So I just came back from the most anticipated film of the year. It’s a Sunday afternoon and most would consider me late to the party, but I think of it as remaining true to form. I don’t show up to the party until I feel like it. In the meantime I steered clear of the internet to avoid the spoiler rush.
To say that The Dark Knight Rises accomplished what it set out to do would be an understatement. It is the conclusion to a trilogy in which I had little emotional investment but couldn’t help getting sucked into. This wasn’t due to the Batman mythology, a love for action, director Christopher Nolan or its star, Christian Bale. It was the sheer insanity and glee of Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight four years ago.
I simply wanted to see if Nolan could top what he had done in the previous film. The Dark Knight was so exciting that reviewing it was impossible. It was beyond language. When I got home afterwards someone asked me, “How was it?” I took a piece of paper and drew a horizontal line across it. “This is the film,” I explained. I then took a fat red marker and scribbled all over it, even off of the paper and onto the counter, creating something that looked like a cross between a Richter scale and a seizure.
“That was Heath Ledger’s performance,” I concluded.
The Dark Knight Rises, or as I fondly call it, Inception Reunion, does not feature Heath Ledger. It doesn’t try to be its predecessor. It’s its own film, it’s a Christopher Nolan film, it’s a Batman film and it’s a blockbuster. Watching it was watching something epic. It made The Avengers look like an episode of Pokémon.
Why, you ask? Because Rises is a comic book adaptation that isn’t a clever ride, it’s an effort to make you feel things. I know for sure that it made me feel things, even against my will. Bane’s (Tom Hardy) surprise attacks mirrored the real life tragedy of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. There were other aspects of the story that cut close to our current political struggles: the flaunted greediness of the rich, the corruptions in capitalism and the threat of class warfare. It’s a reminder of how exasperated citizens can get before a coup, which is a stark and sobering reality. When it goes down Bane’s takeover of Gotham mirrors the French Revolution, where the “haves” are exiled or executed by the “have-nots.”
In this case the have-nots don’t speak for everyone, but their voices are heard loud and clear. The 99% rise up against the 1%, and apparently judge, jury and executioner is none other than the nutty Dr. Jonathan Crane a.k.a. Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), who carries out his brand of justice like the Queen Of Hearts during the Tarts trial, give or take a few charisma points.
Not kidding: that’s a verdict from the movie. Also, Crane’s barricade/toilet paper desk is beyond amazing. I can’t find a picture of it online, but if you’ve seen it you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Aside from this levity- and believe me, there’s very little- Rises constantly makes you think. I’m still trying to process what I saw and I’m sure I will never understand everything. This is pretty standard for a Christopher Nolan film, in which he insults my intelligence by making me feel like I don’t have any. However, at the same time the twists and turns in his grand finale held no surprises to me. They had been speculated about and spoiled over the past several months. Ironically, the denials from the filmmakers on these counts are just irritating now, because they weren’t true:
1) Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is so totally Talia al Ghul.
2) John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is so totally Robin.
3) Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) so totally shows up, via some sort of pain-induced hallucination.
4) According to Nolan, Tom Hardy’s voice wouldn’t be redubbed. I’m confused. It sure sounds like it was.
Aside from these disappointments (thanks a lot internet, do your speculations have to ruin everything?) I was surprised by the emotional content of this film. Like The Hunger Games there is a care and understatement put into these characters in spite of their harsh situations or the high stakes. Bale’s Bruce Wayne shows more conflict and despair than ever before. Michael Caine’s Alfred was absolutely heartbreaking in his scenes, and unexpectedly so. I haven’t been so upset while watching someone cry since I saw Alan Rickman lose it in Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer (2006).
Even more shocking were the villains and how they made me feel. In one fleeting scene Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy imbue their characters with a connectedness that’s hard to push aside. There is more to these two than the the time the film gives them, which is kind of a shame. Their big reveal also hit one of my major Achilles Heels: the idea of a young man saving a little girl from what appears to be implied assault, murder, and possibly rape, compromising himself for her safety. This is never fully explained but packs quite a punch, humanizing both of them before-
Oh…. and they’re dead suddenly. Wow, that was fast. Is it wrong that I felt more terrible for what they went through than the protagonists? That’s something I’m going to be chewing on for a while.
I’m sure fans are already nitpicking Rise, which can only be expected considering its scale and how anticipated it was. Since I’ve just seen the film I would need to sit for a while and think before posing questions, but believe me- there were several moments where all I could think was “????” This not only concerns plot or characters’ motivations, but the details. For example: Gotham’s cops going to war against Bane’s army. This was the least believable part of the movie to me, mostly because cops have been getting more press for macing and beating citizens rather than defending them.
Also, before entering the theater I was 100% sure the story would end with a dead Batman. This turned out to be only partially true. At one point it sounded like Batman was promising it would happen, that he hadn’t made the ultimate sacrifice for Gotham: “Not everything, not yet.” Instead it turns out that Batman is dead, but Bruce Wayne may be able to take a crack at a normal life.
But then again, someone fixed that Bat-Signal. This is like Inception all over again. Did the top fall over? Is it still spinning?
Oh, Christopher Nolan, you’re suuuuuuch a tease.