the dark knight rises

film review

Ok, this is my first review so I might as well jump right into it... *Joker voice *AND HERE WE...GO

If 2012 had a Chinese Zodiac Sign as it pertains to movies, it would have been the Year of The Superhero Blockbuster. While the Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man were also highly anticipated, it's no secret that The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final entry of director Christopher Nolan's highly decorated Batman series, was simply one of the most anxiously awaited films of all time...period.

The comic fanboys, film junkies, & overall general public seemed to be expecting something of kin to an amalgamation love child of all time greats Citizen Kane, Metropolis and The Terminator. Expectations never really breached by a blockbuster before, let alone a comic film. There was already an extremely high bar set from 2008's The Dark Knight and when word that Nolan would be done with Batman and would be ending Bruce Wayne's story with the second sequel, we were ready to spend our cash a whole year before release. Admittedly so, I personally followed the production, casting, script theories & rumors a whole fifteen months before my ass would be in the seat.

*************SPOILERS LIE AHEAD!!******************

The Dark Knight Rises will not be appreciated or make as much sense if the audience has not seen 2005's Batman Begins or the aforementioned genre-changer,  The Dark Knight. This third movie takes it full circle, referencing characters, themes and ideals from the previous two while adding rich, emotional layers of mythology unique to what we have already seen.

After the chaotic wreckage caused by the Joker that killed his childhood love, the hopeful official DA Harvery Dent and labeled Batman as homicidal terrorist vigilante, Bruce Wayne enters into a Howard Hughes-esque exile for eight years in which he becomes a social recluse residing in the empty shell of Wayne Manor. Gotham is now at peace -criminals are stowed away at Blackgate prison and Arkham Asylum. Batman is not needed. Bruce is heavily wounded, walking with a cane, hair greying in the temples. He cannot move past being Batman.

A new tyrant called Bane (played chillingly yet charming) by British actor Tom Hardy, settles into Gotham looking to crumble the very content comfort that now permeates a once corrupt and  tainted Gotham City. Wearing an anesthetic painkiller mask resembling a muzzle, the film opens when Bane and his loyal crew deceptively highjack a government plane to kidnap a scientist for the ultimate guise of destruction. Director of Photography Wally Pfister creates a small legacy of his own with the action-packed opening aerial opening performed by severely badass stuntmen.

Back in Gotham, Bruce Hughes, I mean Bruce Wayne discovers one of his maids, a new character to the series named Selina Kyle while sneaking in the upper portion of Wayne Manor, breaking into his safe attempting to steal the pearls his late mother was seen wearing in the flashback scenes of Batman Begins. Anne Hathaway introduces us to her version of 'Catwoman" (even though never referred to as such), brilliantly shaking off her meek and sheepish demeanor when Wayne catches her in the act. Selina evades him with swift acrobatics and it is obvious Hathaway prepared rigorously for the role, physically and mentally.

Through the eight years of  Bruce Wayne's overall life apathy, his father's corporation has been mishandled to the point of urgency and new character Miranda Tate, played by Oscar-winning mademoiselle Marion Cotillard, now assumes the controlling interest. When Bane strikes the Gotham Stock Exchange, thematically reminiscent of the recent 'Occupy Wallstreet Movement', Bruce decides it is time to don the cape and cowl again, despite the friction coming from his ace in the deck, butler Alfred Pennyworth. The problem is that Batman has been absent for eight straight years, a legal pariah hunted by the entire GCPD (except for loyal friend comissioner James Gordon) and is physically a mere fraction of his Dark Knight exploits of the past.

Character acting carries this final installment of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.

As previously mentioned, Hardy is a very menacing yet charismatic antagonist playing rogue villain Bane. Hardy uses his eyes and body movements to create a terrifying caricature of a dictator akin to a 'roided up Che Guevara with no register for pain. Even the way he clutches the straps  on his mercenary vest resemble an homage to poses similar to the rulers of the past featured in propaganda-like portraits.  Bane very much reminded me of a great white shark the way his intense eyes darted around the frame, honing in on his next victim.  A great white shark smelling blood in the water yet in the body of a grizzly bear.  The obvious parallels to Darth Vader shine through as we hear Bane's metallic voice through his facial contraption and his larger than life disposition. The infamous strongman was something of a human version of Dr. Frankenstein, becoming what he was after the rejection of Dr. Frankenstein  or in this case, Ra's Al Ghul. It is mentioned that Ra's no longer felt comfortable training Bane in the League Of Shadows and referring to him as an actual monster. Bane is a great follow up to Heath Ledger's Joker in TDK and while not quite as legendary, I feel people need to slightly check their emotions at the door for the last main Batman villain and discern what Nolan and Hardy gave us this go-around.

Some felt that Ledger's Joker character overshadowed the actual Batman & Bruce Wayne himself in the last movie. The audience need not worry about Bale's activity in The Dark Knight Rises. He delivers the most emotionally invested and nuaced performance of the whole saga in TDKR. It was supremely impressive how he translated a real sense of vulnerability yet masked it (no pun) when needed to interact with the other characters as Bruce, which was the real trick. We've had a stark journey with Bale as Bruce/Batman and the final shot of Bruce and Selina surely sent chills and invoked goose flesh, proving that this character was incredibly fleshed out over three films. There is an identifiable sense of genuine care for the title character which felt downplayed in the second entry.

The heart of this film is certainly SIR Michael Caine in his final duties as butler Alfred Pennyworth. The exchanges of dialogue between him and Master Bruce are so emotionally tangible that I feel Caine deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod at the next Oscars. This is a man who has served the Wayne family with fervent loyalty for years and had the responsibility of raising Bruce and guiding him as the only patriarch of a slightly demented,  billionaire playboy turned masked vigilante of Gotham. He himself is now broken down by the exploits of the Batman and urges Bruce to rethink his path in life. This is the uncle figure we all wish we had. A man that's so loyal, he cannot bear see Bruce destroy his soul with neurotic obsession any longer.

Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne's trusted equipment and business adviser at Wayne Enterprises.  Fox is now struggling to balance their stock free-falling conglomerate . He does provide Batman with the anti-gravity vehicle known as 'The Bat.' This new vessel of firepower and destruction certainly gets its scenes to try and shine but I still maintain it looks like a cross of a flying beetle/lobster. Fox also knows important information regarding the film's cliche plot device of an unstable nuclear Doomsday Machine.

Perhaps the most intense and brutal scene of the entire trilogy, Bane is able to capture Bruce Wayne after physically dominating Batman in the sewers where he pummels his body and skull. This iconic imagery of a cracked Batman cowl (see picture above) is only bested by the notoriously vicious act of Bane snapping Batman's back and injuring his vertebrates. The much anticipated callback to famous Batman comic story, Knightfall. 

 

Bats is bested by brawn

Gotham City is once again without it's silent guardian in a time of most dire necessity. Knowing his civilian identity, Bane throws Bruce into a foreign labyrinth of a prison where he is forced to remain until he can do what only ONE human - a child born in confinement, has been able to do and escape this pit of isolated despair. A child that goes on to be raised and trained by the infamous League Of Shadows. A child that grows to have twisted ideals of their own.

Gotham's New Reckoning.

Eerily depicted in a most terrorist manner, Bane reveals his brute iron hand over Gotham when he rigs the city football stadium (actually Pittburgh's Heinz Field) for a hefty explosion that also assassinates the Mayor. If you recognized several NFL players, you weren't just seeing things. Steelers players turned Gotham Rogues include QB Ben Roethlisberger, C Maurkice Pouncey, WR Mike Wallace, TE Heath  Miller & the Hollywood magic that turned now retired WR Hines Ward into an effective kick returning option. We can't forget: This is still fiction, folks!

Bane and his gang turn Gotham into a hostage-ground No Man's Land when he cuts off all access points in and out of Gotham City, blowing the multitude of bridges and squashing the unity that has enveloped Gotham since Batman took the fall for Harvey 'Two- Face" Dent's murders from The Dark Knight. Bane aims to turn the citizens against one another, to invoke a provocative class warfare inspired from Charles Dickens' classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities. He is as intelligently persuasive as he is powerfully ruthless, exposing the true nature of Dent's crimes and opening Pandora's Box for all Hell to break loose. An ultimatum for the citizens to take back their city, despite the desolate nature of the intended fate for Gotham City.

If you remember the flashback scenes of Batman Begins, Bruce's childhood fear of bats and his fateful fall into the Wayne Manor well lends his father, Thomas Wayne to ask and teach his young son, "Why do we fall, Bruce?" the answer is of course, so that we can learn to pick ourselves up. If that isn't an accessible theme for the human condition, hell, I don't know what is. When we find Bruce in Bane's labyrinth prison, this applies both allegorically and literally. He must muster the psychological and organic strength to escape and save his city that has become something of a rite of passage through wealth and influence.

I really enjoy the somber color palette that Nolan and Pfister choose to implement for the city of Gotham in these times of Gestapo-like patrolled class warfare. Visually, this film far exceeds The Dark Knight and often the first installment as well. New character officer John Blake, played by the talented Joseph Gordon Levitt, is somewhat of a blue collar mirror of Bruce himself, privately outing Bruce's nighttime activities early in the film, merely on an instinctual feel acquired on a childhood visit from Bruce when he was a young orphan boy. Blake is a great new character. It was quite interesting and surprising that so many KEY characters knew early who Batman was- Alfred, Lucius, Selina, Bane & John Blake. It was great to see Gary Oldman's last spin as Commissioner Gordon finally find out who his one man task force really is in the midst of a town divided by the have and have not's.

The trilogy ends in such a climactic manner that it has the potential to be startlingly breathtaking, depending how much the viewer has invested in these stories and characters over three pictures. I admit that I was a wreck when it seems that Nolan actually had the cojones to...kill off the Batman (some asshole actually peeped his pencilneck peckerhead in my theater twenty minutes before the ending to shout, "Batman Dies!"). The final scenes of the Dark Knight saga play out like an emotionally-charged visual crescendo.  Despite the minor faults and gripes I did have with the film, Nolan's ends his gritty, crime drama visions of Batman with a bang. Christopher Nolan has always had the reputation of ending his films very ambiguously, endings ripe for debate from hardcore fans for years to come. What I enjoyed about this ending is that it is clear without being too clear. Bruce can finally share a relaxed meal and enjoy his now depreciated wealth across from a woman that he can possibly fall in love with. Alfred seems content. John Blake perhaps has found HIS new destiny in the secret lair underground the Wayne Manor, in the southeast corner foundations, to be exact.

I see the Dark Knight trilogy not as three seperate films but rather an anthology of events and dangerous feats that collectively add to the mystique of the pop culture icon created by Bob Kane in May 1939. While I thought The Dark Knight had a tighter script and all time electric performace from Ledger, the Dark Knight Rises punctuates a film series as powerfully as a filmmaker or audience can hope for, ala the Toy Story series. The final shot is glorious and accomplishes a quite literal meaning of the title blended marvelously with the thematic meaning of Bruce's collective journey.

Roc Rating: 8.25/10