s Robin. This, I surprise myself in saying, is not a criticism. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (from this point on I end the word count whoring and refer it the film as ‘TDKR’) has allowed itself time and space to develop these two supporting characters beyond periphery plot movers, and into the realm of individual characters capable of continuing the series. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.
Gotham City is at peace. It’s the 8thHarvey Dent day, a local holiday to commemorate the sacrifice of the White Knight of Gotham. A hobbled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a shut in, Wayne Enterprises is in serious trouble and the burden of truth weighs heavily on Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) shoulders. He’s conflicted. He wants to put things right, and has handily prepared a written speech revealing the true story of Harvey Dent and Batman. Unfortunately the speech falls into the hands of the dastardly Bane (Tom Hardy), a member of the League of Shadows, who has set in motion a plan to destroy Gotham City, and Batman along with it.
Christopher Nolan, along with his brother and screenwriting partner Jonathan, have concluded the Dark Knight trilogy with a huge, dour, thunderingly bombastic, intense, complex, exhilarating, overblown, involving and ultimately satisfying action drama. If you think that sentence is contradictory, you’re correct. I left the theatre marvelling at the film, but also looking for threads to pick at. There are a few, but unlike the previous entry in the series, ‘The Dark Knight’ which is riddled with plot holes and propped up by a stunning performance from Heath Ledger, overall, ‘TDKR’ works on all fronts. In varying degrees. Which I will discuss, henceforth.
I’ll start with the quibbles, of which there are a few, but are relatively minor. The first of which is that, despite the revelations being impressively kept under wraps prior to the films release, anyone who is familiar with the first two movies, and has a passing knowledge of the comic books, will immediately recognise every character for who they really are. Miranda Tate is so obviously Talia al Ghul that the lateness of the reveal just beggars belief. Even if you didn’t know that, in the comic books, Ras al Ghul has a daughter, it’s blatantly obvious that Miranda Tate isn’t who she says she is. The films attempts to red herring Bane as the child imprisoned is easily identifiable misdirection for these two reasons. Despite a shaved head and declarations to the contrary, the child is obviously female. And despite the full body shroud, the childs protector is so obviously the hulking Tom Hardy that we aren’t, for even a minute, fooled by Nolan’s valiant attempts to maintain this subterfuge.
Then there is the fundamental nature of the Tate character. If there wasn’t any more to Miranda Tate than that which is portrayed for almost the entire length of the film, she would be the most superfluous, indulgent, incongruous waste of precious screen time since every single second of ‘Cosmopolis’. When Commissioner Gordon, Tate and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) are caught, tried and sentenced to death, Bane tells a goon ‘Bring her to me”. But because we aren’t provided with a scene between Bane and Tate, which would seem logical, this simply makes us all the more certain that Tate isn’t who she says she is. Miranda Tate’s role feels a little bit like trying to stuff a square peg in a round hole for most of the film, especially when we recognise that the real relationship that builds though ‘TDKR’ is between Bruce and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and Wayne’s rain soaked dalliance with Miranda seems forced upon the audience in an attempt to maintain the ruse. The fact that Miranda even remotely works as a character is nearly entirely down to the quality of Marion Cotillard’s performance.
Next on my hit list of ‘TDKR’ quibbles is the other obvious character revelation, John Blake. Blake’s full name is revealed at the end to be Robin John Blake. This character is so obviously Robin from the very beginning that it’s a wonder Nolan decided to play games with the characters name. So much of ‘TDKR’ is dedicated to him, (Gordon-Levitt basically carries the middle section of the film) that it may as well be called ‘Robin Begins’. Nolan utilises the same technique as he does with the Talia al Ghul reveal, except Robin’s is nearly entirely done through dialogue (as opposed to flashbacks). Information is littered throughout the film that is intended to build towards the reveal. Except we already know the score almost immediately, so we’re just watching the game unfold. For the record, I decided my strong suspicions were 100% correct when he visits Wayne and tells him he was an orphan and knew Wayne was Batman all along. Blake, however, is a far stronger character than Tate (he’s afforded five times more screen time, so this is understandable), so the gradual reveal isn’t quite as clunky. Constantly described as a “hot head”, Blake is a brave, strong willed, and resourceful character winningly portrayed by the likeable Joseph Gordon-Levitt. While I’m not desperate for a spinoff film about the Boy Wonder, if one were to eventuate I would be quite interested in how it turned out. Nolan’s dedicated a lot of ‘TDKR’s running time to establishing the character and I would be surprised if the result wasn’t a Robin film in the near future.
I have one quibble left, but it’s a minor one. Bane is a villain that surpassed my expectations. I flatly and stubbornly prepared for the worst, because from all evidence (ie. the trailers), Bane was nigh on impossible to understand, and my only knowledge of the character was from the embarrassingly awful ‘Batman and Robin’. My expectations were reserved, at best. But for nearly the entire running time of ‘TDKR’, Tom Hardy’s Bane is a terrifying, cold, brutal, cruel, vicious, remorseless and unstoppable portent of doom. His lilting, articulate brogue, only slightly obscured by the respirator permanently attached to his muzzle, is so oddly unexpected that it throws you a little off balance. Unlike the trailers, Bane’s dialogue is clearly audible, although it does sound quite dubbed over in places. I say nearly the entire running time, because the character loses a little of his imposing, intimidating power when he is undercut by the nature of the Tate revelation, which diminishes his role from intelligent, brutal master to the savage pit bull at the masters side. That Bane fails to live up to Heath Ledger’s The Joker is inevitable. Ledger’s performance was quite simply one of the best villainous performances of all time.
Despite the attention I’ve given these quibbles, ‘TDKR’ is a success. In fact, the film exemplifies the biggest success of Nolan’s trilogy as a whole, in that it provides an opposing argument to what is my biggest criticism levelled against ongoing superhero saga’s. Once the superhero’s origin is established, filmmakers find it difficult to create interesting drama for the character. Instead, they tend to overstuff each successive film with villains for origins and action scenes, and the focus of those films tends to stray from the central character. With his trilogy, Nolan has maintained the focus on Bruce Wayne, and not Batman. This is particularly true of ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘TDKR’, where the heart of the story lies with Wayne’s personal journey. Here, Wayne is a broken man. Living as a recluse, he’s hobbled, walking with the aid of a cane. The years as Batman having taken their toll on his body, he’s still mourning Rachel. His only human contact is with Alfred. Into his world comes Selina Kyle, and she is really the instigating factor in his rehabilitation and ultimate triumph. The challenge of a strong willed woman (doesn’t hurt that she’s looks great in a catsuit), is just the tonic a guys ailments require. That and a magic knee brace. Kyle draws Wayne out, back into the world, and through her actions he regains the fire in the belly, and rebuilds himself (not without hitting rock bottom first, literally) into a man fit to wear the cowl.
It’s a quieter, more introspective Bruce Wayne we meet in ‘TDKR’. It’s also a quieter Batman, with the BatVoice subdued from an manic bark to a quiet growl. This is my favourite portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman in Nolan’s trilogy, and it is easily Christian Bale’s best performance from the three films. He seems more relaxed this time. Less intense. It’s probably relief on Bale’s part that he knows this can be his last Batman film. I never got the impression that he enjoyed portraying the Caped Crusader. But Bale brings great empathy to the role, and for the first time we feel sympathy for the character, as we learn and understand the heavy toll being Batman brings.
‘TDKR’ manages to create a surprising emotional resonance, and a great deal of this has to do with Michael Caine. He has such presence on screen, and is able to generate such warmth and goodwill that despite having very limited screen time, Alfred Pennyworth feels like a complete character, and during the lengthy section in the films second half when he goes AWOL, his presence is missed. I found that, particularly in the first two films, much of the reason I liked Bruce is because I liked Alfred. And any friend of Alfred’s is a friend of mine. That is all down to Caine’s natural likeability and screen presence, and I couldn’t help getting the warm and fuzzies at the end of ‘TDKR’. It’s a well handled moment, and the smile on Alfred’s face gave the trilogy a nice sense of closure.
The cast is universally superb, so much so that I’ve failed to even mention actors like Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn, Matthew Modine and Cillian Murphy, who reprises the role of Dr. Jonathan Crane in an amusing cameo (much better than the cameo in ‘The Dark Knight’).
There are no individual stand out epic set pieces in ‘TDKR’. Not like the truck chase scene in ‘TDK’ anyway. Instead, Nolan builds a momentum that carries the long film along with perfect pacing towards a finale of sustained action and drama. It’s doesn’t feel like ‘Transformers 3’ for example, where the film trudges along in a mire of bad jokes and poorly developed characters until it can unleash the spectacle. Instead ‘TDKR’ builds, and builds, moving the characters into place and giving them each an important role to play. It’s a similar finale to ‘The Avengers’, even down to the sacrifice made by the main character. But here, after three films, I felt invested in the outcome, but with ‘The Avengers’, the sixth film in the series, I felt merely entertained by the silliness. I felt the stakes here, but not in ‘The Avengers’. The outcome doesn’t feel inevitable, because of the journey of Bruce Wayne and the seemingly unstoppable Bane. Bane’s complete and utter brutal dominance over Batman earlier in the film goes a long way to establishing doubt in the outcome.
Just like the previous entries in the series, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has it’s flaws, but it has lived up to the standard set by ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. The film avoids the third film curse and provides a very satisfying conclusion to one of the few great trilogies.
Three and a half pairs of Bat Nipples out of Four.