One can be driven or inspired to rise up for all the right or wrong reasons. Sometimes, as in the case of The Dark Knight Rises, it's a mixture of both.
TDKR, as it was called at San Diego Comic-Con where it was on everyone's lips, is sprawling, overlong, dark as hell, and a spectacle we could call director Christopher Nolan's action masterpiece. This is not the summer party that The Avengers is. In it's disturbing and unrelenting dystopic hopelessness, it is almost as antithetical as another superhero movie can be to Whedon's film.
True fans of the Batman comic book catalogue will appreciate that some of the darkest and most mythic plot lines are mined (like "The Dark Halloween," "Knightfall," "No Man's Land" and even a touch of "Hush") in the making of this last in Nolan's Batman trilogy. It also tackles some weighty issues, from the destructive power of abandonment, to tenacious resilience, to triumph beyond tragedy by sheer force of will. It is about a hero's journey into the light, with all its failings and challenges along the way.
Eight years have passed since the last movie (and watching the first two in this trilogy is highly recommended before seeing this one), and Bruce Wayne, a broken man, has become a recluse. Gotham has become a largely organized crime-free city. Enter a very bad guy hell-bent on the city's destruction. There are new characters, and multiple plots converging, but the movie really is all about Wayne, and his alter-ego Batman, choosing to rise up and save the city, at whatever cost. It is also about making that cost be about something noble, not about crushing the demons needing to be permanently exorcised.
The idea of a rise, an upward climb from a deep hole, is a visual image used more than once in the course of TDKR. Just what rise are they representing? There are the politics of class struggles and inequities leading to uprising, with prisons underground we see juxtaposed with penthouse boardrooms. There is the idea of "Doing better" or "Doing good" and what that means on an individual basis, as exampled by Cat Woman's moral ambiguity, and her constantly shifting of sides from good to self-serving and back.
Then not least there is the rising above past failings, which is what we hope for Bruce Wayne and Batman. We root for him to go beyond his personal disasters and rise into the hero we know him to be.
The film is cast to perfection. Gone are the days when a "serious" actor or director won't consider a blockbuster superhero movie as material worthy to plunge into with full commitment. As a result, TDKR has some of the most sought-after method (Christian Bale), up-and-coming (an increasingly wonderful Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and hot A-list actors (Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and the film's big surprise, full of nuance and spunk, Anne Hathaway) known for their "craft."
These types of films have always brought a few weighty talents in to signal us to take the film seriously, and this film is no exception. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman all show up in the great supporting roles for which they have been lauded, but in this last installment, they are able all the more to play against a multigenerational collection of actors approaching or of their own caliber.
It's like bits of Oscar got spewed all over Gotham, and to all our great fortune. As to the lead Christian Bale, in playing the title character, one last time he has left us all with the ultimate Batman. He is pained and passionate. Bale builds his character into the most complicated hero we could and do vehemently choose to root for. His Batman will never be outdone. As the only real opportunity for a chuckle, Anne Hathaway is a hot little kitty as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) who is whip smart and fast with a pithy come back. Thank goddess she brings a little sass to break up the intensity.
This film, as with many great genre flicks, isn't without its flaws. Four different characters have their own substantial plot lines, and balancing those stories becomes unwieldy. As a Batman comic book geek, I saw one big plot twist coming a mile off, but I was quite surprised by another, which I should have known, had I not abandoned myself to the intense ride this film becomes.
However, even at well over two hours, Nolan still seems to be trying to do too much. I imagine knowing it is the last in a trilogy makes it difficult to cut to bits, and it seems in the escalated mix of violence, darkness, and drama, Nolan wants to end with greater magnificence than his first two movies put together, which is no small feat to his fans. And, indeed, the end is magnificent.
Hans Zimmer enhances TDKR with a score so integral to atmosphere and forward motion, it could almost be described as an additional character. Expect the usual bombastic, over-the-top fare (much like the brilliant soundtrack he created for Nolan's Inception), but with a side of dark foreboding, all utilizing a creative mix of instrumentation and percussion implemented with an intensity equal to the proceedings. Dark and flamboyant, it feels like the aural equivalent of Batman's cape.
As much as the actors make the film (there are, after all, eight Oscar-nominated or winning actors in this film), it bears mentioning that there are aspects of the IMAX filming (over half was shot with IMAX cameras) and special effects in this film that are reason to see it. Christopher Nolan is known for an aesthetic that envelops even the most fantastical ideas inside a plausibility, and in TDKR, this means production design that is gritty, raw, and borders on militaristic (it certainly feels like a war movie at times…).
Blending this with a warm color palette that harkens back to the sharp rich tones used in those '70s auteur movies, and the always-most-up-to-date special effects, the viewers get a constant feast for the eyes.
I'm dying to see whether Dark Knight Rises will rise to or eclipse the box office success of The Avengers. It is possible all the bone-crunching and blood-letting will be a bit too much for the regular folks (and certainly, all young kids) who usually go to movies to "feel good"…Be warned, as beautiful as it is visually, TDKR is partly a gut-wrenching and hopeless affair. Whatever the darkness it leaves you in at the end, it also leaves you on a high note.
Go for the acting and the spectacular IMAX footage (yes, it's worth it). Nolan has taken the superhero action genre and raised it to a historically artistic level, with the help of his impressive cast. I can't remember the last time I heard that much applause and cheering after a movie, especially one mostly attended by reviewers. That should be all you need to know.
About this column: Leslie Combemale, "Cinema Siren", is a movie lover and aficionado in Northern Virginia. Alongside Michael Barry, she owns ArtInsights, an animation and film art gallery in Reston Town Center. She has a background in film and art history. She often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic Con, where she has been a panelist for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster and the Harry Potter Fandom discussion. Visit her gallery online atwww.artinsights.com and see more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.