“But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely… A legend, Mr. Wayne.”
Liam Neeson speaks these lines at the opening of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins.’ When Nolan reopened the book on the classic character, ‘Batman Begins’ first tells us the story of Bruce Wayne. Born into a life of privilege, Bruce was given loving parents that gave him an example of goodness; but, while still a young boy, his family was gunned-down in the street. Driven by anger and a desire for justice, Bruce flees his city of Gotham in search for an answer. Years later, he finds himself in a Chinese prison, still ferociously fighting his fellow captives. It is here that Bruce is offered a path; to become a incorruptible symbol of true justice. He returns to Gotham where he chooses to pursue a life of battling criminals, not as Bruce Wayne, but as the masked-hero Batman.
In ‘The Dark Knight’, Batman must face his greatest challenge yet; the rampaging, senseless killer that calls himself The Joker. Motivated only by his desire to “watch the world burn,” The Joker throws Gotham into a state of chaos. But Batman is not alone. His is aided by Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent. Together, the triumvirate battles against the violence of a maniac, we watch as an “unstoppable force meets an immovable object,” and although our heroes succeed in capturing the villain, it was not achieved without considerable loss. Harvey Dent, Gotham’s white knight, was driven into madness and dies after going on a murderous rampage. Refusing to let evil win, the Batman takes the fall for Dent’s crimes. They raise Harvey Dent as a hero in order to invoke change in their city, casting out Batman as an outlaw; Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon must keep the secrets of what really happened that night.
Christopher Nolan closes his story of Batman in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ with a finale that is both modern epic and complex drama, giving us a third act that does not disappoint those that have fallen in love with Nolan’s Gotham. Not only does this film meet the impossibly high standards that were set before it, but it found even more ways to wow us with spectacular filmmaking.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’ takes place 8 years after the events of Harvey Dent’s death. Our hero, Bruce Wayne (played again by Christian Bale), has become a recluse, claiming that he has hung up the cowl and cape for the last time. Gotham is at peace because of Commissioner Gordon’s newly empowered police force, but this calm remains based on a lie. The weak foundations that our heroes built are waiting to be shaken up.
Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway) foreshadows the events to come in a slow dance with Bruce. “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and so leave so little for the rest of us.”
The storm hits Gotham in the form of a new evil; a masked mercenary named Bane (played by Tom Hardy). Intimidating in size, and frightening in mission, Bane claims that he is “Gotham’s reckoning” and a symbol of the “borrowed time” that the city has been living on. Bane has one mission; “We will destroy Gotham.” When told of the evil that is rising in the city, Bruce Wayne must do what is required of him; The Batman must come back.
What follows is an amazing, action packed, and purposeful movie. Once this thing gets going, and it does take some time to get going, it cannot be stopped. We are swept up in the story of our hero as we wait for the fate of Gotham City. It’s really a movie that I didn’t want to end. Fantastic in scale and satisfying in finality.
With this new superhero installment, we are also presented with an array of new and influential characters. Anne Hathaway gives her performance as Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman, with intensity and sharp attitude, giving us a woman who often crosses the line between right and wrong. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (one of my personal favorite actors) plays John Blake, a virtuous young police officer who shares the Batman’s devotion to justice, and who becomes a character of great importance to the story of Gotham City. And then there’s Miranda Tate (played by Marion Cotillard), a beautiful ally that Bruce can find friendship in, so much so that Bruce eventually trusts her with the running of Wayne Enterprises.
The introduction and establishment of these new faces might begin as a burdensome task, but in the end I was so glad that the Nolan brothers took as much time as he did to place these characters into the foreground of the story. Each one of them has great amount of purpose in ‘Rises’, and are vital to the conclusion of the film.
Writing a review for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is honestly a difficult task, because I see it as being a film of great depth that has so much lying underneath the ice, and like the character of Batman itself, it is much more than a man in a mask. But this is simply the marking trait of Christopher Nolan’s films; it inspires discussion, thought, and challenges the way that we see things. I can’t think of any other director working today that can accomplish the mass appeal of a blockbuster-smash as well as the intelligence to tell a deep story; the ability to please movie goers of all kinds. Not only does Nolan accomplish this with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, it has now become the norm for all of his films, making him a man among boys. He hasn’t made a bad movie. Ever. Just think about that. Who else can say that?
I could write an essay just simply on the themes that are presented to the audience in this film, incredibly daunting themes such as resistance, perseverance, righteousness in the face of evil, and the sacrifice that it takes to do make what is right. We see that sometimes fear is necessary to do the impossible. ‘Rises’ also presents us with heroes that have made mistakes, that are not perfect, but are willing to do what it takes in order to set things right. Most of the film is dark, but at the end of it all, its this darkness that makes the light at the end of the tunnel so much brighter. All of this, in a movie about a guy in a bat costume. Who’d of thunk it?
In my mind, the best thing about ‘Rises’ is the ending, which I will not describe in detail here (trying to be respectful of those who are avoiding spoilers). What I will say is that the conclusion of Nolan’s last Batman movie makes it not just about the struggle against a madman, but the establishment of a legend. The film is on a mission to fulfill the promises of the first two movies and make Batman transcendent, bigger than just vigilante, and a symbol that was tested through trials. Not only to the people of Gotham, but also to the audience, this character has truly become more than just a myth. And no matter what happens in the end, the Dark Knight will rise as a hero, one way or another.
Now for the burning question; is ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ better than the film that preceded it? My answer is no, but I still maintain that it did not have to be better, and I don’t think those involved were trying to make a better movie than ‘The Dark Knight.’ One thing that was obvious to me when I sat in the theater was how different this movie was from the previous two. It wanted to say something new, something meaningful. Nolan’s purpose was to tell the last chapter of Bruce Wayne’s story, to give a powerful conclusion these films. In doing so, he established these three movies as being one of the best film trilogies of all time.
My Note: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a great ending to an unforgettable saga.
My Grade: A