You’ve given them everything. -Selina Kyle
Not everything. Not yet. -Batman
These were the lines of dialogue, out of all of the adverts and trailers we have seen, that kept me faithful in Christoper Nolan’s attempt to do what has never been done: Conclude the story of Batman, and Bruce Wayne. But the context behind the words is unclear from just the promotional material. Of course The Dark Knight Rises has plenty of surprises, but the meaning of those quotes didn’t fully reveal themselves until I was walking to my car after the midnight screening.
There’s quite a bit of film here to soak in, and it undoubtedly warrants repeat viewings to properly do so. The themes introduced in Batman Begins, along with the consequences of Batman’s sacrifice in The Dark Knight, all come together rather well. Nolan seems to have figured out what can be described as the ‘elusive successful trilogy formula”. Where a lesser director, cast, and crew would have given us another X-Men 3 or Spider-Man 3(or Blade Trinity, or Godfather Part 3; need I go on?), this cult of Bat-lovers knows what worked before, and raises the bar admirably.
When we first see Bruce Wayne, he is retired, having been in hiding and become a shut-in since the events of the last movie. Gotham is free of the organized crime he and Gordon and Dent barely managed to defeat. But all of that is about to come down like so much bat-shaped debris, because Bane is determined to expose the lie on which peace has been built. We all know Batman can’t have that.
At first I was concerned that Bane wouldn’t prove to be a worthy final villain for The Caped Crusader. The first few scenes focusing on him didn’t have near the impact as The Joker’s every moment on screen. But Bane is a very different character. His story builds steam, and before I knew it, he was as integral and intense and relevant as his predecessor, yet in vastly different ways. Bane is a beast, but a beast of superior physicality, and perhaps intellect, to Batman. His childhood tragedy makes Bruce’s own look like a walk in the park. His anger, his dedication to his quest, his focus are all more than Batman has faced before. And he’s got some surprises as well. Tom Hardy may not get any Oscars for his villainous role, but I’ll be damned if that guy didn’t do more profound characterization with only his eyes and voice than anyone could have guessed. Bane is sufficiently menacing, especially after his first encounter with Batman, which left the mood of the packed theater to suggest they had just seen a puppy get run over.
Yes, it is that brutal, and whereas the interrogation scene can be called the defining moment in The Dark Knight, I will go so far as to say this fight is the equivalent, in terms of portraying the contrast between our hero and our villain. The stakes are high, and though this movie didn’t get up to speed as quickly as TDK, I was locked in with eyes wide almost through the remaining 2/3 of movie.
Christian Bale is better than ever, having been given a bit more to chew with an aging and hobbled Wayne. He seems to have taken the cancer-voice back to a much more tasteful degree. Batman is pushed to his absolute physical limits, and Bale is able to emote through the cowl as well as ever.
Selina Kyle is a large part of both Batman’s and Bruce’s stories, which are quite inter-connected, compared to previous installments. Anne Hathaway is a wonderful ‘Catwoman’, both skilled and sexy, self-serving, sleek, and seductive. Once she and Bats get together to bust some heads, it’s good, dynamic fun. Seeing the two in costume together is surreal, and yet they still occupy the gritty, realistic Nolan-verse just as they should, with strong performances shining through the black masks.
I was disappointed to see Alfred and Lucius get shafted a bit on their screen time, and Commissioner Gordon similarly is relegated to plot development duties. Not to say he isn’t utilized properly, but this film was definitely designed around the masked men more than the common folk. Well, there is one guy who gets a fair amount of screen time; Mr. Joseph Gordon Levitt. His John Blake is a welcome addition, giving a new perspective on what the younger generation thinks about the Batman and his impact on the Gotham City.
The film drags in the first act more than any act of either of the previous two, although it was mostly necessary exposition. But once it gets going, it takes on life and brings us into that familiar feeling of cinematic delight that Nolan has mastered in this series. In fact, the lacking first act seems to have been designed to ease us into what inevitably becomes the summer blockbuster we wanted, without sacrificing any of the expected depth in favor of epic explosions(thought there are plenty of those).
If I had to complain, which I suppose I do, I would point to the fact that the dialogue here isn’t quite as snappy and smart as in the The Dark Knight. But this movie is much gloomier as well, so it makes sense. There are some great moments of humor here and there, but you can expect to be overwhelmed with a sense of dread and near-hoplessness throughout most of the film.
Surprisingly, Hans Zimmer’s score went a tad too far in a couple spots toward the end, as if he was scoring a scene that was much more intense than the one I was watching. This nit-pick did bring me out of the movie for a few seconds, but wasn’t anything that stayed with me until I forced myself to think of things I disliked. There are a couple of dangling plot threads, and some of my fellow fanboys who paid attention may have some of the plot figured out based on leaked video and reports and whatnot. I can tell you this: You are right…about some of it. The rest, you’re way the hell off.
It’s an incredible film to behold, and there are several improvements in Nolan’s style, like his choice of shots during action scenes. Working with largely the same team he has been for years, you can tell that they have streamlined the process. Christopher Nolan knows what you like. He knows you like when the Bat-pod makes an impossible turn, it’s broad tires spinning sideways; that down-shift of the engine as it whirls to a stop. He knows what you liked about Batman Begins, and what you loved about The Dark Knight, and he throws those elements into a Bat-blender and spices it up with the type of gravitas that can only be allowed of a director with his immense talent.
To me, and probably many of you, Batman symbolizes what one person can do to turn pain into something more than internal strife. To take tragedy or loss and make it into a force for good is what anyone should want. We all have pain and seek to overcome it. The Dark Knight Rises represents the completion of that, forcing Bruce Wayne to come to terms with the end of his personal journey in an emotionally-driven story that seeks to realize the true meaning of Batman’s aforementioned quote. Batman, and indeed Nolan and his cast, hadn’t given us everything...until now.