Some movies have the good fortune in being remembered for how good they are. Others are remembered for the groundbreaking technique or sheer artistic originality that they bring to the medium of film. But very few have the dreadful misfortune of being remembered in the way that decades from now people will surely remember The Dark Knight Rises. The final installment of the tremendously popular Batman trilogy directed and written by Christopher Nolan was never expected to be met with the monstrous reception it got in Aurora, Colorado this past Friday, a reception that will likely stay with the film – and vice versa – for as long as human memory can sustain it. It is a horror that this event should ever occur, yet to consider that it should unfold around a film which deals so intently with themes of terrorism, injustice, and innocence makes the shooting at the Century theatre seem something close to tragic poetry.
We enter The Dark Knight Rises to learn that former billionaire Bruce Wayne has been living as a recluse for the past eight years, ever since his alter ego – the Batman – was, in effect, banished from the city of Gotham following his misinterpreted murder of the District Attorney Harvey Dent. In that time, the city has evolved into a state of peace; however, with the uprising of a new mega-criminal named Bane – who manages to take over the better part of Wayne’s company, the rest of which Bruce leaves under the control of board member Miranda Tate – Batman returns to Gotham to track down the villain. Unfortunately, Bane manages to cripple and then detain Wayne, and then successfully cuts the city off from the outside world through a series of explosions that – in a chillingly memorable scene – destroy all bridges leading out of the city as well as a college football field while a game is in progress. It is now up to Batman to escape Bane’s prison and return to his city – along with the assistance of both new and old allies, including Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, Detective John Blake, and the aloof “Catwoman” Selina Kyle – before Bane and his entourage can succeed in destroying the city with a nuclear bomb that is just ticking, ticking, ticking down to zero.
That plot description is light, with there being far more intricate events and situations in this film than can be easily summed up in the course of a simple review. As for the quality of the thing itself, I can tell you that Christopher Nolan has proven once again his brilliant ability to create mesmerizing, intelligent, and lasting entertainment. The Dark Knight – released four years ago – set a new standard in summer blockbuster potential, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the years of Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones, while his next film, Inception (2010), helped to deepen those expectations even further. And while The Dark Knight Rises may not quite match the level of perfection set by those two predecessors, I can pretty much guess that it will prove to be the best movie we’re going to get out of this summer.
Given that, I still need to point out that Mr. Nolan tries to slide by with a few too many holes in this film than I’m comfortable with accepting. I could name one or two examples of this sneakiness employed in both The Dark Knight and Inception, but these instances of suspended logic and jumps in storyline used for convenience sake seem to happen with a bit more frequency in The Dark Knight Rises. This is my only critique of a directorial/screenwriting job that otherwise makes this film supremely enjoyable and engrossing – miles ahead of nearly every other contemporary commercial feature one should care to pay eight dollars to see nowadays. Christopher Nolan proves himself yet again as a man capable of creating entertainment that not only draws large crowds but achieves a level of cinematic and literary sophistication that we are sadly unaccustomed to seeing. His films are infinitely rewarding, and deserved to be watched and re-watched by anyone who believes in a mutual understanding of intelligence between audience and film.
And in regards to the cast – fine work all around. Anne Hathaway makes a surprisingly appropriate Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt is excellent as usual, Michael Caine thrives in the additional screen time he gets in this film (as compared to The Dark Knight), and Marion Cotillard draws once again upon her eerie ability to cast an ominous glow across the screen even as she manages to display utter vulnerability and gorgeousness. Tom Hardy as Bane is a more difficult performance to pinpoint, since his face is mostly covered for the entirety of the film, while Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman do their thing as grave faces lending a helping hand from the sidelines. The only problem I can find is in Christian Bale as the titular Dark Knight, who does absolutely nothing wrong in regards to his performance, yet lacks a definite charisma or personality by which we can associate him with the role of a hero. Without a Heath Ledger to dominate this film as he had with the last, we are left to settle for a Caped Crusader who undertakes feats of great spectacle, yet stands as a somewhat personality-less superhero. But while I’d prefer that the role had a true character to associate itself with, I cannot deny the strength of Bale’s performance, nor do I wish to diminish it in any way.
This film’s strengths are both readily apparent and graciously well-received on the part of this critic. I’ll admit that I wasn’t especially looking forward to this movie – not because I expected it to be of poor substance, but because it seemed so in line with every other superhero or action movie which is released throughout the year. But, as I should have guessed, The Dark Knight Rises comes through as a noteworthy and valuable entry into the pantheon of summer blockbuster films, if largely for its mature and thoughtful observations on the nature of darkness, as well as its realization – even if it is never stated – of just how deeply immersed our modern world is within that notion of darkness. “‘Innocent’ is a strong word”, mutters Cotillard’s Miranda just moments after she has revealed her true colors. It is a sad truth that so many of us living today can appreciate those words, perhaps none better than those who found themselves at the movies on the night of July 20th, at midnight, in Aurora, Colorado.