By: Adam Basciano
“It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.” (Warner Bros.)
*Spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned*
Four years ago when the end credits for “The Dark Knight” began to roll, I wondered if and how Christopher Nolan would be able to end his trilogy, with a follow-up to the greatness he had just created. Four years later I got my answer in the immensely satisfying film, known as “The Dark Knight Rises.” With this film, Nolan has crafted a near perfect Batman trilogy, a trilogy that in my opinion, can be mentioned in the same breath as the original “Star Wars” trilogy and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
I say this because it not only recalls the first two films, it is the final piece of a larger story that initiated in “Batman Begins” and expanded in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Plot points left open-ended from both previous franchise entries are revisited and resolved. As many have picked up on, the central theme of The Dark Knight Trilogy is found in “Batman Begins.” In that film, Bruce Wayne tells Alfred; ” As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol, I can be incorruptible… I can be everlasting.” This thematic element was the driving force of the first two films, and is given the ultimate payoff in this film, via the lengths Bruce Wayne is willing to go to save Gotham City, as well as the honest young cop he inspires and appoints his successor.
There’s a segment of Batman fandom that claims that Nolan’s Batman films are not faithful to the source material. I understand there are fans who don’t enjoy Nolan’s more realistic vision of Batman. Hey, that’s fine. It’s their opinion, and their entitled to it. (all 10 of them) However, to say that he’s unfaithful to the source material? I call bull$#!+ on that claim. First of all, “Batman Begins” is littered with quotes from “Year One.” “The Dark Knight” has elements of “The Long Halloween” and “The Killing Joke.” As for the film in question, well look no further than “Knightfall”, “No Man’s Land” and “The Dark Knight Returns” for specific plot points from the movie. Hell, intentionally or not, Mr Nolan gave us an ending for “Earth 2” Batman, given that Bruce Wayne retires and ends up with Selina Kyle!
Nolan isn’t a slave to the source material, adapting a particular storyline verbatim. Instead he picks and chooses what goodies he takes from Batman history. I think this makes for a fresh story, with some familiarity to it. I actually applaud Nolan and his team for having the guts to do what the comic books never will. Comic book Bruce Wayne will always be Batman. That’s the nature of the industry. It’s ongoing and cyclical. Writers will always find reasons to keep Bruce Wayne in the cape and cowl. This is also because hardcore fans (I’m one of them), can’t see anyone else as Batman for long stretches. In essence, that Bruce Wayne will never truly let go of his pain and find happiness. So what has Nolan done? He’s created a Bruce Wayne who lives in a “real world.” Batman is a symbol. Bruce Wayne’s journey as Batman is finite. For Bruce, Batman exists as symbol to provide hope for others and as a means to let go of his anger. In this film, he does exactly that and gets his happy ending, with Selina Kyle in Florence. (By the way Mr. Nolan, my happy ending is also enjoying a vacation in Italy with Anne Hathaway! Stay out of my day dreams damn it!)
The cast was virtually stellar in bringing their roles to life on-screen. I think in each film the particular story has allowed Christian Bale to delve into a specific aspect of the character. This film allowed Bale to show the audience the effect being Batman has on Bruce Wayne, both physically and mentally. His appearance at the start of the film is of an aged, worn-down man. His eyes, sunk and sullen. This is a man who no longer needs or wants to be Batman. Of course, this all changes when Selina Kyle steals his mother’s pearl necklace. This thief has piqued his interest. Bale’s change in vocal inflection and altered mannerisms, effectively convey his characters state of mind. There’s also a different level of duality here that Christian plays well. He plays a Bruce that is torn between wanting to leave the Batman persona behind, but ultimately needing the Batman to be fulfilled. This is the most emotionally stirring performance Bale has given as this character throughout the three films. While his work with all his other cast mates was solid, his exceptional chemistry with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and of course Anne Hathaway, really brought the emotion out of Bale. The best example was the scene with Jim Gordon near films end, where Batman cleverly reveals his true identity to the commissioner.
Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth has always been the emotional core of this franchise, the heart of it, if you will. That is all the more true in this film. I swear, his crying is contagious. Every time he stars crying, my eyes began to get moist. There were two scenes where I tried, and failed to hold back tears. The first is when Alfred confesses his fears that Bruce may die if he confronts Bane. When he reveals the truth about Rachel’s choice from the previous film, and then says goodbye to Bruce, knowing he has betrayed his trust. My God were those scenes ever powerful. The second, was the scene at Bruce Wayne’s “funeral” when Alfred apologizes in front of the Wayne family grave for failing them. Had this scene gone on any longer. I would have been blubbering uncontrollably like a baby. Such an incredible performance from a wonderful actor.
As with the previous entries in the franchise, I have nothing but fond words for the performances of Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. Both actors seemingly had expanded roles once again. I think Gary Oldman had more weight to his role this time. Not only does he have to play Gotham City’s good cop, but this time he plays him with the weight of the world on his shoulders, literally and figuratively. Oldman’s performance mirrors Bale’s in a way. Like Christian, Gary exudes the wear and tear of Jim Gordon, and the lie he and Bruce try to maintain, as well as the re-invigoration the character experiences upon Batman’s return. Morgan Freeman once again turns in an honest performance as Bruce Wayne’s trusted ally, leader of Wayne Enterprises and Batman’s tech guru. Freeman is often the source of humor in an otherwise, dark, serious, and sometimes somber film.
There are four new additions to the main cast of “The Dark Knight Rises.” Tom Hardy had the unenviable task of following the late Heath Ledger as the main villain of the film, Bane. While I doubt Hardy will win an Oscar, he provided a superb performance. His delivery as Bane recounts his origin to Bruce Wayne, plausibly inserts the character into the history of the League of Shadows. While Heath Ledger’s Joker was lauded for his chaotic unpredictability, Hardy is methodical, precise and physically imposing with his villainy. Most of his emoting is done with his eyes and body language, as his mouth is covered by Bane’s mask. When he spoke I understood everything he said, however there were a couple of instances where the change of inflection in his voice caused intentionally menacing lines, to sound unintentionally funny.
Anne Hathaway was tasked with bringing Selina Kyle/Catwoman to life in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City. I was skeptical if anyone could match or exceed the performance of Michelle Pfeiffer, as the character in 1992. Not only does she succeed in the role, she is the scene stealer of this film. Anne Hathaway gives Selina Kyle the right amount of strength, sultry and sexy. She’s independent, cunning, and looks out for herself, first and foremost. Though there is the slightest hint of heroism in her, which Batman brings to the surface. Anne Hathaway balances all these moving parts perfectly, to give us, in my opinion, the most fully formed version of the character to hit the screen. Anne Hathaway’s on-screen chemistry with Christian Bale is superb. Their back and forth banter, echoes the characters relationship in the comic books. Oh, did I mention she looks great in skin-tight leather!?
Joseph Gordon Levitt was far better than I expected him to be. Previously, in any other role I had seen him in, I could never shake his annoying character from “3rd Rock from the Sun” from my mind. That was until this role. His performance served two purposes. Officer John Blake is the culmination of what Bruce Wayne hoped to accomplish when he first created Batman. John Blake is a good person, who was inspired by Batman to become a hero. His moral conviction in the film doesn’t allow him to accept the apathy that other GCPD officers seem to have for Gotham’s current state.
Secondly, Levitt’s character gives us the most plausible portrayal of a partner or “sidekick” to Batman. He’s real name being Robin was a nice nod to the fans, while his character was an amalgamation of the three main Robin’s from the comics. Like Dick Grayson, he’s an orphan and a cop, who will one-day inherit the role of Batman. Like Jason Todd, he’s a bit of a hot-head with an impulsive streak. Like Tim Drake, he knew that Bruce Wayne was Batman.
Aside from the occasional hiccup with Tom Hardy’s voice as Bane, my only other gripe with the film is Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate/Talia Al Ghul. In a film where the majority of the cast turned in stellar performances, I found her nothing but average. I just didn’t connect with her performance or buy her as Talia. It probably doesn’t help that she was Talia for all of about 10 minutes of the film. You could’ve almost discarded her entirely and left Bane as the representative of the League of Shadows. Not to mention, Talia’s death scene was a bit overacted in my opinion. At the end of the day, I found the child actor playing young Talia, who had no dialogue gave a stronger performance than Marion Cotillard.
A Batman film worth its price of admission comes with great visuals. ” The Dark Knight Rises” definitely falls into that category. Each film in this trilogy has had an action sequence that has left me astounded. In “Batman Begins”, it was the tumbler car chase. In “The Dark Knight”, it was Batman flipping over Joker’s semi-truck with the bat-pod. In this film, It was Bane’s plane crash sequence. Being done with no special effects trickery, makes the stunt all the more spectacular. The Bat is the most impressive vehicle of the trilogy. That thing is overpowering on-screen. Seeing it fly and swerve through Gotham City gets the testosterone pumping. I want one! The fights are brutal, not “300” brutal, but the implied violence is there. Watching Bane utterly destroy Batman in their first encounter was difficult. I flinched a few times. Yet, seeing the moment from the books where Bane breaks Batman’s back, was quite awesome. Then there’s the all out brawl between Bane and his criminal cohorts, against Batman and the GCPD. At that moment, the movie transition from a superhero film to a war film. The final act was a non stop battle royal!
The inclusion of “The Dark Knight Rises” to Christopher Nolan’s film series makes it the most complete and rewarding trilogy for me. While “The Dark Knight” is the best overall film in the trilogy, “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” are the better Batman films. I say this because you can remove Batman and The Joker characters from that film and replace them with an emotionally tormented FBI agent and a psychotic murderer. With the same actors and performances, you still have a great film. If you take Bruce Wayne/Batman out of the other two films, they pale in comparison. He is the heart and driving force of those films.
“The Dark Knight Rises” left me happy, yet a bit sad. I’m happy because I’ve gotten what I consider, the definitive take on Batman. I’m sad because this wonderful era of Batman films has come to a close. Like Bruce Wayne, Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale and company deserve to go out on a high note. They’re well worthy of this “happy ending.” However, much like Gotham City in the movie, the cinematic world will always need a Batman. Yet, unlike John Blake, I’m not sure that the successors to Nolan and Bale, whomever they will be, can rise to the occasion.
Overall Grade: 9.5/10