I didn’t expect to like “The Dark Knight Rises” as much as I did.
The conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga – and make no mistake, this is a conclusion, as well as a new beginning – has sounded a little frustrating from the word go. Nolan’s well-known aversion to the more comic-bookish aspects of the Batman legend has irritated me a bit. Sometimes his decision to play it realistic worked quite well (Heath Ledger’s Joker). Sometimes it just seemed like a case of an embarrassed auteur ashamed to be playing around with comic books.
“Batman Begins” worked in Nolan’s realistic world, particularly as it established the mechanics of how a driven billionaire would become a street-fighting vigilante. “The Dark Knight” elaborated on that premise and at times seemed more like a gritty heist and robbery cop movie than a superhero movie. But it worked.
“The Dark Knight Rises,” as everyone knows by now, opens eight years after Batman has been framed for the murder of District Attorney Harvey Dent. As we saw at the end of “The Dark Knight,” Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon agreed that to martyr Dent, who had slipped into madness and become Two Face, and make Batman a criminal was the best way to bring peace to Gotham City.
In the new movie, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse with bad knees, coming out of the rebuilt Wayne Manor only when Bane (Tom Hardy) attacks the Gotham Stock Exchange and Selina Kyle, a cat burglar with a great shtick, gets mixed up in the action.
At about two hours and 45 minutes, “The Dark Knight Rises” is long but doesn’t feel like it. The movie has some pretty nifty action scenes and some that are uncomfortably similar to the real-life tragedy that took place in Aurora, Colorado, a couple of nights ago. Scenes of Bane’s bad guys walking into crowded rooms and opening fire might make you squirm.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is intense and brutal and definitely not for kids.
So what worked and what didn’t work about the movie?
Spoilers ahead. Seriously.
The character relationships. Alfred and Bruce. Batman and Jim Gordon. Even Batman/Bruce’s banter with Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle – and her roguish, you’re-never-quite-sure-of her-allegiance stance, which could have been corny but wasn’t – felt just right. So did her badass, “I can do this” attitude.
Batman’s words of wisdom: During the movie, Nolan foreshadows the change that’s coming by showcasing Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s earnest police officer John Blake. I mean, he’s an orphan, for goodness sake. And at one point he discards a gun after killing a man. (He does arm himself later, however.) But of all the telling instances pointing to John Blake’s ultimate destiny, the most interesting is a scene in which Batman tells Blake that he wears a mask not to protect himself but to protect those that he cares about.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Oh man, how Nolan kept all of us guessing for months about the role that Gordon-Levitt was playing. Would be be a bad guy? Would he be Robin? Nightwing? Azrael? By the end of the movie, it was obvious Nolan intended for Blake to carry on in Bruce Wayne’s boots. The clincher? Blake’s real name was Robin. And how about the ending in which Blake, working from directions given him by Batman, finds the Batcave and steps on a platform which rises under him? Future Dark Knight Rising, anyone?
Returning characters: Jonathan Crane, AKA Scarecrow, and most importantly Liam Neeson as Ra’s al Ghul, made this feel like a circle-completing movie. I totally understand why Nolan didn’t want to bring the late Heath Ledger back as the Joker even though I’m sure there were many ways he could have done so. Still, seeing Crane and Ra’s al Ghul made me want something … just a little something … to acknowledge the Joker.
The ending. It was obvious that Nolan intended to take his Christian Bale Bruce Wayne/Batman off the chess board before Warner Bros. could sully the character with any Justice League or Batman vs. Superman movies. I didn’t seriously think Nolan would kill Bruce Wayne off, but he did something just as dramatic: He retired him. And, for the most part, it felt right. And it made me glad that they did it in a way that ushered in a new Batman.
What didn’t work:
Batman’s eight-year absence. So after lifelong friend Rachel dies at the hands of the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Bruce – motivated not only by grief but the idea that the law-abiding people of Gotham no longer need him – decides to become a recluse and STOP FIGHTING CRIME? No. No way in the world. The implausibility might have been lessened, to some extent, if we had seen a montage of scenes of Batman up on a fire escape, ready to swoop in if a mugger approached a family in one of Gotham’s most notorious alleys, only to realize he was no longer needed.
And doesn’t Batman’s hiatus contradict one of the premises of this movie? For eight years Gotham has been a peaceful place. So Bane traps most of Gotham PD underground (and don’t even get me started on how stupid it was to send all the cops – all of them – into the sewers) and the peaceful people of Gotham City decide to riot?
Bane. It’s a sign of how strong the rest of “The Dark Knight Rises” is that the movie works despite the fact that Bane is the weakest villain of the three movies. Even the Scarecrow was a better character. Sure, Bane is a tough guy and a good fighter. But Ledger’s Joker gleefully killed guys like that in “The Dark Knight.” And having Liam Neeson return as Ra’s al Ghul, even in a dream sequence and in the person of a good younger double, just emphasized how much more interesting his character was compared to Bane.
Tom Hardy. Sorry, Tom. How many ways did you detract from this movie? Maybe it was the truly bizarre mask. Or the fact that you’re just not big enough to be Bane. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the bizarre accent that too often sounded like, as some Internet wit pointed out, Darrell Hammond’s hilarious impersonation of Sean Connery on those old “Saturday Night Live” takeoffs on “Jeopardy.”
“The Dark Knight Rises” was a good finale to Nolan’s Batman tale. He did a good job and made the character memorable. Now I’m ready for some Marvel Comics-style universe building for the DC comics movie universe.