The Dark Knight Rises

Here we are, the most anticipated film of the year (a spoiler-free review, as usual).

It’s hard to say whether I can actually be objective in reviewing this film; needless to say, Chris Nolan is one of my favourite directors and I cannot properly describe what his films mean to me.
That being said…

The final chapter in the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is everything you would expect from Christopher Nolan: tortured characters, sophisticated storytelling, heart wrenching action. The fascinating thing with this Batman trilogy, overall, is that things are never as simple as they seem –Batman’s always been dwelling somewhere between darkness and light, learning to fall in order to, that’s right, rise again.

The first obvious thought on this film is that, being the last movie, the action is nothing short of bombastic. Christopher Nolan held nothing back; in how each action scene unfolds, whatever its setting, in or outside of Gotham, the action scenes are much louder and oddly enough, even more compelling than they used to be in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; but it does mean that Rises lacks somewhat in complexity and depth when compared to its predecessors. It doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t have plenty of heart –it has swelling, emotional moments, mostly thanks to Alfred; but it is most definitely less complex than The Dark Knight, especially in the themes it’s trying to explore and the characters, with lesser layers or possibilities of interpretation as well. Whereas The Dark Knight was both ambiguous and unconventional, Rises has a sheer, brutal force to it, just like its villain Bane, which is why it may seem like an inferior movie to its predecessor.

Notwithstanding these comparisons, Rises remains a spectacular film, a very worthy conclusion to Chris Nolan’s trilogy. By now, Chris Nolan is in complete control of his movie, whether in terms of rhythm or visuals –he guides the audience exactly where he wants it to be, almost like a magician able to pull off any kind of illusions for the sake of entertainment. It still works, and it works perfectly; Chris is simply too good of a director to let the viewer down, or leave anything to chance. Every shot feels as deliberate and carefully thought out as it always has –except for these massive action sequences, which, as I’ve said, almost feel like he’s letting go of his perfectionist usual self. Rises may feel less intimate than the two previous films, but it still is a directorial achievement by any standard. As for the screenplay, the medley of intricate characters works very well indeed: the usual suspects such as Bruce, Alfred, Gordon and Fox; and the newcomers: Bane first and foremost, Selina Kyle, John Blake and Miranda Tate.

Staying true to Chris Nolan’s desire to ground Gotham in reality as much as possible, Catwoman’s name is never mentioned; on the contrary, Selina is a burglar who steals from the wealthy because she has to –a heroine for the 99%, of some sorts. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t exactly successful as a social commentary but it does touch upon the current themes of social injustice and corrupt institutions, even if it only treads very lightly on those, and less successfully so than in The Dark Knight.

Just as successful a character as Selina, Bane is a functional villain because he cannot be reduced to what appears to be his main characteristic: his physical force. As is often the case with Chris Nolan, when Bane’s backstory is revealed, one can’t help but feel a slight tinge of sadness and unease for this character, who turns out to be, like so many before him, not what he seems. All Batman villains share their strands of extremism –Bane isn’t an exception there, but he’s perhaps more likeable than any other villain before; not quite as charismatic as the Joker, but almost as impressive.

Surprisingly enough, John Blake, in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, makes for an incredibly touching character. Although his own backstory is revealed quite quickly, perhaps even too early on in the film, there’s just something appealing in seeing a normal cop trying to do normal things, in an abnormal world –or how to be, following Harvey Dent’s words, a decent person in an indecent world. Finally, Miranda Tate’s pivotal role certainly is a nice twist (although it is getting more difficult in this age of Internet fans and speculation), even if Marion Cotillard brings little to the role, which in itself is quite well-written.

Now for our favourite heroes: Bruce is still as tortured as when we first met him almost ten years ago; he still can’t mend his personal wounds, which have gotten somewhat worse since he endorsed the Batman persona. Alfred, who clearly bears most of the emotional weight of the story, still has to take care of him and protect the Wayne legacy as much as he can. Their head-on confrontation is a painful thing to watch –perhaps one of the most powerful scenes in the movie, despite the presence of some hefty action scenes. By now, we’ve all grown very fond of the relationship between these two characters; it represents the emotional core of these Batman movies perhaps, more than anything else. Commissioner Gordon is still a reliable, comforting presence, as he always has been; to me, he’s as much a hero as Batman in these stories. Although he may have taken questionable decisions, Gordon is still fundamentally a good person, as flawed as any human could be. In all this madness, it really is important to have these supporting characters –Gordon, Alfred and Fox as well, to help keep continuity but mostly, to keep this universe grounded in characters that feel real.

It would be tempting to take Christian Bale’s ease with this role as granted, but it really should be recognised: how he’s infused this double role as Bruce and Batman with charisma throughout three entire films is an achievement. Gary Oldman and Michael Caine are similarly brilliant in their own respective roles; Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway are equally successful at making their characters quite memorable (despite the presence of a few gimmicks on both sides). Joseph Gordon-Levitt, bursting with charisma as well, brings a certain amount of sincerity to his character that’s quite remarkable.

I’m almost used to saying this but photography, editing and art design all impeccable. It can’t hurt to repeat that once again, Wally Pfister, Lee Smith and Nathan Crowley have all respectively built this universe that is so very hard to let go of; similarly Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score sends us back to the early days of Bruce as Batman while being reinterpreted for this final instalment.

It’s the finality of this chapter then, which, in the end, makes the emotions overflowing. The idea of not going back to Gotham as envisioned by Chris Nolan is an incredibly hard idea to accept. It would have been preposterous to have more and more films set in this particular universe, and yet… It’s difficult to adjust to the idea that Chris Nolan won’t revisit these characters, these places, these people. Thank you, Chris, for making this decade’s superhero films a little bit smarter, a little bit more human, a little bit more relevant than any other. But more than anything thank you for never underestimating the audience’s intelligence, and for setting the standard higher, higher than anyone else, for everyone else to follow.