This has been another difficult review for me. I thought it wouldn’t be. I mean, I saw this movie twice in cinema so clearly I liked it, right? Well I did… at the time. I think. In a totally Matilda chocolate cake epic kind of way, until afterwards when you get stomach pains from eating too much? Yeah, right. I don’t even know what I mean.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Batman Begins. It was a bit too generically Hollywood action for me, and I found the plot far fetched. I loved The Dark Knight however. I think, and I still think, it is the best Batman movie out of the entire franchise. Of course, and as I have mentioned elsewhere, I am not a huge fan of superhero movies. I don’t know what it is. They bore me to tears. I think what I loved about The Dark Knight was the character focus and the sheer audacity of Heath Ledger’s joker. The Joker forced humanity to acknowledge its dark side in dangerous times. He also forced people to become something they loathed. That included Dent and Batman/Bruce Wayne. I found this incredibly interesting. Incidentally, this is why my other favourite Batman movie is Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns. My absolute favourite moment in Batman Returns is the masked ball when Selena and Bruce dance together and slowly realise who each other is beneath the mask. The film noir style highlighted the social dislocation of the people in Gotham, the loneliness of crusading, the futility of trying to fight. Selena and Bruce were two vigilantes who had more in common with The Penguin, then they did with the rest of Gotham. Elfman’s creepy but achingly beautiful score only emphasised this dislocation. A dark theme? Yes, but an interesting one. Film noir works for Batman because a man dressing up in a suit to mete out his own brand of justice is noir. It is taking the law into one’s own hands. It is morally ambigious. For this reason, I’ve never really understood why so many disliked Batman Returns and yet loved The Dark Knight. They both do the same thing; strip back Bruce Wayne to his core and show him to be a flawed hero.
The Dark Knight Rises still explores some interesting themes, and I enjoyed the ride, but I thought it was too long, and not as interesting as The Dark Knight or Batman Returns. It could have been, but it failed to be.
The film is set 8 years after The Dark Knight and Batman is still on the run after taking the rap for Dent/Two Face’s actions. Wayne Enterprises goes broke, with the help of Bane (Tom Hardy) and hired woman, Selena Kyle (AKA Catwoman played by Anne Hathaway) and Bane soon takes over the city of Gotham in a social revolution where the rich and the beurocracy are punished with show trials of death. What the people of Gotham don’t know is that Bane is working for the League of Shadows and regardless of revolution’s outcome, intends to blow Gotham sky high. It’s up to a reviled Batman to try and save Gotham, with the help of Commissioner Gordon (the ever superb Gary Oldman) and a reformed Catwoman.
Bale’s Bruce Wayne by his mask.
I really enjoyed the film at the time. It was only afterwards that things began to niggle me. The most obvious thing, is the return of the League of Shadows to destroy Gotham. I felt that this plot move devalued the interesting social revolution taking place in Gotham and the moral ambiguity of the story. It became much more hero trope based at this point. Other commentators have pointed out how this story thread reflects a politically conservative viewpoint so I won’t rehash it here, suffice to say, it bugged me. The second thing that bugged me was Catwoman. There was scarcely any back story for her whatsoever, which was a shame, because Anne Hathaway played her brilliantly. I still prefer Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, but Hathaway did well to stand out following such a hard act.
However, just when the middle began to muddle and get bogged down, the end picked up again. I loved the ending to this trilogy. It highlighted the importance and reliance of people on political symbols of hope, and the importance of mythological heroes in today’s modern, western world. It explained the origins (in an unexpected twist) of another Batman staple. It gave peace to the character of Bruce Wayne by giving him an out of Gotham and someone to share that out with (in an almost complete antithesis to Batman Returns- perhaps the only logical solution to the problem Burton posed). The ending was affecting without being ridiculously sentimental and brought the trilogy full circle. Finding a way out of darkness and terror and fear and loneliness has been a regular theme in Batman, and Nolan has pushed the idea of picking onself up, rising up, and trying again over and over. In creating a Batman symbol that remains ever masked, Bruce is free to put away that double identity and leave Gotham to find happiness, secure in the knowledge that someone else can put on the mask in times of need and continue the legacy. Burton’s Wayne never saw this light at the end of the tunnel and so his story became a noir tragedy. Nolan’s (and Bale’s) Batman suffers tragedy, but out of that tragedy, comes new beginning.
So, what am I going to give The Dark Knight Rises? I am still torn about the film as a whole but I did enjoy it a lot.
The Dark Knight Rises: 8/10 inky stars.