Film Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (story) Jonathan Nolan (screenplay), David S. Goyer (story), Bob Kane (Batman characters)
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a satisfying and epic conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Picking up eight years after the events of THE DARK KNIGHT, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a recluse, still mourning the loss of Rachel Dawes and the life he hoped to have with her, as well as believing the city has no desire or need of his alter ego, Batman. Gotham is no longer the criminal capital it once was and has been cleaned up by a series of laws inspired by the legacy of the late Harvey Dent, whom the city still believes to be a hero because of Batman’s decision to take the blame for Dent’s villainous acts at the cost of his own reputation. Bruce must confront his past and fight for the soul of Gotham when the masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy) begins to lead assaults on the city with a catastrophic endgame in mind.

For all that the film is pitting Batman against Bane in the fight for Gotham, this story is truly about Bruce Wayne and the limits of a human being. Batman saved Gotham in the last film, but what toll did it take from Bruce to do so? He is still haunted by that in the beginning of this film. Nolan is able to detail the journey of a man that becomes a symbol and a superhero, but is still a man in the end; The high quality of the script and Bale’s ability to make the progression into a dark, despairing recluse believable and poignant ground the script of this superhero film. Bruce is no longer the suave and youthful hero, but a haunted, aging man up. Nolan focuses on the reality that Bruce has thrown himself into danger with no super human abilities, albeit expensive technology, to offset the damage done to him physically. Additionally, there is a strong focus from the beginning on the psychological toll of dealing with the villains and crimes against Bruce’s city and loved ones. Batman gets less screen-time than in the other installments, but the focus on Bruce Wayne is what this conclusion needed because it stays true to the psychology and progression of the character that Nolan crafted with the first two films. It answers the much needed follow up question to TDK: what is left of someone who sacrificed everything and what do they have left to give?

The returning cast members—Bale, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman—manage to add onto their characters and follow through on the repercussions of TDK that starts the film off with inherent tension of the best kind. Two new additions to the already amazing cast help to bring Batman and Bruce Wayne out of hiding. First is the mysterious cat burglar Selina Kyle—also known as Catwoman even if those words are never spoken on screen. Anne Hathaway is superb in the role, switching personas as easily as other change clothes. Her own agenda puts her in a precarious place with both Batman and Bruce because she neither helps nor hinders, but rather works towards her own goals which often intersect with his. Then, there is idealistic cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who helps represent the untarnished hope for justice where both Bruce and Commissioner Gordon, who must every year knowingly perpetuate the false virtues of Dent, have become jaded. Both Selina and John have their own story arcs in TDKR, which adds some heaviness to the already complex plot, but their performances and the welcome roles their characters play keep the nearly three hour runtime from seeming anywhere near as long as it is.

With the streets of Gotham still relatively clean, it is Bane that convinces Bruce that Batman may once again be needed by the citizens of Gotham. Where Heath Ledger’s Joker in TDK evoked fear by way of an enigmatic, unpredictable, and yet powerful individual, Bane represents the frightening power of fanaticism and the dark side of our own world. The masked villain in the beginning alone shows the depth of his resources and his level of meticulous planning which helps set the stage for the rest of the film. Despite wearing a mask that covers the lower portion of his face, Tom Hardy keeps Bane from seeming impersonal and flat. Hardy infuses Bane with tenderness, menace, and rage through expression and physicality alone. This is crucial since Bane presents an inherently physical threat to Batman beyond the psychological attacks. The only point of contention is Bane’s dialogue; I’ve heard others comment that it was too muddled, but I found it to be overly amplified and clear to the point of distraction. It doesn’t particularly detract from the film, but it’s a hitch that may take viewers a bit to adjust to.

Additionally, while the end game for the villain becomes clear by the film’s close, some of the methods and attacks on the city are not entirely clear as to how they fit into that plan. The actions aren’t in conflict with the psychology of the characters, but certain events don’t seem to outright contribute to Bane’s endgame. Are these actions meant merely to “empower” a sense of anarchy and support the villain’s version of how he thinks society should take control of their own world? This isn’t necessarily a criticism to the film but rather an acknowledgment that this is the sort of movie, like Nolan’s TDK or INCEPTION, that benefits from multiple viewings and requires a certain level of trust in his meticulous planning and direction—viewers have to believe that there is a reason, rather than a mistake in these possibly less potent moments in the overall progression of the villain’s goal. This also goes for a couple moments in the film where the reasons for certain things were only discussed or explained so briefly that they could easily be missed. Despite a few moments were motivations are unclear or the initiating factor in an event confusing the overall progression of the plot is quite clear.

The premise of the film comes at a relevant time as it hits on divisions of wealth and the potential harms of such a system more strongly than the past two films. It is both a warning and a call in some way. Bane’s route is inherently destructive and chaotic and focuses on destroying the upper class in a way that one may initially expect Selina Kyle to relish in. Yet, Selina has her own moral code even though she works outside of the law. Between the two, the conflict creates an interesting look at what happens when society is pushed to the limit and also a reminder that it is not a welcome path. TDKR also expands on themes of trust, the potential for villainy in the pursuit of heroics, and scientific responsibility that were present in the other films as well.
As a trilogy, it is beautifully done. While I can’t really attest to the adherence to its source material, Nolan has created three distinct films that each have dynamic and strong storyline, but also work together. It is this strength that TDKR draws from and builds on to complete the story arc that is progressively expanding, complex, and resonating. This conclusion ties it all back together and reminds viewers of its beginnings as it moves forward through events and details that are very subtle at times and all the better for it—this is the case with a certain incident involving a stolen necklace worn by Bruce’s mother in BATMAN BEGINS. It’s definitely a good idea to watch the first two installments beforehand for the most impact because there are tie-ins that directly relate and Bruce has to deal with the repercussions of TDK throughout TDKR, both personal and Batman related.

In TDKR, we are given a Bruce Wayne that has given everything in his fight to protect Gotham. Bruce now has to decide at what point is it too much, does Batman mean anything now to his city, and is he anything more than the symbol? With new characters that are compelling and the returning still so memorable that any end is bittersweet, this film is the perfect conclusion to the trilogy.

Kristen Micek