Friday, July 20, 2012
#439. The Dark Knight Rises
For the record, Christopher Nolan finally succeeded in turning Batman into something other than a comic book character.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the story of a revolution, and Nolan’s Batman has become a legend worth remembering. The story begun in BATMAN BEGINS is most definitely concluded here, and the ominous portents of THE DARK KNIGHT fulfilled. The wonderful thing is that Nolan has succeeded in setting different but complementary tones to each of the films in this trilogy. The first one was about psychology, the second was about the law, and now this one is about justice.
This is now the definitive Batman story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I made the first statement in this paragraph referring to the trilogy, but it might as well speak directly to DARK KNIGHT RISES. This may be the rare threequel where you don’t need to have seen the first two films to understand what’s going on, much as clearly most viewers of DARK KNIGHT hadn’t come to the party with the first one. DARK KNIGHT was a meditation of chaos, and its mayhem was its own kind of spectacle. Yet now, you can begin to see it in reference to the rest of the story.
Nolan’s central concept has always been of duality. Nearly every character in these films has two sides to them, obviously Batman/Bruce Wayne, but even seemingly neutral ones like Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth, who are trying their best to adhere to systems that don’t come naturally to them. The villains all have split personalities, whether obvious like Two-Face or Henri Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul or subtle like The Joker, whose apparent lack of history is its own kind of history, something he’s free to make up as he goes along. I won’t go out and spoil the one in DARK KNIGHT RISES, but that continues. But even more than in the other two, this one puts a heavy weight on Batman’s. This is Nolan’s concluding thoughts on what it all means, so you know the exploration is juicy.
The reason I say this is not a superhero story is because there’s meaning and consequence to every action, in exactly the way these things are only played at in, say, THE AVENGERS. It is not escapism for the sake of escapism, though Nolan protects Batman from even his worst defeat, knowing that his message would be tarnished if the full effect of Bane’s presence were felt, the way the comics did in his original appearances. There is not violence for the sake of violence, but rather so that you know these characters are forced to make life-altering decisions, which is something that has been another theme of the trilogy. This is not to take away from Bane or to say you don’t worry for Batman, but it’s enough for both that this is the first time in a movie with costumes where the fighting feels real and momentous.
All of the characters in DARK KNIGHT RISES have something to say and add to the story. You know the new names (Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plus those who’ve been with us since the beginning (Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman). As with the earlier films, there’s very little overlapping between performances so much as specific pairings, so each actor and their respective role gets a chance to achieve full impact without stepping on each other’s toes. More than its predecessors, DARK KNIGHT RISES has definitive arcs for nearly all of them, like how Nolan mapped out Batman in the first one.
I love finding little quirks in films that speak to a greater film experience. Hardy’s Bane, for instance, is similar to his role in STAR TREK NEMESIS, and it’s something of an odd coincidence, because Bane’s story is most definitely Bane’s story. There’s also a vast improvement over the weakness that ultimately sabotaged ANGELS & DEMONS, the key moment of DARK KNIGHT RISES (hopefully now that I’ve pointed that out, you will be able to identify it for yourself without my needing to spoil anything here; as a hint, it involves Ewan McGregor’s character in the former and a certain vigilante in the latter).
DARK KNIGHT RISES is about a revolution that might have taken place in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, had there existed a legend like Batman. In these films, strongmen attack Gotham because it is a symbol, and the city is in turn protected by a symbol. Nolan asks us if the ends justify the means, and there may be a suggestion of his own answer here, or perhaps just the only one that makes sense for this story.
If nothing else, this is the best of the Batman films.