25/08/2012 § 5 Comments
The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. 2012
I assume by now most people reading this review have already seen the film. I actually saw this the first week it came out, then earlier this week with some friends. In my opinion, it’s just as good the second time around as the first.
DKR sees director Chris Nolan teaming up with his regular stable of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Liam Neeson. All of them have worked with Nolan before, which probably explains why they all seem so comfortable, even those who are new to the Batman series. Newcomers of note include Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard. The acting in this film is superb, as might be indicated by this impressive cast. Cillian Murphy reprises his role as Dr. Crane (Scarecrow from TDK). Daniel Sunjata (The Devil Wears Prada; Rescue Me) and Joseph Lyle Taylor (Justified’s Doyle Bennett) make their Nolan debut here, and do a very good job. Really, this film is superbly acted, and a good portion of that is due to the strength of the cast.
The plot is fairly convoluted, and full of twists, contrivances, and deus ex machinas, so it’s best to just watch it. The main thrust is that Bane, played by the very capable Tom Hardy, is trying to complete Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan of destroying Gotham. Of course, he plans in secret, in the sewer system, much like in the first film in which Scarecrow was tasked of releasing toxins into Gotham though the water supply. Commissioner Gordon stumbles upon this plan by the help of some truly stupid henchmen, then meets Bane and narrowly escapes with his life. This forces Bane to take his plans out into the open, so Bane commits some sort of financial shenanigans on Gotham’s version of Wall Street, thus robbing Bruce Wayne of his wealth. A bunch of storylines converge around this, the main one being Batman coming out of retirement. Bane then baits Batman into fighting him; Batman loses, and is then cast into “hell on earth,” which happened to be where Bane was born and raised. After that, Bane takes over Gotham. He does so by promising that the city will be given to the people. In reality, Bane is a fascist who controls the city for himself. This is a metaphor for the Occupy Wall Street crowd, who (presumably unintentionally) dress up fascism in the language of equality. There is some resistance to Bane’s plans, especially by those who realize that Bane is trying to destroy the city, and that the hope of fascism is really a lie to keep the masses from rebelling. Then Batman comes back and the movie turns into a bombastic Jesus story, complete with disciples, memorials, and a resurrection.
Whereas the prior installment focused on the dangers of anarchy, DKR focuses on the danger of fascism, and totalitarianism dressed up as equality. This is a remarkably mature theme for a comic book movie, but Nolan handles it with aplomb. I would suggest that Nolan is a conservative in the truest sense of the word, recognizing the pitfalls of both anarchy and fascism, and striking to find balance between the two. Interestingly, Nolan seems more accepting of the use of force in this film than in prior ones (cue Catwoman: I’m not fond of the whole ‘no guns’ rule…), recognizing that sometimes the only way to combat evil is with evil. Thus, while Nolan is leery of a world without a central authority, as in the character of the Joker in DKR, he is also just as leery of a world where madmen are the central authority. Nolan’s overarching of the Batman series appears to be that Power is a necessary evil, and one that should constantly be kept in check, which is itself a very Jeffersonian view.
Ultimately, this world view is concentrated in Bruce Wayne/Batman. Batman has no qualms about fighting evil, or even using extraordinary means to do so. However, he draws the line at killing. He also has the good sense to use spy technology appropriately: In TDK, he sets up a system that uses every tech device to keep tabs on the entire city, for the purpose of tracking down the Joker. Interestingly, he doesn’t trust himself with this power, but instead gives control of this technology to Lucius Fox, who was very hesitant about it existing in the first place. Once the danger is past, Fox shuts down the technology, rendering it useless. In DKR, Batman stills displays reluctance to use deadly force against Bane. Even at the end of the film, Batman basically kicks the living crap out of Bane, forcing him into great agony, but still refuses to kill him. This almost does him in, but Catwoman shows up at the last second to kill Bane for Batman. This is the closest Nolan gets to allowing for the use of deadly force, and even then Batman still keeps his hands clean. Ultimately, Nolan is content to dwell on the observation that things can be awful in the absence of force (or the threat thereof) and things can be awful in the presence of force as well. Obviously, there must be balance between the two extremes—anarchy and fascism—but Nolan leaves it to the viewers to decide where that balance is to be struck.
Nolan’s use of female characters is also interesting. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is someone Bruce Wayne learns to trust, only to be backstabbed (literally and metaphorically) by her later on. Catwoman/Selina Kyle (the superb Anne Hathaway) is slippery as well, but directly so. There is no reason for Wayne/Batman to trust her, so her betrayals aren’t as shocking or disappointing. It might seem that Nolan is channeling his inner pimp, warning viewers to never trust a ho, but the theme of betrayal extends to Alfred (who betrayed Bruce by hiding the truth about Rachel) and Commissioner Gordon (who betrayed Gotham by lying to them about Harvey Dent). Bane, a mercenary, betrays his employer and eventually kills him. Blake unintentionally betrays his fellow officers, including his beat partner, by leading them to a trap in the tunnels. Lucius Fox betrays Gotham by arming the bomb. This makes for a lot of interesting plot twists and developments, but it also forces the viewer to think about what motivates human behavior. In a sense, Bane’s motives are purer than Lucius Fox’s, and Miranda’s motives are purer than Bruce Wayne’s. Yet, those who are more pure in heart end up committing more evil, perhaps in part because their devotion to Ra’s Al Ghul’s murderous plan causes them to suppress their humanity. Thus, those, those who are more human (i.e. those who rationalize their behavior) also end up being more humane. This is why, then, both Selina and Miranda can betray Bruce Wayne, but only one of them ends up being sympathetic.
At any rate, DKR is an incredibly entertaining and enjoyable film. The filmography is lush and inviting, the characters are comfortable and generally relatable, the plot is convoluted by followable, and the story is thought-provoking. It’s definitely worth repeated viewings, and one of those viewings should be in the theater. This film is destined to be a classic, in spite of its minor flaws (it could be edited better, and the sound mix is deafening at some points and unnecessarily clear at others), so make sure to enjoy it now, that way you can tell your kids that you saw this movie when it first came out.