Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises
Sleight of hand and misdirection play large roles in the films of Christopher Nolan. He told two parallel stories, one forward through time and the other backward, in Memento. In The Prestige, a story about dueling magicians, surprise was at the heart of the film every step of the way, while Inception, his large-scale cerebral caper, may have well been called Deception.
His characters possess this deceit in numerous ways, and two of them are at the forefront of Nolan’s latest and most anticipated film to date, The Dark Knight Rises. Selina Kyle is the first, the slender, sexy and agile thief who masquerades as a feline burglar. Though, she never is actually referred to by the moniker Batman fans have understood her to be: Catwoman. Her story is the simpler of the two, as she looks to escape the world in which she lives, but is only able to dig herself deeper.
The digging gets her involved with various other masked characters, including our hero who hides behind one, Bruce Wayne. Played by Christian Bale (a man who can grow a beard with the best of them), Wayne is a figure that at the start of a third film, is still is looking for definition to his life, a price one pays apparently when acting behind a façade. When the two first meet, Kyle is seeking to erase her past while Wayne’s has already been done for him.
The third and final chapter in Nolan’s Batman vision takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, with the death of prosecutor Harvey Dent purported to be murder by the hands of the caped crusader. With Dent now a symbol of peace and safety, Batman, and in turn Wayne, have gone into hiding. With no organized crime (Batman Begins) or colourful maniacs (The Dark Knight), Batman is no longer needed, and Wayne, against the best arguments from his most loyal friend and servant Alfred (Michael Caine), feels that he has no reason for which to live.
Wayne has descended into torpor, a scruffy recluse failing to appear at parties in his own mansion and failing to monitor the troubled state of his business Wayne Enterprises. His muscles have atrophied, his peers mock him, his company is bleeding money, and he ignores an enigmatic woman (with beauty that has not escaped the notice of the men in Wayne’s life) who is trying to altruistically invest in his company, Miranda (Marion Cotillard), one of several new entrants to the Nolan trilogy.
It is at last a jewelry thief in the form of Kyle that motivates Wayne to any sort of action, and soon thereafter it is a powerful terrorist that motivates Wayne to resurrect Batman. It is for the wrong reasons, however. Wayne is looking for meaning and redemption through the masked vigilante; he is not looking to defeat the menacing villain that is Bane specifically, but looking to achieve any victory to prove to others that he still can.
He cannot triumph in any way, and in any form – Wayne or Batman—not initially to be sure, and not surprisingly. Kyle dupes him several times (a touch of comedy at times in the film), whereas a chase of Bane and his men after an attack on the stock exchange finds Batman becoming the target of police. And when Batman meets Bane for the first time, he is sorely unprepared.
Tom Hardy, who, like Caine, Bale, and Cotillard, is a favourite of Nolan, and assumes the role of the steely-eyed and machine-voiced Bane. He is a terrorist not in the way western civilization has come to define one of late, but in the purest sense of the term. His physical power, his ruthless killing, and his epic madness make up a fear-inducing figure, as Hardy and Nolan succeed at creating a brute of a man that commands such believability and conveys pure evil.
While deceit has always been Nolan’s handy-work, he here for the first time tackles fear on a massive level. Batman himself was bred from fear, as was Bane we learn, but The Dark Knight Rises, more than any Batman film, more than any Nolan film, and more than most films in the last 11 years, exudes authentic tension that is all too familiar to an audience that remembers September 11th, and has lived through a decade’s long fight against terrorism.
When Bane raids the trading floor, killing many bystanders along the way, he seeks to cripple the city financially, bringing the wealthy down to the level of the lower classes – borrowing from the headlines over the last couple years an extended economic struggle. Bane escapes, and police don’t yet realize his power, choosing to ignore him to take down Batman instead. Bane resurfaces, with explosives planted around the city, devastating Gotham (which in this film more than the previous two is very clearly New York City) by bringing down tunnels, bridges, buildings, and a football stadium in one rather mind-blowing and unnerving scene.
It is all believable because of Nolan’s pacing and tone, but also in the simplicity of the step by step actions. Like Nolan’s other films, there is a more elaborate story built up around the movie, connecting it back to the other two, and involving returning allies Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and introducing a hothead cop in the form of Jason Gordon-Levitt, and Matthew Modine, his intolerant Deputy Commissioner. It is a vast world, one arguably more complex to create and maintain than the dream-induced environments Nolan crafted in Inception.
The cast of characters, the depth of story-telling, and the massive attempt to instill terror in an audience that may be more inclined to simply watch a super-hero movie is rather unprecedented, yet Nolan succeeds by creating reasoned measures and actions in the dark world he has taken two films to create.
There are a few over-the-tops stunts, including an opening scene featuring a mid-air heist and the introduction of Bane that feels eerily similar to the opening scene and introduction of Joker in The Dark Knight. There are more allusions to the past, direct and indirect, and Nolan continues to do sleight of hand very well, and it is hard to blame him for drawing out the movie to a nearly three hour running time. Hans Zimmer score keeps the pace moving and the tension high with a plethora of characters and the standard uncertainty that lies dormant in this trilogy is palpable.
Nolan does epic well, especially, as expected, with a lengthy finale. The best in the film, though, is the simple. The conversations between Alfred and Wayne progress from the basic moralistic anecdotes to intense discussions on the meaning of life and the truth of the past. Hathaway and Bale are charming together, masked and unmasked, and the first meeting between Bane is Batman is bare, set in a sewer and enacted without music, leaving you rapt.
The film is not flawless on its own, but as the culmination of a vision, as the end of a trilogy, Nolan has presented to the world a near-perfect tale, simple and complex, tragic and action-packed, and sadly, finite. Still, you will be led down certain paths, given clues to a film you will predict for the most part, only to see that Nolan has been playing with you all along.