I’ve now seen The Dark Knight Rises twice and taken some time to digest it. Though it is not without its flaws, I loved it. I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, though it is a small margin. Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies is one of the few I can think of where the ending is just as good as the buildup. The Dark Knight Rises wears its themes on its sleeve and is more than willing to sacrifice realism for the sake of thematic appropriateness. The end result is a movie that strains credulity at times, but also a film on a grander scale than any in recent memory.
When I said TDKR sacrifices realism, I mean that it kills it execution style in the opening minutes and proceeds to do terrible things to its corpse for the rest of the film. The movie starts with a crazy midair hijacking and doesn’t let up, with amazing helicopters and the biggest supervillain I’ve ever seen on the screen. It is not, however, wholly inconsistent with the rest of the series. The Batplane is only marginally more outrageous than the Battank or the motorcycle. How exactly the Joker managed his villainous feats is somewhat less justified than Bane’s takeover of the city. The Dark Knight Rises is not a realistic movie in many ways, but it does still maintain a human realism. The characters are still very real, very relatable. Bruce is headed toward the only end a realistic Batman could ever come to, and the motivations of the various villains are all human. Whatever the movie lacks in plot realism, it makes up for in character realism, resulting in a film that is both outrageous and very human.
One place TDKR shines is in its uses of the Batman mythos. There are numerous references to seminal Batman stories evident throughout, most notably to Knightfall, the story of Bane defeating Batman, and The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s much loved story of Batman coming out of retirement, among many others. Bane himself is well presented on screen, rivaling Heath Ledgers outstanding take on the Joker. Unlike the atrocious Batman and Robin’s take on the character as a muscle bound thug, TDKR’s Bane is an intelligent, charismatic muscle bound thug. Yes he sounds like Darth Vader by way of Sean Connery, but it works beautifully. He is as terrifying as the Joker was, though in a very different way. The scene where he deals with sent chills down my spine. (Do you feel in charge?) Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was basically a perfect take on the character, the ultimate femme fatale. The returning cast is as good as always.
It lacks some of the gravitas of The Dark Knight, but a more perfect telling of the hero’s journey you won’t find in a film. Batman is figuratively killed, literally cast down into the underworld and must pull himself back up. It perfectly ties the previous two movies together. Bane’s whole motivation is tied to the plot of the first movie, with a return of the League of Shadows. Again he must turn to the advice of his father, that we fall to get up again. But also the lie that Gordon and Batman built their peace on plays a large role. They are unable to keep hiding the Joker’s greatest triumph.
The Dark Knight Rises is pure fun. It is a movie where anything can happen, and the wilder it is the more likely it is to occur. But unlike the faceless alien invasion of The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises conflicts all tie into a central theme. It may be faulted for beating viewers over the head with them, but at least it has themes, unlike most other superhero fare. I hope tentpole movie makers look at this film and it predecessor and learn the right lessons. Not that gritty and supposedly realistic is the way to go, but that theme and structure matter. But I’ve lived too long to believe that Hollywood will ever learn the right lessons.