After 1997’s debacle known as Batman & Robin, the Burton/Schumacher Batman franchise was shut down. The planned sequel, Batman Triumphant, which was supposed to star George Clooney as Batman once again, was canned after the overwhelmingly negative response to Batman & Robin.
Then, in 2003, Warner Bros. decided to take the franchise in a new direction, hiring Memento helmsman Christopher Nolan to direct a new Batman film. Nolan believed that it was time to tell the origin story of the Batman, and so the tale of the reboot of the Batman film franchise began.
In 2005, Batman Begins opened to rave reviews and effectively jumpstarted an iconic character that had since lost his relevance on the big screen.
In 2008, Nolan & Co. did it again, moving from the gritty realism of Batman Begins to the psychological crime drama of The Dark Knight, a film that left almost nothing to be desired.
Here we are again, discovering the depths of darkness that Nolan is willing to take us into. In The Dark Knight Rises, we are thrown eight years into the future from that fateful night when Gotham’s savior—District Attorney Harvey Dent—died. To prevent the Joker from having the last laugh—and more importantly, to keep Gotham City’s streets clean of organized crime—Batman and Police Commissioner Jim Gordon create a lie. Batman takes the fall for Harvey’s murders, Gordon paints Harvey as a hero, and Batman flees from a police force hell-bent on bringing him down.
One of the beauties of going eight years into the future is that we see the repercussions of Batman and Gordon’s decision. If they had told the truth about Harvey Dent, all the criminals that he had put behind bars would be back out on the streets. But how can you continue doing your job knowing that it’s all predicated on a lie? We see the lie eat away at Bruce Wayne to the point of his becoming a Howard-Hughes-like recluse, never setting foot outside his ominous mansion. We see the lie haunt Jim Gordon, tearing at his soul every time he has to talk about the “hero” Harvey Dent—the man who murdered five people, held Gordon’s family at gunpoint, and nearly murdered his son.
But because of this lie, Gotham City enjoys eight years of peace.
Enter Bane, a terrorist the likes of which Gotham has never seen. Unlike the Joker, who simply wants chaos, Bane wants justice and a new order. And in a turn of events that could have been inspired only by an epic Charles Dickens novel, the whole of Gotham City is turned upside-down.
Peace. War. For the citizens of Gotham, the following was all too true:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
In Batman Begins, Ken Watanabe’s Ra’s Al Ghul says this: “Gotham’s time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we’ve performed for centuries. Gotham must be destroyed.”
While the Joker served as “l’exemple parfait” of Ra’s Al Ghul’s prediction, Bane serves as the executor. The entire city is in ruin and bondage to a genius terrorist, but where is the Batman?
(The following link is a spoiler.) Remember this iconic image from Knightfall? That’s where Batman is.
The rest of the film is an immersive tale of the galvanization of a disheartened city, the turmoil of one man’s burden to prevent anyone else from experiencing his pain, and some people’s belief in a hope greater than themselves.
But through it all is a Kafkaesque plot that portrays the descent of a city into a dystopian, almost Orwellian, society broken from the many decades of slavery to organized crime, poverty, and violence; a city that has experienced unprecedented horrors at the hands of a psychotic murderer bent on “watching the world burn.” Revolution seemed to be the only answer. And in classic, Victor-Hugo-like fashion, a destructive revolution breaks out.
“There’s a storm coming,” Selina Kyle prophesies.
And quite the storm this movie is.
This is the crown jewel of The Dark Knight Trilogy. It’s Christopher Nolan’s shining moment, and it stands as a testament to his creative genius.
We see some of the best performances by each of the cast members that we’ve probably ever seen before. Anne Hathaway delivers the best performance of Selina Kyle to ever grace the big screen (though when you’re going up against Michelle Pfeiffer’s over-sexualized Catwoman or Halle Berry’s whatever-the-hell-that-was, there isn’t much of a contest).
Tom Hardy’s Bane is an inherent achievement. Anyone who can pull off that kind of performance with half of his face covered deserves some kind of praise. His eyes are able to tell the story like I’ve never seen before.
Marion Cotillard plays an elegant and enticing Miranda Tate, a character shrouded in mystery, and who’s identity will not disappoint (I’m talking to you, Batman fanboys. We’ve all been speculating as to who Miranda Tate really is, and let’s just say I was quite happy with the result.)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Officer John Blake was a stroke of genius and proves that Nolan’s willingness to take big risks with a longstanding franchise yields a lot of reward.
Christian Bale plunges his Bruce Wayne character even further into darkness, and this has to be his best performance as the brooding billionaire to date.
Michael Caine, though he had very little screen time, delivers yet another phenomenal performance as Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth and offers some of the film’s most emotionally powerful moments.
Morgan Freeman returns as only Morgan Freeman can. Lucius Fox has a somewhat diminished role by comparison to the first two films, but he still brings his A game.
Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon is far more multi-faceted this time around. His character deals with the ambivalence of knowing that he’s created a massive lie but also knowing that to tell the truth could mean the destruction of the whole city. His performance in The Dark Knight Rises was the best Jim Gordon I’ve ever seen.
There is nothing in this film that disappoints. It’s the perfect finale to the greatest series of Batman—no, comic book—movies ever. My one complaint is that the film grabs you and doesn’t let you breathe until the very end. There was no moment for me to catch my breath before being thrown into the next major piece of the story.
Each of the films in The Dark Knight Trilogy carries its own identity and personality. To some, Batman Begins will always be the best. To others, The Dark Knight is the crown jewel of this series. But to me, while I loved The Dark Knight, I must say that The Dark Knight Rises is my favorite in the series.
Mainstream, popcorn filmmaking can now have purpose. It can provoke deep thought. Batman Begins showed us the seedy underworld of a city run by crime. The Dark Knight dove into the instability of the human mind. The Dark Knight Rises takes an anthropological look at societal madness when fear and anarchy govern.
Batman Begins is quite clearly based (however loosely) on Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. The Dark Knight draws upon crime dramas like The Untouchables, but also quite obviously turns to Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween for its inspiration.
The Dark Knight Rises seems to be drawing its influence from pieces other than Batman lore. While a case could be made for Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and of course the Knightfall series, I saw more of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Hugo’s Les Misérables, and Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel than I did any Batman source material. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In summary, I’d have to say that The Dark Knight Rises is one of the finest films I’ve seen in a very long time.