- Vishaal Desai
'The Dark Knight Rises'
'THE DARK KNIGHT RISES' (2012)
Directed by - Christopher Nolan
Written by - Jonathon Nolan & Christopher Nolan
WARNING: SPOILERS ahead!
‘The Dark Knight’ in 2008 was a game changer. By turning a comic book film into a work of art, Christopher Nolan revolutionized the world of filmmaking and in doing so he changed the perceptions of both the audience and those within the industry itself. With such a precedent, it was inevitable that the hype surrounding the final chapter of Nolan's Batman saga would be fairly high.
However, given that what Nolan achieved with ‘The Dark Knight’ was a once in a generation phenomenon, it is safe to say that any subsequent film would have been at a disadvantage from the comparison. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ may or may not live up to the brilliance of its predecessor, but that certainly does not stop it from being a very good film in its own right.
Let me start at the most appropriate of places – the script. Everything is bigger and broader in scope. Though there are moments of expositionary dialogue and the plot is not quite as tight as it could be, it is engaging and flawlessly moves on from where we left off at the end of ‘The Dark Knight.’
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
– Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight)
It was ironically the events that led to Harvey’s own fall and corruption that brought these words to ring true. Thus, in order for Dent to die a hero, the Batman (Christian Bale) would have to live to become the villain. Eight years have passed since the death of Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ and having shouldered the blame for Harvey’s crimes and death, Bruce Wayne has buried his alter ego. Withered from a damaged body and a mind ridden with guilt for his failures, Bruce has been unable to move on with his life and has withdrawn into a hermit-like existence.
Christian Bale is really allowed to shine here with a portrayal of a tortured man with nothing to live for but existence itself. Bale infuses his performance with a sense of grit that epitomizes the title of the film. As Bruce Wayne he struggles to overcome his weaknesses, both physical and psychological. But as the Batman, Bale holds himself with such stoicism as to suggest a broken man holding himself together piece by piece for one last stand. The Batman’s appearances in the film are not as many as one would like, but his every entrance leaves one with a feeling of elated inspiration.
Like the previous films, Gotham city once again serves as a character in its own right. First ravaged by the mob, then brought to the brink of implosion by the Joker, the people of Gotham have been through a lot. The only thing keeping them strong, the only thing keeping the city’s dregs behind bars is the deceased Harvey Dent’s legacy, kept untarnished by the Batman’s sacrifice. Enter Bane – a gas mask wearing pit-bull; a terrorist who deems himself to be “Gotham’s Reckoning.” Played with clinical aggression by Tom Hardy, Bane is a brute with a singularly determined purpose and the strength to withstand and impart copious amounts of punishment. Unlike Joel Schumacher’s dismal caricature in ‘Batman and Robin’ (1997), Nolan’s version of Bane stays true to the comics, displaying a level of acumen that adequately serves his unwavering focus on rabid anarchy. Though he may not be the most intellectual of the Batman’s rogue gallery, in physical prowess alone, he is his greatest adversary.
The opening of the film introduces Bane in a breathtakingly tense action sequence as he decimates a C.I.A. plane mid-air in order to abduct a Russian nuclear scientist in their custody. Bane’s appearance draws Bruce out of his shell, forcing him to once again fight to save his beloved city. What follows is a tense build up of scenes leading up to a much-awaited physical showdown. This is a conflict of epic proportions that is reminiscent of the Batman comic ‘Knightfall,’ where the Caped Crusader finally met his match. In fact the film even adopts the comic’s most iconic scene, which I shall leave unsaid for the moment.
Caught amidst the impending doom is Selina Kyle, played with a brazen playfulness by Anne Hathaway. Kyle is a thief looking for a clean slate and an escape from a city she has no interest in. Her motivations are self-centered, but her intrigue for the Batman draws her in. Hathaway portrays a brash, sexy and ambiguous character that is grounded in reality yet utterly cool and brings a refreshing lightness in an otherwise bleak story.
By the halfway point, it is no longer a villain that people need to fear, but themselves. Bane uses the disparity of society by urging the common citizens to rise against the corporations, against all those who grew rich and fat whilst they languished in recession. It is civil anarchy and Gotham city is cut off from the outside world by ‘revolution.’ Their only savior is the Batman – not the man within the suit, but the symbol that he represents. This is the theme that has been deeply ingrained within all three films, the ideology that Nolan setup right from the beginning following the metaphorical birth, fall and rise of the Batman legend. The strength of this film and its ideas lie in the manner in which Nolan treats the world of Gotham. His characters are human beings and not caricatures. They are real and they are relatable and that is partly down to his superlative directing but also down to the cast, all of whom deliver solid performances. Gary Oldman flexes his thespian muscles to give us a Commissioner Gordon who is torn apart by his guilt for keeping Harvey’s crimes a secret. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the unsung hero of the film. As a self-determined rookie cop, he is quite literally our eyes and ears into this world. His character arc is very cleverly woven through the story, giving us a hair-raising anticipation that is best left unspoken at this point. However, Michael Caine’s Alfred is the real standout. A perfect foil to the self-destructive Bruce Wayne, never in any previous film has the love between the two been more evident. There is a certain father-son dynamic between them that is clearly brought out through Alfred’s refusal to watch his ‘Master Wayne’ destroy himself for the city of Gotham. Caine portrays Alfred with raw emotion and is truly the heart of this story. Visually the film is flawless. Wally Pfister’s stunning cinematography is enhanced by the 70mm IMAX cameras on which more than a third of the film was shot. Hans Zimmer’s score is invigorating. The raw emotions, the brutal action and the various feelings of dread, fear, pain, hope that permeate throughout the story are accentuated by the music, which though at times overpowering, is nonetheless responsible for seamlessly sucking us into that world.
This film is a thematic conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy. It hits the highs and the lows in all the right places as Bruce Wayne’s noble and at times self-righteous quest to save Gotham by becoming a cultural symbol comes to an emotionally resonating conclusion in the final moments of the film. Is it as good as ‘The Dark Knight?’ Not quite. But though it falls short of matching its predecessor’s brilliance, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is nonetheless a work of art in its own right and a worthy conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic saga.
VishRates - 3.5 / 5
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