The Dark Knight Rises: The Best Of The Bunch… Yet I’m Left In The Dark
There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to fully give yourself over to a franchise and figure out why everyone else loves it more than you do, and repeatedly you find yourself unable to fall in love. The Dark Knight Rises, the third and best movie in the trilogy, is unquestionably the best written, best acted, and best told story of Nolan’s take on the legendary character. Anyone who loved the others will almost certainly find themselves bowled away by the scope of the threat, the ambition of the undertaking, and the emotional root of a few supporting plot lines. However, despite being thoroughly engaged and entertained throughout the film’s run time, there is a disconnect that occurs within me when the film’s silly action movie clichés butt heads with the film’s unflinchingly dark and serious tone. Nolan goes to great lengths to show us this is unlike any comic book franchise we’ve seen, yet he plays with the same bag of goofy tricks. I can’t begrudge fans their fervor, as much of the film impresses me… but that blend of serious and silly is just difficult personally for me to reconcile.
This review will contain some suggestions of spoilers, so the uninitiated should beware. It’s been eight years since the last appearance of Batman, and the city, while worshipping at the altar of the false memory of Harvey Dent, is relatively at peace. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) feels compelled to clear Batman’s name, but keeps his guilt at bay. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) hobbles around his mansion as a recluse, but an attempt at thievery from a cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) leads him towards his old Batty tricks. Alfred (Michael Caine) pleads with Bruce to move on and have a life, but Bruce can’t walk away. Meanwhile, a brutish psychopath named Bane (Tom Hardy) has a scheme against the 1%– destroy the infrastructure and let the people run their city. Batman loses to Bane in their first fight, and he must find a way to gather the strength to defeat Bane and save his city.
To start with the good, this story moves. It takes place over a long period of time, covering massive amounts of ground, while even devoting time to subplots regarding an average beat cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a wealthy interested party in Wayne’s clean energy project (Marion Cotillard). The Dark Knight seemed to languish especially as it stumbled toward the finish line—there’s no clutter here, the story builds and builds, ending in a truly large-scale climax, and quite possibly the best Act 3 of Christopher Nolan’s career. Also, unlike The Dark Knight, here the focus is kept predominantly on the struggles of Bruce Wayne/Batman, even though there are large stretches of time in which he isn’t on screen. The themes of the film are rooted entirely in his struggle and the struggle of heroism, and there isn’t a more compelling performance in the film than Bale’s, who hasn’t looked this ragged and desperate since The Machinist.
However, for a film that spends a great deal of time establishing how dark and serious and even philosophical it is, all of the standard action clichés are here. You want villains with monologues that conveniently give heroes just enough time to succeed? Check. You want heroes getting passionate kisses from females in the middle of a time-sensitive conflict? Check. You want a ticking time bomb plot device? Check—and this is maybe the only place where the film’s ambition and scope gets sloppy, as multiple times a character announces, “There are 23 days left!” “There are 2 days left!” et cetera. You want twist endings, where seemingly bad characters are good and seemingly good characters are bad? Check and check. You want characters that you witness die come back to life inexplicably? Check, and anyone who wants to debate this point, there’s a shot in this sequence in which Nolan absolutely cheats to ensure the audience thinks a character is dead, just to fake us out. You want pretty much every cliche you’ve ever seen involving a nuclear device in a film? Check times five. I could go on, but the point is… if the movie is supposed to sink us to such grim lows and feel gritty like a “non-comic-book film,” then why employ every goofy comic book film device in the book? I don’t mind in films where the tone matches the silliness of the devices, but when everything within the film is attempting to elevate the genre by grounding it in something closer to a gritty reality, these moments all jut out like sore thumbs.
There are other elements I could gripe about—specifically, Marion Cotillard’s actions which rarely made sense to me, and Nolan’s continued insistence on having themes spelled out to us in speeches made by multiple characters time and time again—but it’d just be pointless, really. You’ve decided whether this trilogy is your bread and butter, and you accept them warts and all or you don’t. What’s more, I absolutely can’t blame you if you enjoy the Nolan trilogy more than other comic book films. They absolutely feel different than the rest of the pack, and they do have a unique tone that clearly gels with a large chunk of the moviegoing population. Nolan plays with a large scale, he’s unquestionably ambitious, and the fact that he really goes for it is something I can’t help but admire—he doesn’t pussyfoot around with his camera, he goes into a film to make events. He even manages in this installment to create something many of his other films don’t have: a real sense of warmth, predominantly from the Gordon-Levitt plotline, which I absolutely loved. Yet I was never able to fall in love with these films—I see others leaving the theater screaming, high fiving, and hugging, and I desperately wish as a comic book aficionado that grew up loving Batman that I could feel the same ecstasy. Instead, I’m left feeling appreciative… yet cold. Nolan has given us his best Batman at the end and probably the best big-screen Batman film we’ve seen to date. For most of you, and certainly for fans of this run of the franchise, you will be left bathing in happiness by film’s end. As for me, I remain reluctantly in the relative dark.