Stories are important for humanity because they help us make sense of the senseless.
It’s with a heavy heart that I write this review, because the victims of the shooting in Colorado will never be able to enjoy the film as they should have, nor to share it and discuss it with their loved ones as I did. I hope the surviving loved ones take comfort in knowing that their grief is shared by the nation, and their loss will never be forgotten.
Many gifted directors have tried their hand at a “Batman” movie, including Tim Burton, but no director has brought scope and imagination to the “Batman” franchise like Christopher Nolan.
The “Batman Begins”/“The Dark Knight” trilogy immerses the audience in a deeply troubling world, where rules of superhero movies past are broken. Prominent characters, even the previously untouchable love interest, can be killed off. The word I would use to describe it is unsettling.
But these are unsettled times. Our superhero can be battered like never before, and the battle scars are deeper. Nothing is certain. Victory isn’t assured, but rather, achieved within a hair’s breath if at all. In short, it is great storytelling. “The Dark Knight Rises” is the climax of the trilogy, and it may be the best of the three.
Previous superhero movies, but especially other Batman renditions, including the first film directed by Burton in 1989, have had a distinctly cartoonish feeling. No surprise given their origins in DC Comics. The conflict, while present, had an element of fun. Jack Nicholson as the Joker was practically winking at the audience, reveling in the good time he was having, inviting us to the party too (much like Johnny Depp and Burton do in all their current collaborations).
With Nolan, the fun and funny moments are few and far between: a bit of sexy repartee between Bruce Wayne and Cat Woman, for instance. More importantly, there is no cartoon element. The Dark Knight’s world is gritty. It feels real, like a drama unfolding in real time.
We feel that something is actually at stake, that the world is crumbling around us. It’s no small accomplishment when we consider that it’s only a movie. There are even portions that feel like exquisitely rendered reality TV.
When “Batman Returns” was deemed “too dark,” people complained. Not this time, because we live in different times. Just as James Bond has evolved from the dapper likes of Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan to a Bond more rough around the edges, less classically handsome, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in “The Dark Knight Rises” is shown at the outset as a shadow of his former self, and like so many Americans, in deep financial trouble.
Much of what gives “The Dark Knight” its humanity is the performances, and the cast is the film’s greatest strength. I enjoyed the acting so much that I feel a discussion of the major cast members is in order.
The most heartfelt performance of all is Michael Caine as Alfred, Wayne’s devoted butler, who is justifiably concerned for his employer and best friend.
Alfred is as close to a father as Wayne has had since the loss of his own, and Caine renders him with such heart and emotion that we again experience that remarkable immediacy that helps us forget our surroundings, and feel that we are a crucial part of these intimate moments as they unfold.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has evolved from talented child actor in TV’s “Third Rock from the Sun” to indie darling to Hollywood star, delivers one of his best performances to date as the concerned, resourceful young cop with a moral compass who cares about Wayne, but even more about the future of the city of Gotham. Its fate in part rests on his shoulders.
Anne Hathaway may have been looking for a good time, and she found it with Cat Woman.
She has fun making mischief and keeping the viewers guessing as to which side she’s really on. She shows us that those six-inch heels have a practical use and gets to parade around in sleek leather getups and at least one very snazzy hat. I haven’t seen her enjoy a role more, and let’s hope a film with her in the titular role is in the works.
Marion Cotillard of “Midnight in Paris” fame is the film’s other babe as Miranda, the captivating wealthy investor in Wayne enterprises.
With this much beauty around, it’s amazing Nolan wanted to give any screen time to the men at all. In the film a fusion reactor could fuel the world’s need for energy, but I’m convinced the world could be powered by her luminescence if there were a way to capture it in a bottle.
Christian Bale is back giving his best performance since “American Psycho,” and in spite of the fact that some think he is one, considering his offscreen tirade from several years ago, onscreen he is a gifted actor and commands our attention and sympathy as he leads us through Bruce Wayne/Batman’s struggles.
Tom Hardy is unrecognizable as the villain Bane, so convincing that it’s difficult to remember that he isn’t a real bad guy when watching the film: no small accomplishment considering the number of good guys he’s portrayed.
He is not a supervillain who is fun to watch but rather one who is a terrifying terrorist.
Of course, last but certainly not least is Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, bringing pathos and nuance to a pivotal role. Morgan Freeman’s presence as Fox, Wayne’s trusted advisor and right-hand man, is comforting and familiar.
Nolan’s trilogy has been plagued with real life tragedy, first with the death of Heath Ledger and now the heartbreaking events in the Colorado theater. In the case of the former, Ledger’s legacy is his work, which he fully intended for his fans to appreciate. In the case of “The Dark Knight Rises,” words can’t express the sadness we all feel. “The Dark Knight Rises” is a troubling film, and yet seeing a great film like this can be restorative. It can inspire goodness.
Reel Mama’s Rating: Appropriate for 13 & up. The film is rated PG-13. There is intense violence, torture, mass destruction, sexual situations, and some mild language. More than all of these, the film’s grim reality will be disturbing for children, who might on some level feel that what is happening is real. It’s a lot for a child to take in.