Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
All good things must come to an end. And what a hell of a way to go out!
In 1989 the world was in for a revolution of cinema. Tim Burton’s Batman changed the way Hollywood would approach the superhero movie (and ultimately cartoons as well) forever. Prior to Batman these movies were not taken seriously and were thought of as “kiddie” or campy; especially Batman. Most people’s idea of Batman came from the 1960’s television series starring Adam West with all its BANGs and POWs and generally corny tone. But Tim Burton changed all that. Gone were the bright colors and cheesy dialogue. This Gotham City was dark and brutal. Organized crime ran the town and one especially sinister gangster rose to the top with a disfigured face and a clown’s eye for fashion. Sure, the movie has its faults (namely Burton’s penchant for style over substance) but this new take on Batman was a game changer for sure. But would it last?
Over the next decade we would get three more live action Batman movies of varying quality and one excellent animated movie. As a bonus Batman: The Animated Series would change the tone of cartoons and prove that cartoons are not just for kids. While this animated Batman thrived the live action movies declined in quality once (and it pains me to say this) Tim Burton left the directing chair. With 1997’s Batman & Robin Joel Shumacher and George Clooney effectively put a stake through the Batman’s heart, seemingly killing any hope for future movies. But then Christopher Nolan stepped in and gave Batman a gritty reboot in 2005. And the rest is history.
I know this is sounding less like a review and more like a Retro Active article but just simply reviewing The Dark Knight Rises without looking at how far the character as well as the attitude surrounding him has come since Adam West cornballed his way through Gotham in the 60’s would really sell this movie short. Christopher Nolan has made a set of movies that perfectly reflect the Gotham City and Batman that so many of us have known from the comics since Frank Miller gave us The Dark Knight Returns. Other than Batman: The Animated Series we had not gotten anything close to that vision of Batman until Batman Begins hit theaters. Not only did Nolan change the attitude toward Batman he changed Batman’s attitude. Batman stopped being about gadgets and over the top villains and started being a detective like he was in the comics. By the time The Dark Knight was released in 2008 the world recognized that Batman wasn’t just a superhero, he was an institution. A tonal shift from Batman Begins being wholly focused on Batman to the circumstances of why Gotham needs Batman in The Dark Knight can draw comparison to the differences between Star Wars’ story of a young man finding his destiny and The Empire Strikes Back’s story of “why we fight.” Luckily The Dark Knight Rises is not Return of the Jedi.
In watching The Dark Knight Rises I realized that I needed to go back and re-watch Batman Begins. So many plot points are revisited from the first movie in this trilogy (and make no mistake, this IS a trilogy) that it is almost mandatory watching beforehand. However, the average person off the street can follow this movie without having seen the first two movies. Nolan does an excellent job of giving us a recap of events without making it feel forced. The introduction of Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is very organic and they both feel like a part of this world, especially Catwoman. Anne Hathaway was the perfect choice for this role and at several points she really shows some acting chops. Her Selina Kyle wants to leave the world of crime behind but can’t because of her record. So she winds up an unwitting pawn in Bane’s ultimate plan in order to gain a clean slate. This anti-hero of sorts really has a heart of gold underneath the leather exterior. And once she dons the leather outfit (complete with “ears”) she is very reminiscent of Lee Meriweather in both her look and demeanor. She is the perfect romantic foil for both Bruce Wayne and Batman.
In contrast is Bane. He is death incarnate. He is a force of nature and he has it in for the bat. Granted some liberties have been taken from the comic book version of this character but so much of it is right that I didn’t care about the Venom or the design of his mask. Oh, and we get to see a very iconic moment in Batman’s history actually play out on screen. There is also a third villain that makes an appearance but I will not spoil that excellent plot twist. His voice is a bit hard to understand at times but all in all the audio track is fine.
But the break out character in The Dark Knight Rises is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake. He is a Gotham police officer who not only believes in Gotham but also in Batman. We also learn that he is an orphan and was raised in a group home funded by Wayne Enterprises. To tell you anymore would get into spoiler territory but once again Gordon-Levitt shines. Who knew that Tommy from Third Rock From The Sun would grow up to be such a good actor?
I would be remiss if I did not talk about Hans Zimmer’s excellent score. As I write this piece I am listening to the soundtrack and just like the in the movie theater it feels epic here in my office. Zimmer has taken his place in cinema next to Danny Elfman and John Williams as a master in his craft. I highly recommend getting this soundtrack.
If there is one gripe about this movie it is that Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine do not play as prominent roles in this movie as they have in the last two. But the screen time they do have is pitch perfect. Speaking of screen time, one of the big gripes from The Dark Knight was that it wasn’t a “Batman” movie since it elected to spend more time developing Harvey Dent, Jim Gordon and The Joker than showing Batman kicking ass. And The Dark Knight Rises does feature more Bruce Wayne than Batman but this is necessary for the movie to develop properly. Batman has been gone for eight years. He can’t just show up out of nowhere and resume business as usual. We have to know why Bruce Wayne became a recluse and how he has deteriorated in that time period. We have to know what would bring a wanted “murderer” out of hiding after such a long time. But most importantly Batman is best used sparingly. If the cape and cowl have too much screen time it just starts to look silly, no matter how realistic the tone.
And finally, as we say goodbye to the best Batman since Kevin Conway I have to say this, The Dark Knight Rises ends in the only way it can. Much will be said and written about the finale of this movie over the next few years but in my opinion it is very reminiscent of the series finale of Angel and that will leave a lot of fans asking for more. But be careful what you wish for. It is inevitable that we will see new Batman movies, especially now that DC and Warner Brothers have decided to build a movie world the way Disney and Marvel Studios has. This movie is worthy of Oscar consideration and it will be a travesty if at the very least Christopher Nolan does not win for Best Director. The Dark Knight Rises is a masterpiece and my wife bestowed upon it the highest praise when during the credit she looked at me and said, “I want to watch it again.” My thoughts exactly.