Monday, July 23, 2012


Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as all of cinema's most unreserved creations: from Cimino's Heaven's Gate to Coppola's Apocalypse Now.  Despite having wildly different results (Heaven's Gate bankrupted United Artists), both of these films are prime examples of what can happen when you allow a director to have full control over a project with unlimited resources.  They are also prime examples of how not to make a film.
In The Dark Knight Rises, it is as if this director-controlled era of filmmaking has made its triumphant return even if only for a brief moment.  For all the good and bad that comes with it, The Dark Knight Rises showcases director Christopher Nolan at his most unreserved.  It pushes all of his positives and negatives to their extremes while simultaneously proving that Nolan, even at his most unsuppressed, has more control and restraint over his craft than most directors could hope for on their best day.  The Dark Knight Rises isn't just a mess of a film, it is one of the most brilliant, epic, and satisfying messes ever constructed.
It would have been impossible for Nolan to outdo his work on The Dark Knight, a film that has quickly become a post-9/11 cultural touchstone, or recapture the exciting sense of discovery from Batman Begins.  Instead, Nolan has wisely decided to combine elements from both films to construct a near-perfect ending to his trilogy.  The Dark Knight Rises works best as that, an essential element in a three part series, rather than a stand-alone story.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up Batman’s story eight years after the redefining events of The Dark Knight shook Gotham.  With the false idolization of Harvey Dent in full effect, Gotham has eradicated all organized crime in the city and created an almost military state of the city.  Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has secluded himself inside Wayne Manor.  However, Gotham is about to be tested once again by a character that has one goal: to see Gotham in ashes.  This character is none other than the ruthless mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy).
Bane’s massive monolithic figure is not only a visual force to be reckoned with but also a tidal wave building for a monumental crash against the city of Gotham.  It is only to combat this threat that Bruce sees a reason for Batman to resurface.  The Dark Knight Rises is able to raise the stakes for Bruce and Gotham to the most critical levels imaginable.  It places its protagonist in the deepest, darkest pit to test his ability to rise above it all.

The Dark Knight Rises is epic in scope while at the same time being possibly the most personal film of the trilogy.  It is Nolan’s unique handling of time in his films that allows him to balance these two elements so deftly.  Scenes weave in and out of each other with almost no regard for time and place.  This unrestrained use of montages, bolstered by the hypnotic visuals of Nolan’s long-time contributor Wally Pfister, allows each scene to build off each other while blasting forward at a relentless rate.

This type of storytelling is what Nolan does the best, having refined it with the time and place bending nature of his previous films The Prestige and Inception.  However, unlike those films, this technique does end up weakening many of the time related moments in The Dark Knight Rises.  Characters’ actions often feel under-developed and their journeys and struggles that might take months of story time are often relegated to mere seconds on screen.  There is a genuine sense of Nolan trying to have his cake and eat it too that generates a grand series of logistical questions throughout the film’s narrative.

This imbalance can also be felt in the glut of new characters introduced in The Dark Knight Rises.  Notable newcomers like Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Bane (Tom Hardy) steal the show with their unique personalities.  Anne Hathaway’s “Catwoman” is an inspired piece of casting that allows her to bring her trademark theatricality into full and appropriate display.  However, on the other end of the spectrum are a number of other characters whose involvements only serve to weaken and bloat The Dark Knight Rises, often to the detriment of the characters taking center-stage.

These brief distractions create a muddied political perspective within the film.  The Dark Knight Rises’s themes aren’t quite as refined or obvious as those of The Dark Knight but maybe they aren’t meant to be.  There are obvious references to the modern political culture that surround America’s economic struggles but the film’s stance towards politics isn’t particularly clear.  However, neither are the struggles that Batman must face as he is fully captured by the grays that define his position as an incorruptible vigilante.
“Rise” isn’t just a part of The Dark Knight Rises's title but it is the strongest reoccurring motif in the film.  How characters rely on and manipulate the nature of hope and a people’s slow climb towards the light is at the heart of Nolan’s film.  Even the momentum of the film rises in a spectacular fashion as it builds towards its unforgettable climax.  Hans Zimmer’s score hammers home the percussive weight as Batman’s barely decipherable theme rises to combat it.  Until its final memory-searing image, The Dark Knight Rises only builds in momentum and concussion.
The Dark Knight Rises is exhausting and overwhelming at almost every second.  It plunges its audience into a confusing and horrifying war-zone full of twisted ideologies and rapidly changing allegiances.  In doing so it creates the most sympathetic and tortured Bruce Wayne in the series, as he is also overwhelmed and exhausted in his own uphill battle.  Witnessing a beaten Batman facing down dozens of cop cars or engaging in a fistfight with a mountain of a man captures the essence of why cinema can be the greatest thrill ride of them all.
While not quite the cinematic masterpiece of The Dark Knight, a film whose strong chaotic themes not only completely paid off but also acted as the film’s antagonist; The Dark Knight Rises is a stirring and exceptional finale to Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  Nolan pushes forward with reckless abandon and comes out on top.  Nolan is both the filmmaker we need and the one we deserve.

For a SPOILER-filled discussion of the film, listen to THE FILM GRIND.

3.5 / 4 Reels


1 comment:

  1. Good review Dan. I loved this film just about from start to finish. Yeah, the story may have had a couple of mis-fires here and there, but the overall, epic scale that this movie sat on the whole time is what really separated it from the rest of other flicks, and that's why it's by-far my favorite of the trilogy, and favorite of the year, so far.