One will never understand the mechanization that drives an individual to commit horrendous acts of violence against strangers. It is even harder to comprehend when these acts are perpetrated under the guise of movie fandom. At the end of the day, we will never understand the motivations of one disturbed individual who took it upon himself to shatter the innocence of a beloved past time. The first reaction to a tragedy of this magnitude is to think of the victims and their families. In one innocuous moment, their lives were shattered and forever changed. When time has given us some distance to the shooting massacre in Aurora, Colorado and the pundits had their say as to the how and why the film medium contributed to the act, one thing remains, we are evermore altered but the movies remain.
It’s hard not to think of the Dark Knight Rises without the looming shadow of the shooting rampage that occurred during one of the movie’s midnight shows. The fact remains is the film, on its own was all a movie should be: thrilling, visually stunning, masterfully crafted and story telling at its best. Christopher Nolan is one of the best filmmakers of our time. His canon of films from Memento, Inception and the Dark Knight Trilogy will be held up as the gold standard of how movies should be made and emulated.
Christopher Nolan knows how to open a movie. He doesn’t ease the audience in but throws them in headfirst. The Dark Knight Rises begins with a fantastical aerial stunt that is hands down the best way to extract a target from another plane I’ve ever seen. Bane (Tom Hardy) and his league of menacing henchman take hold of a CIA transport with a Russian nuclear physicist on board. They leap like trapeze artist from one plane to another escaping just in time before the other plane is destroyed. I was wonderstruck by the scene knowing it was not manufactured by CGI. This scene is one of many that show what a true auteur Christopher Nolan is. Even with all the technology available to him, he knows the best way to hook an audience is make everything as real as he can. The audience is more invested knowing the human element involved rather than a scene created entirely by a computer.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events that occur in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Batman is a wanted man blamed for the crimes committed by Harvey Dent’s (Aaron Eckhart) alter ego, Two-Face. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse a la Howard Hughes, minus the long fingernails and jars of urine (as the movie jokingly reference). Crime is at an all time low due in part to the Harvey Dent Act that was signed into law after Harvey Dent was offered up as a hero and new hope for Gotham. The Harvey Dent act alludes to the Patriot act in the way citizen’s civil liberties are ignored. The lie created by Batman (Christian Bale) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has given the city the hope it desperately needed after the havoc wreaked by the Joker.
Underneath all the peace and prosperity in Gotham, all is not well. The lie has weighed heavily on Commissioner Jim Gordon who has prepared a speech confessing the truth. He is ready to give this speech during a fundraiser held at Wayne manor but abandons the idea at the last minute.
Bruce is not fairing any better. He’s accomplished what he set out with Batman – to give the people of Gotham a symbol to spurn them into taking back their city from the corrupt and criminal forces intent on destroying it. Unfortunately, Harvey Dent and not Batman, was the hope that inspired the change in the city. Batman is no longer needed and Bruce Wayne is not sure what his purpose is anymore. He’s lost everyone and everything that’s meant anything to him. He put his hope in another lie: that his old love, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) if she had survived, wanted to be with him. In The Dark Knight, the Joker placed Rachel and Harvey Dent in separate warehouses full of explosives and made Batman pick between her and Harvey to save. They were too late to save Rachel. Before her death, Rachel left a note for Bruce Wayne that his longtime guardian, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) burned, confessing she had chosen Harvey Dent.
In a touching exchange between Alfred and Bruce after the truth is revealed about Rachel, Alfred tells Bruce his hope for him. He thought once Batman was no longer needed, Bruce would move on with his life. Alfred tells Bruce a story about being in a café and envisions seeing Bruce there with a family and living the life he was meant to live. Alfred thought he was sparing Bruce by not telling him the truth about Rachel but Bruce feels he’s taken everything left from him by telling the truth now. Alfred can no longer stand by watching Bruce slowly kill himself because he has buried too many Wayne family members already. It is a strong scene and Michael Caine and Christian Bale have a beautiful moment. It is these moments of high emotion mixed with stunning action sequences that transports this movie beyond your standard superhero fare.
Bruce is shaken out of his self-imposed exile from the world after Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) disguised as wait-staff for the party, breaks into a safe in his room and takes his mother’s pearls. He wonders why she dusted the safe to obtain his fingerprints. Being the brilliant detective that he is, this one clue leads Bruce Wayne down a path toward Bane and the progeny of an old nemesis. It is Selina who understands the impending storm about to descend on the city. She warns Bruce that he and the rest of the affluent class in Gotham are lulled into a false sense of security. A reckoning is coming and they are kidding themselves that they can continue to have so much when everyone has so little.
There were some doubts about Anne Hathaway stepping into the boots of Selina Kyle. Could she carry off the sleek thief and not make her into a cat caricature like Halle Berry did before her? Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle was one of the better parts of the movie. Thanks to Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s script, there were more layers and back-story to the character that didn’t make her a whimpering, powerless woman who gains super cat powers. She was grounded in reality with a hard upbringing that led to a life of crime. Hathaway carried off the sass and vulnerability of someone with a criminal past wanting to reinvent herself into someone more than her rap sheet. She had a good rapport with Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman that made for believable mutual flirtation and admiration.
Christopher Nolan is great at juggling the characters in his movie. He introduces new players but doesn’t leave the old ones languishing in the background. Each player is an important piece in the story and Nolan moves them through the movie with purpose.
He guides the audience with a light hand through the film emphasizing important players and dropping subtle clues. He leaves Easter eggs for the big fanboy/fangirl, has cameos of old characters from the last two movies and gives enough (if your are paying attention) plot points to everyone for the big payoff at the end.
Bane played with brilliant menace by Tom Hardy is not the best-known villain in the catalog of Batman villains but he is an effective one for this movie. He sets out to finish Ra’s al Ghul’s (Liam Neeson) failed attempt to destroy the very fabric of he city. He succeeds in plunging Gotham into anarchy and chaos by literally destroying the city from within its dark underbelly. With Bane and the Joker before him, Nolan builds a villain who is as smart if not smarter than the hero. They are broken, damaged men who completely believes their twisted view of the evils of the world and what is needed to correct those evils. The more chilling aspect of their cult-of-personalities is they inspire others to follow them. Their sinister plan is orchestrated and carried-out brilliantly. Nolan doesn’t cheat at any point. He builds up to the final climatic showdown by giving the audience so many points of tension and contention.
The one weak link in the movie that felt a bit forced was the John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) character. I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a brilliant actor and I would pay to watch him brush his teeth. His parents were killed and he was left an orphan and therefore can relate so easily to Bruce Wayne’s anger and darkness. He becomes a cop so he can exact justice in unjust world. He is a good detective and has strong ideals and compassion. His kismet with Bruce screams too much of him being a mini-version of Bruce Wayne (minus the billions) that he might as well be called Batman 2.0. Also the fact he so easily figured out Bruce Wayne was Batman seemed contrived. Commissioner Gordon couldn’t figure out the identity of Batman in seven years and three movies. The poor guy only had his light-bulb moment when Batman gave him a clue about showing some kindness to a child who had lost everything one tragic night.
I also wasn’t impressed with Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda Tate. I kept wondering what her point was in the movie other than some action between the sheets for almost celibate Bruce Wayne. Yes, she was a board member who was going to help Wayne Industries avert a financial melt down. Yes, the payoff with the character happens at the end but I was never invested in her enough that it made the a-ha moment anticlimactic.
Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Commissioner Jim Gordon are still great in the final installment. They are beloved characters not only because of the actors who play them but they lend a real world flavor to the fantasy world of Batman. They show heroes don’t have to wear a cape and cowl to be effective.
A good movie will leave the audience wanting more but a great movie transforms and will leave you forever changed. The Dark Knight Rises exposes the chaotic and corrupt nature of the world we live and how out of this chaos monsters are formed. The danger lies in the fact that these monsters aren’t ineffective but are charismatic; cult-of-personalities that lead others to follow their twisted ideologies. Monsters are out there to wreak havoc on the world but we can’t stand by waiting for a masked hero to save us. We as a society must fight within the chaos to overcome the corruptions and right the wrongs. One person is an idea but a band of many is a revolution.
“If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal… you become something else entirely.”