Monday, August 13, 2012


There has rarely been a movie whose title is not only appropriate to its content, but to the experience of watching it. The Dark Knight Rises, the last move in director's Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is such a movie.

The concept of "rising" is addressed in the movie in several ways and in general it rises above the experience of most super hero movies. The Dark Knight version of the Batman (or as the film points out, more properly, The Batman) distinguishes itself from previous versions for its darkness.The first two installments in the series dealt with some dark issues: Vengeance, political corruption, madness, guilt, fallen heroes ... The last movie, The Dark Knight, ends with some of the major characters dead, a hero fallen, and the series hero, The Batman, transformed into a hunted criminal. Dark indeed.

The new movie starts out just as dark. The Batman is still seen as a villain, Bruce Wayne has withdrawn from the world and we meet Bane, a hulking villain in a mask who seems bent on plunging the world into anarchy.

As the third part of a trilogy, the film has the role to tie up any loose ends and Rises does that fairly effectively but it does more than that. This movie wants to resolve these dark themes, to illustrate how these characters are affected by this dark world. Do they let the darkness consume them, or do they rise above it ..

The theme of rising is quite prevalent in this movie, affecting characters both old and new. Gary Oldman returns as Jim Gordon as well as the impeccable Michael Caine as Alfred the butler. Gordon has to struggle with his darkness; he has kept alive a lie that has affected many people in the city of Gotham and he struggles with to find the courage to rise above this lie, and tell the truth.

Then there is Alfred. Michael Caine's letter perfect performance provides this film with its centre, and its heart, just as it did in the earlier versions. Caine infuses Bruce Wayne's butler with strength and love and weakness and courage and despair, all delivered in a completely nuanced way that never takes him over the top. Alfred's darkness is his love for Bruce Wayne, and his knowledge that The Batman is killing this man; this love is also his weakness and he must rise above both.

New characters have their own journies, their own darkness above which they must rise. Catwoman makes her first appearance in this series as an accomplished jewel thief and street fighter, a woman who will go to any ends to achieve what she wants. As we meet her though, what she wants is to leave behind this life but is she is presented with a quandry: In order to rise out of her criminal life she must commit more crimes, and be part of a darkness greater than any she has ever before been involved in.

Anne Hathaway plays Catwoman and although I have a degree of affection for Eatha Kitt and Lee Merriweather that I'll take to my grave, the bes cat lady ever to appear in a Bathman vehicle. Hathaway infuses her character with just the right amount of sass, sex, toughness and vunerability that makes you anticipate her appearances in the story. The character is also beautifully presented; this Catwoman is not a superhero. She does not wear a mask, she is never called Catwoman, her skin tight leather "costume" is excused as an athletic cat burglar's stealth disguise. And there is a lovely bit of stage craft with said outfit that gives Catwoman her "ears"

Another new character is a uniformed cop called Blake, soon to be promoted to detective, soon to have a profound impact on the story. Blake is played by the always reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an orphan whose childhood was marked by violence, much in the same was as the young Bruce Wayne. Blake rises above his past and his station in response to the violence that the plot drops on to his city. And (SPOILER ALERT) at the end of the film, physically rises into a new role.

The most significant new character in the movie is its villain, Bane. A creature of darkness, quite literally, an anarchist whose mission seems to be to plunge Gotham into chaos and yes, darkness. Bane is played by Tom Hardy, an actor who displayed both tremendous physical and emotional range in the film Warrior. His task here is a difficult one; Bane's mask allows us to see only Bane's eyes and his affected voice reminded me a bit too much of the voice of Goldfinger (I'm not sure if Bane's voice is dubbed by an actor other than Hardy, but Gert Frobe's voice was indeed dubbed, as at that time he barely spoke English). Bane's mask, he augmented voice and his mask reminds me a bit of the character The Humungous from The Road Warrior, especially when he is entreating the citizens of Gotham to rise to violence.

Bane is a character that has literally climbed up from darkness; his legend is that he was born in a prison that exists at the bottom of a deep pit and as a child he climbs out to freedom. Bane has not risen though, he still lives in the darkness and seems to want to spread to everyone he encounters. However there is more to Bane's story than first divulged; although he remains a villain we learn that in his own way he has tried to rise but in a case of misplaced loyalty, he cannot climb above the darkness

Then of course we come to The Batman and Bruce Wayne. And they are essentially separate characters. Michael Caine's Alfred makes the point that The Batman will some day kill Bruce, that the caped persona keeps the orphan in his dark place, in the pit of vengeance into which he was cast by his parents murder. During the film the pit is physically manifested and Wayne must climb out of it, he must face his fears, acknowledge them before he come out of the pit, before he can rise.

Bale does good work here as both his characters. Quite frankly by the second movie I was getting a bit bored with The Batman's Clint Eastwood rasp but it seems more effective here. Whereas Tom Hardy is never freed from his character's mask, Bale is; we get to see Bruce Wayne rise and thereby elevate The Batman as well.

As I mentioned, it is the duty of the last installment of a trilogy to wrap things up. Dark Knight Rises does that, perhaps a bit patly but the ending is nicely foreshadowed so things can be forgiven. Mostly everything in the movie works well. It is a long movie but Nolan's script and his pacing as director keeps things moving right along, a lot of tension is built and there are enough surprises, most of them logical, to make you forget about the clock.

Visually the film has all its ducks in a row but that is not surprising, nor are the excellent performances surprising, all well established by the previous installments in the series. What was surprising was the film's theme and the way it dealt with the darkness that has been building since the first film.

Batman rises. And so do we.

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