The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Trilogies just don’t get much better.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after Batman put the kibosh on all of The Joker’s “disappearing pencil” tricks and kill-me/kill-you antics. The late Harvey Dent is still remembered as a hero, Batman’s on the lam and is nowhere to be found, and Bruce Wayne is holed up in his manor while Gotham enjoys its nonexistent crime rate. Life is pretty good until some musclehead with a muzzle named Bane shows up and begins plotting Gotham’s destruction from the underground up. As his plans take shape and Wayne Enterprises starts crumbling under its investments in a potentially catastrophic form of renewable energy, Master Bruce suits up with the help of some unlikely allies to save Gotham once more…hopefully without dying in the process.
If superhero trilogies have taught us anything over the years, it’s that superhero trilogies should just die. Spider-Man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman III, Blade: Trinity – all great ways to ruin a good time, and exactly the reasons why I wasn’t more excited for this than, oh, I don’t know, Earth. Not to say I wasn’t excited, but with something this big, some lowered expectations are in order. All the same, we could go half glass-full, look at those sorry stats and say, “Well, there’s no way in Hell this could possibly be worse.” I don’t need to go into it, we all know those movies sucked. But thanks to our now-tarnished memories of Spider-Man 2, X-2, Superman II, and Blade II (I guess), it was hard to think back and say anything other than, “Why, God? WHY?!”
To be honest, this thing was set up to fail in many of the same ways as its predecessors. Too many villains means too much going on, they couldn’t have hyped this up more if Morgan Freeman got replaced by Don King, and honestly, where do you go after Heath Ledger and a sequel that’s generally regarded as the greatest superhero movie of all-time? Yes, the red flags were flyin’ and my hopes were a-waning, but amidst all my skepticism and reservations, a voice of reassurance echoed through:
Trust, Aiden. Trust in Chris Nolan.
And those, boys and girls, are some words to live by.
As far as that first concern is concerned about all the good guys, bad guys, and random A-listers that have been added to the mix, it takes some getting used to. Without going into details and thus drafting the longest run-on sentence to ever grace a movie review, lots of characters means lots of sideplots, all of which get introduced early and only get further explained on a borderline need-to-know basis. It’s effective in that it keeps you in the dark and makes the big reveals that much bigger, and it would be a whole lot harder to overlook if the cast wasn’t so damn good. But for the first hour and change, this was one tough cookie to keep up with, so much so that I even thought about giving it a 7. I have my reasons.
The way this script is structured, it feels more reminiscent of Inception than it does the last two movies in this series. It brings an inordinate amount of content to the table, takes an inordinate amount of time getting everything in its right place, and then when the stage is finally set, it starts doing what it came to do. Now, among many other things, the beauty of The Dark Knight was how organically its plot flowed and the fluid pace at which The Joker kept playing the deck up his sleeve. If The Dark Knight was like speed chess in the park that escalated to Russian roulette every ten moves, The Dark Knight Rises is an untimed, world tournament match, but with a roided-up Bobby Fischer on end and a virus-ridden Deep Blue on the other. It doesn’t have that same “Pop quiz, Hotshot!“-adrenaline rush going for it, nor does the story feel seamless as it continues to unfold. And as a result, the complaints started piling up.
What’s up with Marion Cotillard, and why is she knocking boots with Bruce? Since when did Batman give a rat’s ass about renewable energy? What’s with Matthew Modine, and why is he such a dick? And seriously, why is Bane building an army of mole people?
For a while there, it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t doing much to redeem itself either. But then pieces found their squares, strategies were set in motion, and the complaints started disappearing. Not disappearing in the sense that the movie became so freaking good it simply negated everything that wasn’t good about it, but it actively started resolving issues and tying up loose ends that I initially thought were results of unusually shoddy writing. More than anything, this is what’s kept me grinning like a fanboy idiot over this movie in the days since I’ve seen it. It’s all about the last hour or so with this one, and I really don’t know what else to say about it other than that it flat-out effing rocks and totally redeems itself. Probably not the most highbrow way to describe it, but that’s what I keep muttering to myself every time I think about it.
Man, let me tell ya’, when Bane finally gets things rolling, he steamrolls that sucker in the most utterly soul-crushing, how-the-Hell-can-you-possible-undo-the-damage ways that I have never seen before in a movie. I don’t care how many Chitauri rolled up in The Avengers, ’cause let’s face it, things ain’t so bad when you’ve got the Norse god of lightning on your team. But this right here, this is some Empire shit. Kind of hard to watch considering that no New Yorker likes watching their home town get terrorized up the wahzoo, but hey, if you’re gonna end a trilogy, you gotta go epic.
The point: this is why you trust in Chris Nolan, because Chris Nolan knows what he’s doing. Dude is batting 1.000.
Adding to that, I feel like it’s unusual to find a film maker who clearly has such a respect and appreciation for the source material available to him. There was a whole lot of Year One in Batman Begins, there was a whole lot of Killing Joke in The Dark Knight, and now we’ve got his spin on Knightfall and No Man’s Land to play us out. I love how true he stays to the characters, how he turns them into believable people with eclectic wardrobes rather than the caricatures they started out as. I love his dynamic between Alfred and Bruce, and I loved how he wrapped everything up by making the first two movies such a big part of the last one. What Chris Nolan and his team have done to legitimize this genre and this character away from that of Hollywood cash-cow, popcorn fluff over the course of seven years is nothing short of invaluable and has changed the game for good. This is the kind of respect and appreciation that would do a whole lot of good for video game adaptations, but alas, another rant for another day.
I mean, come on, remember what a joke Bane was? Remember that, once upon a time and not too long ago, Batman was as cartoony as they come? Dolphins were throwing themselves in front of torpedoes, Ahnold was going mental on the ice puns, and, lest we forget, Bat nipples. But now Bane is more daunting and terrifying than he’s ever been, there’s not a cringe-worthy one-liner to be found, and the entire cast is phenomenal. More importantly, all of their characters do in fact become integral to the story. Really thought Anne Hathaway was gonna be the odd villain out as I had no idea how Catwoman was going to play into all of this, but she might be the best one of the bunch. Tom Hardy was a damn fine pick for Bane, but she was Selina Kyle through and through. Pretty fantastic how they worked in Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard as well.
Aside from being an outstanding superhero movie in its own right, the thing that strikes me about The Dark Knight Rises – along with the other two entries in this trilogy – is how outstanding it is as a movie, period. It’s almost hard to categorize it as a superhero movie because that’s not the way it’s approached. Instead of going the usual route by adding humanity to a superhuman story, it’s a decidedly human story and that rises (zing!) to extraordinary heights. The characters – costumes and all – have never felt like they were pulled from the pages of a comic book, and the world they live in is a mirror of our own. After all, that’s what’s so great about Batman to begin with: that he isn’t Kryptonian, that he has all the same strengths and weaknesses we do, that he’s more than just an archetype.
On its own merits, even if the plot could have benefited from Ockham’s Razor once in a while, The Dark Knight Rises is as satisfying and invigorating as they come. As the final entry in the series, it’s the perfect swan song to one of the greatest trilogies ever put to film. In an industry that’s only gotten more comfortable with rehashing old stories for the sheer sake of turning a profit, it’s not often to find one that’s not only necessary, but reinvents the wheel in the process. Unless there’s a legion of Batman & Robin fans I don’t know about, this was just what Batman needed, and if nothing else, that’s what we should remember it for.
Folks, what is not to love?