If in his last Batman movie, director Christopher Nolan took comic-book heroics into territory more akin to a Martin Scorsese gangster movie, the conclusion of his trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” not only keeps that sense of urban noir but adds the pulse-pounding action and battlefield strategies of a war movie, say Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down.”
The movie is smart and thrilling but more importantly embraces the same moral uncertainties over vigilante crime-fighting that has made the entire series truly great. Nolan takes Batman seriously.
Yes, so did Tim Burton but as much as I admire his Batman films he tended to get very caught up in their brooding, kinetic design. Nolan’s trilogy has that in spades but that’s the backdrop for a Shakespearean struggle among kings of crime and crime-fighting nobles and warriors with blood on their hands and, perhaps, guilty consciences.
The early reviews seemed obsessed with declaring “The Dark Knight Rises” a best of the series, which misses the point. The series, as you now look at it, is of a whole with plot strands dangling back to 2005’s “Batman Begins” finally raveling into place. What this film really is, arguably of course, is the conclusion of the best film trilogy in popular cinema.
I wonder if Batman creator, artist Bob Kane, would recognize his creation? Nolan gives the Dark Knight gravitas. This is big-budget studio filmmaking at its extraordinary best.
The subplots in this film are many so to go into too much detail here would be an exercise in spoilers — although by this time next week that may no longer matter since it looks like half the globe will have seen the movie by then. You might even do yourself a favor and hold off seeing the film until you’ve looked at DVDs of the previous two. They are the back stories to this one.
This movie starts eight years since the end of the last film where Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent died without the world realizing how Two-Faced he was. Instead police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) allows Dent to be turned into a martyr — and Batman into an outlaw — to enact a tough-on-crime law known as the Dent Act.
The movie, written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan (from a story by the director and David S. Goyer), never makes it clear what exactly this law is and how you’re supposed to regard it but evidently some people think it excessive.
Since Gotham City basks in a wave of crimelessness, it can’t be all bad. This won’t last long, however.
Everything that happens in this movie happens big. The starting point is a computer crime. Now you could show a villain hunched over a laptop with dizzying displays flying across the screen. Nope, too small.
Instead the villain, a masked terrorist name Bane (Tom Hardy), smashes into the Stock Exchange, shoots up the place, takes hostages and brutally accesses the Exchange’s computer hard drive to perform millions of trades that bankrupt another character.
So Nolan fills the screen with chases, explosions, an aerial rescue, bombed bridges, hand-to-hand combat, acrobatic jumps off buildings and Batman’s new airborne vehicle that is like the Bat Mobile in the air and a motorcycle called the Bat Pod.
Bane, a brutish, hulking figure with an ingenious mind, wears a weird grill-like face-and-nose mask — everyone wears a mask of some sort in this movie, one of its many motifs — that no doubt protects an old wound, the secret to which the story will only gradually reveal. His relentless drive to lay siege to the power base of Gotham City requires that billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale in a superb third outing) bring his Batman alter ego back to rescue a city that isn’t sure it wants him back. (text continues)
Forces are moving on Gotham City to hold it hostage — well the Manhattan part of it at least. (This is the first film to make clear that Gotham is NYC.) Only the idiot cops, lead by its chief (Matthew Modine), seem more interested in catching Batman than the fact a warlord has emptied prisons and thinks he’s a social reformer.
Think Robespierre and his guillotine during the French Revolution.
Bane has commandeered the city sewer system to launch lethal attacks, the purpose of which only becomes clear when … oh, let’s not spoil things other than say the bad boys have a new idea of how to make nuclear use of some Wayne Industries technology Bruce probably should have destroyed long ago.
Caught up in the mix are a wealthy philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard); a city cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who rises in the ranks extremely fast during this movie; series regulars Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine); and, oh yes, Catwoman.
Not that she is ever referred to by that name. Selina Kyle (befittingly, a sleek and dark Anne Hathaway) is an amoral cat burglar that never quite becomes the ally Bruce Wayne or Batman hopes she might.
Actually, she fits into the movie at times a little awkwardly. Subplots must move aside and she must turn up in just the right places to get involved at all. For with chaos all around her, she only seems interested in larceny. A bad upbringing, no doubt.
The Nolan Bros. do find nifty ways to make use of Selina even though they could just as easily have written her out of the movie. But then you’d miss so much of the fun. Her inclusion does underscore that this crime-fighting series is, after all, derived from the world of comic books.
If you’re going to worry about logic, for that matter, you can’t help but wonder why, with the sociopath striding around a town he so ruthlessly rules, a well-placed snipper doesn’t just take him out. Or why, when his men see him kill allies with so little concern, this doesn’t trigger a mini-revolt.
It’s a movie, Ingrid.
Bale has a character arc of three films to look back on with pride. He has given us the most vulnerable of super heroes. At moments, you can’t even imagine how he will ever save this city that has shunned Batman.
The series’ new actors, Cotillard, Hardy and Hathaway are welcome additions, each bringing high energy and subtle manners to vastly different characters. Old hand Oldman is more of an action hero this time while Caine has several excellent emotional moments and Freeman lends an aloof dignity.
The pressure (and the pleasure) mounts with each passing minute as Hans Zimmer’s overly loud music urges the action on. Then too Wally Pfister’s cinematography is about as good as it gets for an action movie.
This remains the brooding and shadowy world of Batman lore, but instead of the uncontrolled chaos of “The Avengers” or even the pretty-good meld of stunts and CGI in “The Amazing Spider-Man” the pell-mell action of this movie always lets you see the big picture. You’re never lost in time or space.
The production design by Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh in combination with the visual and special effects (“Inception” Oscar winners Paul Franklin and Chris Corbould respectively) create an unbelievable world that is believable. It’s authentic to its own grand design.
The one flaw though comes with sound. About a third of the dialogue is lost in Zimmer’s music, all those loud noises but more often inarticulate actors.
I find it curious that Nolan is issuing statements urging audiences to see this movie in Imax, declaring those cameras gave him such visual clarity and depth, while being so cavalier about the dialogue. I saw people at the press screening continually asking each other what was just said. Who knows?
As Nolan and Bale exit the Batman world, they leave behind a potential successor. By movie’s end, Gordon-Levitt’s big-city cop has inhaled enough of the mystique and the early moral certainty of Batman to carry on … if that’s what Warner Bros. and the producers wish.
To whomever takes up the directorial reigns, however, I can only say two words: Good luck. You’re not going to top this.
Opens: Friday, July 20, 2012 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures present a Syncopy production
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Juno Temple, Daniel Sunjata, Chris Ellis, Tom Conti, Nestor Carbonell, Brett Cullen, Aidan Gillen, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriters: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Story by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on characters created by : Bob Kane
Producers: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven
Executive producers: Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Kevin De La Noy, Thomas Tull
Director of photography: Wally Pfister
Production designers: Nathan Crowley, Kevin Kavanaugh
Costume designer: Lindy Hemming
Music: Hans Zimmer
Visual effects supervisor: Paul Franklin
Special effects supervisor: Chris Corbould
Editor: Lee Smith
PG-13 rating , 164 minutes