[Review] – The Dark Knight Rises

29 Jul

Title: The Dark Knight Rises
Year: 2012
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, based on the characters by Bob Kane
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
Runtime: 164 min
IMDb Rating: 9.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Metacritic: 78

And so it ends. I don’t even know where to begin, nor do I know exactly what I want to touch upon here, in my review for The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy. Is it as good as The Dark Knight was? Well, no, not really. But to me it never was about beating its predecessor, because the bar was set so high by that masterpiece of a second installment, by Heath Ledger‘s performance, by the legacy, the records, the mystique surrounding it all. What it is, however, is a film that’s as ambitious as I’ve ever seen; Christopher Nolan really comes out swinging for the fences with all of his might here, delivering a film charged with so many ideas and messages and that’s still so thoroughly entertaining as an action film. Is it as perfect as its predecessor? Again, the answer is no; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t perfect on its own right.

Like I said, I don’t know exactly what I want to say here. It’s now been ten days since the film opened, and I have had some time to mull it over; because with these films you need to, because if I reviewed it the second I left the theater I would proclaim it the greatest film of all-time. That’s the fanboy effect these films have, something that can make or break them depending on how they turn out.

Time to mull over is also something that has been given to the recent horrific events in Aurora, Colorado surrounding one of the late-night screenings of the film and the mass shooting that ensued. I didn’t really mean to address this issue in my review here, but, in a way, it’s unavoidable. The film opened to $160.9 million, good enough for the third highest opening weekend of all-time (and the best for a non-3D film), but that number was sure to be at least $10 to $20 million higher were it not for the results of the shooting. Likewise, the gross it takes in this weekend will likely be less because of audiences still not wanting to go to the theater.

Yes, the shootings will have an effect on The Dark Knight Rises‘ box office haul, which will still no doubt be massive. But the fact is that, even though I think it would be stupid for them to shape in any way the legacy of this film, they have to talked about a bit because it happened, and because it kind of makes you think about the effect popular culture has on the psyche of people, both the good and, in this case, the bad. And yet this is a film that’s always been about heroism, but the kind of hero that’s more of a symbol or an abstract thought than an actual person, like Gary Oldman‘s monologue at the end of The Dark Knight so beautifully says, and in a time like this I guess we all could use heroism right now, even if it is all just some kind of illusion that grabs onto us.

That’s all I’m saying about the shootings, I won’t mention them because, like I said, they should take no part in defining one’s opinion about this film, and I certainly won’t let them interfere with mine. The fact is that The Dark Knight Rises closes out a trilogy that forever changed cinema. And I don’t mean that as some kind of hyperbole, no, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was, in its purest of forms, a true game-changer.

It reinvented what comic book movies could be, showing us that they could be darker, more serious fare, something that every other superhero movie that’s come out since has tried to replicate, a few with some level of success, but never with the one achieved by Christopher Nolan. It proved that reboots can work if they’re done right. And it proved that, for them to be done really right, you have to hand them over to someone who knows their stuff. That someone, in this case, was Christopher Nolan, a man who’s nothing short of a genius, and who showed why having this kind of auteur vision take over a franchise is so important. He is the reason why these films are so great.

Batman Begins came out in 2005, with Warner Bros. handing over an iconic character to a director who, even though had made three films (one of which was the masterpiece Memento), was still relatively unknown, and hadn’t handled such a budget and scope before. And yet Mr. Nolan came out squarely on top, reimagining the Batman character, taking over the origin story, getting us to care not only for the superhero but for the man behind the mask, a film that was so incredibly grounded in reality. And it was big hit, grossing over $370 million worldwide, receiving an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, and grabbing an Oscar nomination along the way.

Then came The Dark Knight three years later. Enough has been said about that movie by people far more eloquent and informed than me, and yet at the same time enough can’t be said about a film that is a true modern classic, a contemporary masterpiece, one of the greatest films of this new millennium. It was marked, of course, by the death of Heath Ledger, an actor that was truly shaping up to be one of the greatest of his generation and whom we lost before we got to see his work as the villainous Joker in this film. That performance, which won him a posthumous Oscar, is one of the most fearless displays of acting I have seen in all my life, a true tour de force, taking a character and making it his own, embodying him perhaps to a fault. I could go on for many paragraphs more about the greatness of Heath Ledger, and how it all culminated so tragically and yet so masterfully in that film.

But I won’t, because the task at hand is The Dark Knight Rises. The film that will no doubt be seen compared to that last one that had such a once-in-a-lifetime kind of performance in it. Like I said, Christopher Nolan come out guns-a-blazin’ in this one, giving us a film that most sincerely serves as a truly fitting conclusion to a trilogy that changed the way we see films in this new century, and that will most definitely stand as one of the most brilliant three-film series in the history of film.

The Dark Knight Rises is the darkest film of the trilogy, that’s true, it’s the one that really knows how to get to you, and it has a director that just knows how to end a trilogy. And to end a trilogy in a genre that, before he arrived to reshape it, people didn’t take seriously one bit, that was embedded with all kinds of stereotypes and what not. What he’s done with this trio of films isn’t that different from what George Lucas did with the one he gave us three decades ago.

What makes Christopher Nolan such a daredevil in the way he’s done these films, and perhaps this one most of all, is that by grounding his superhero in reality he has managed to not only entertain the hell out of us viewers, but also to say something about the state of the world we live in today. That’s what makes his Batman trilogy so outstanding: it has relevance. It acknowledges that the world we live in right now is far from perfect, and while it does offer that escapist kind of entertainment people go to these films expecting to get, it also isn’t afraid to bring up much deeper messages and lay them down in the best of ways. This film has something to say about politics, about the economy, about the upper class.

It’s been eight years in the film since that brilliant closing scene in The Dark Knight in which Batman sacrificed himself to become not the hero Gotham deserved, but the one it needed, letting others hunt him, because he could take it, and not let the chaos of the Joker triumph. And even though Gotham experienced some peace after the implementation of the Dent Act, things quickly start turning worse and worse, especially after the arrival of Bane, the villain played by Tom Hardy in the film. And so Commissioner Gordon and Detective John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt who, like Mr. Hardy, teams up with Mr. Nolan again after Inception, try and get Batman to return. The question no only is will he actually return, but also will be physically able to.

It all kicks off from there. And it’s all just exceptionally well done. The film, as you might have heard, is quite long, clocking in at a whopping 165 minutes, and yet it never once feels like it’s dragging along in the slightest; if anything, you could actually say that Mr. Nolan actually tries to cram in more stories than it’s possible into that time frame, and yet, somehow, impossibly, spectacularly, he pulls it off.

Because, to be honest, in the first act of this film, you really do start getting all of these story threads and meeting all of these new characters, and I actually thought “Uh oh”. I thought Christopher Nolan had tried to outsmart himself, had gone a bit over the top with his ambition and would fail at balancing it all perfectly, let alone at tying all of these new strands into the overall thematic from the previous two films to make this such a cohesive trilogy. Well, suffice it to say that I was stupidly wrong for ever doubting the man. This is a director who knows exactly what he’s doing every step of the way here.

The path that Bruce Wayne, not just Batman, must cross in this film is one that’s decidedly dark. He is really down at one point in this movie, having been beaten to then try and figure out how to get back up again. Suffice it to say that he will indeed get back up again, we all know that, but the way this movie goes through that is much more complex than your typical summer blockbuster. There are layers upon layers upon layers in this film, each one richer than the other, and the way Christian Bale sets himself to start uncovering each of them is truly a thing of beauty; much like this films couldn’t have happened with anyone but Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair, they also wouldn’t have been the same with any other actor donning the mask of the caped crusader.

It’s kind of weird to be dubbing a summer superhero film as one of the most profound of the year so far, but I really do believe that’s what Christopher Nolan has accomplished here. And that’s not entirely because of all the things he’s saying with this film, even though there is obviously quite a lot being said, but moreso because of all the questions that he’s asking. This film doesn’t give you a clear-cut answer to everything it lays upon you. This is a director that loves to leave things open for interpretation, that loves not saying what’s right and what’s wrong, and so a debate about what he really meant with something is a discussion more than worth having with any of his films, and this one is no exception.

That fine line between right and wrong, that complex morality is embodied most of all in this film by Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, the iconic character that this time around is played by the incomparable Anne Hathaway. Catwoman, and not Bane, is the character her that takes the kind of role the Joker had on audiences in the last film, the character that you can’t wait until he or she gets back on screen again; she has the best lines, and the performance by Ms. Hathaway is truly a sight to behold, she makes her smart, she makes her resourceful, she hints at so much with so little. She’s been great in the past, with her performance in Rachel Getting Married being one of the very best I’ve seen in the past decade or so, but this hints at a truly huge career, and her upcoming turn in Les Misérables, I imagine, will further confirm that.

She’s not the only one who’s great, of course. Like I said, Christian Bale saved his best performance as Bruce Wayne for his last go-round. And, likewise, I thought that many of the actors who returned, who are amongst the cream of the crop of their profession, be it Michael Caine or Gary Oldman, brought a little something extra to this final outing, they are so in tune with these roles we take them for granted, but they do so many truly impeccable things with their performances that you just have to really sit back and watch in awe.

The newcomers are all very good here, too. Yes, Ms. Hathaway totally steals the show. But you have to give props to the trio that Mr. Nolan brought over from Inception. Tom Hardy steps into unenviable shoes, to play the villain in a franchise in which the last guy who played the villain gave one of the greatest performances ever. And yet he’s really very, very good, especially when you consider he was acting behind a mask the whole time. Mr. Gordon-Levitt continues to show why he’s one of the best young actors around, and is definitely going to have a hell of a 2012 with the films he has coming up. And then there’s also Marion Cotillard, in a key supporting role here much like she had in Inception; she’s sheer fireworks, and by God do I really wish Christopher Nolan were to give her the leading role of whatever his next film ends up being.

I’m not going to name The Dark Knight Rises the best film of 2012. I’m writing these review days after actually having seen the film, and I’m still in awe by it, but I’m sure that by the time the year is done I’ll think Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom is a better film, so I’ll rank this just behind it right now. But it’s still a masterpiece, it’s still an appropriately epic conclusion to the most important film trilogy we’ve had in this new century. It’s a film about moral ambiguities, about recognizing that everyone is flawed, that even the best people have something wrong about them, and that even the worst have some kind of nobility somewhere inside them. It’s sheer brilliance.

I would stop right there with the paragraph above since this review is already far too long. But I can’t help but once again commend Christopher Nolan. He’s a genius, a guy who’s literally in the middle of commercial filmmaking, working for the big studios with the big budgets delivering the biggest film of the year, and yet he’s still an auteur, never compromising his vision, and, most importantly, never once dumbing it down for us. The thing Christopher Nolan does with every film he makes is that he assumes that his audience, no matter how huge it is, is smart. That’s why he doesn’t give it to us simple and easy, that’s why he likes to make it a little bit darker and more complex, because he trusts us to be smart enough to handle it. And who doesn’t like to be called smart?

Grade: A+


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