Review: Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph-Gordon Levitt
Runtime: 164 min.
MPAA: PG-13

“Theatricality and deception can be powerful agents.”

With those words of wisdom began not only the journey of the Batman, but Christopher Nolan’s remarkably meticulous and grandiose tale of the denizens of Gotham City. For all of the ferocity and determination of Bruce Wayne, and the pomp and circumstance of the Joker, and the dedication of James Gordon, and the loyalty of Alfred Pennyworth, it is the humanism of Gotham that drives the entirety of the series.

And it is Dark Knight Rises that offers a catharsis for those people, and for those that would test their mettle.

Dark Knight Rises introduces us to a world that we have never previously known. Opening eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Gotham is experiencing something along the lines of Pax Romana – crime rates are infinitesimal, the ‘Harvey Dent Act’ has provided the district attorney with the ability to imprison the criminal element with ease, the police are untested, and the Batman and Bruce Wayne have vanished into this air. As Gotham revels in its newfound hope and harmony, the Wayne Corporation is in disarray and the diminishing underbelly silently awaits some forthcoming reckoning from the aptly named Bane … the veritable yin to the Batman’s yang.

It is here that I feel it appropriate to deviate from any synopsis of the film. In viewing the film, I noted that the studio did an admirable job of revealing just enough in the trailers to generate interest while holding enough back and allowing for vagaries to the otherwise uninformed viewer. So long as one has not read spoiler-laced reviews or discussed the film at-length with someone who has seen it, Dark Knight Rises will surprise and intrigue you from open to close.

As Christopher Nolan’s universe is steeped in humanism, so to is the very backbone of the film, which is comprised of the efforts of a stellar supporting cast. Michael Caine’s sagacious and fatherly Alfred offers the greatest emotional impact in the film, and carries the burden of an entire city’s fragile faith with astonishing grace. The legacy of the Wayne family – which may well be the legacy of Nolan’s universe – is breathed into life by Alfred’s discussions with Bruce, and it is difficult to imagine any other actor offering as much in so little screen time as Caine.

Gary Oldman’s grizzled and skeptical Gordon is the war hero that Gotham no longer praises, yet he is loath to concede that his time may have passed. Oldman somehow balances a world-weariness with a willingness to sacrifice everything to protect those that he cares about, and his dedication to the tasks at hand is palpable. It seems significant that Oldman is often discussed as an underrated or understated actor, as his Gordon fits that mold ably – he may not be capable of the remarkable feats of the Batman, but he is never hesitant to try.

Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate form a balance, of sorts, for Bruce Wayne. Freeman is, as usual, jovial yet logical, representing the scientific foundation of Bruce Wayne. It is a role that suits him perfectly. And Cotillard is passionate and hopeful, pushing Bruce to take a leap of faith and trust those that he seeks to save. The quietly sultry nature of Cotillard adds a wonderful layer to the film.

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake is … well … Gotham City. Gordon-Levitt’s role in the film is relatively minor, comparatively speaking, yet he distills all of the hopes, lies, strengths, and weaknesses of the people that the Batman protects into a single, believable, relatable character. He is the ideal everyman, yet he works with the knowledge that he is capable of so much more.

If there exists a weakness to Nolan’s filmography, it is that his female characters are somewhat lacking. I would not quite suggest that they are disposable or one-dimensional, but they are oftentimes dependent on the actions of the male leads. Thankfully, Anne Hathaway elegantly disposes of this narrative.

Hathaway, as cat(woman) burglar extraordinaire Selina Kyle, is simply magnificent. She has been bloodied and battered by the trappings of both the high society and underbelly of Gotham, yet she boldly soldiers on, for better or worse. She recognizes that she is flawed, perhaps intrinsically so, and the viewer can feel her inner turmoil. Hathaway balances a mighty ego and a near crippling self-awareness in a manner that truly must be seen to believe.

Tom Hardy’s Bane is likely to form the crux of the many varied opinions that Dark Knight Rises is sure to generate. There are already widespread criticisms of his voice, his build and general appearance, and his mannerisms … and, to me, those critiques could not be more off-base.

Hardy is the personification of menace and doom, and what he may lack in charisma he more than makes up for with sheer force of will. As an amalgamation of Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker, Hardy’s Bane blends a sense of purpose and determination with a decided tinge of insanity into an ominous figure that the Dark Knight trilogy had not previously seen. Moreover, the physicality that he brings – both in terms of size and strength – balances the equation that the Batman so often dominated in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

It is here that Dark Knight Rises truly distinguishes itself from its predecessors. The altercations between Bane and the Batman are brutal and visceral, with Hardy’s calculating calm striking a startling counterbalance against Bale’s raw power and anger. The specter of physical violence has never been more ubiquitous, and Nolan has never filmed the violence so clearly, and so cleanly. Gone are the quick-cuts, shaky cameras, and roaring music, replaced with fixed angles and the sounds of strikes and breaking bones. It is a welcome change.

Despite the all-around brilliance of the cast, it is Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne and the Batman that makes Dark Knight Rises a truly great film. For the first time in the series, Bale is the focal point in the film, whereas the stars of the previous entries were the origin (both of the Batman and Gotham City) and the Joker, respectively. Bale is a truly sympathetic character, conveying a powerful figure lost in his own personal hell, suffering the trials and tribulations of a man that has sacrificed most everything for the anonymous faces of the city he protects. The losses he has endured have all but crippled him – physically and emotionally – and we are taken hand-in-hand with Bruce Wayne as he rebuilds himself from ashes. Bale is incredibly charismatic and far more relatable than a character of his stature seems capable, and he flourishes as the man behind the myth. Truly, it was a triumphant performance.

From a technical standpoint, Nolan’s direction and editing is simply brilliant. Despite it’s near three hour runtime, Dark Knight Rises moves at a relatively breakneck pace and never resembles a bore. Some elegant transitions and beautiful cinematography mask a plot that is shallow at times, yet I cannot in good conscience label that as a flaw. Nolan seamlessly blends excitement with emotional tumult, and neatly wraps up dozens of plot points from all three films in the series. It is spectacle and grandeur defined, without the trappings of style over substance. And Hans Zimmer’s score is the blood that pumps through the meticulous circulatory system that Nolan has created, and a pervasive sense of humanity sets everything in motion.

Dark Knight Rises represents not only a masterstroke in the tumultuous history of trilogies and their final chapters, but a paradigm in technical filmmaking. It is the best of the Dark Knight films, the best film of the year and, perhaps, Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus.