Everything That Rises Must Converge

The Dark Knight Rises: written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer; directed by Christopher Nolan; starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Tom Hardy (Bane), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle/The Cat), Marion Cotillard (Miranda), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) (2012): Given the dire history of the third installments of superhero movies (Superman III, Blade III: Trinity, Spider-man 3, X-Men 3: The Last Stand, to name four stinkers), Christopher Nolan has done a remarkable thing in making a third Batman film that’s actually a worthy finale to his vision of the Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight Rises is a bit draggy at the start, and its main villain, Tom Hardy’s Bane, occasionally lapses into incoherence when speaking words of more than two syllables. But we also get a third movie that actually builds upon what the first two films created both in terms of story and in terms of characterization. And while it lacks the extreme highs of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises nonetheless satisfies while giving its audience something more to think about than simply, ‘Wow, the Hulk is actually funny!’

Some credit must go to what the Brothers Nolan and David S. Goyer pull from the comic books. This is easily the most intertextual of all Batman movies. Lines of dialogue from great comics that include Kingdom Come (created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross) pop up in the right places. Epochal Batman storylines that include The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, Batman: Year One, Batman RIP, and No Man’s Land are used in ways both justifiable and, sometimes, offer an improvement on the original (Gotham’s sudden geographic isolation makes much more sense here than in the near-endless, deeply stupid No Man’s Land storyline, for instance).

The story itself also holds up. It chugs along like a well-oiled action machine, as much James Bond as it is Batman (though Bondaphiles Nolan et al. also take inspiration from the most James Bond-y incarnation of Batman, the globe-trotting Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams version). Some cuts would have been fortuitous, especially if accompanied by expansions in other areas — the subplot involving fallen cop/administrator Matthew Modine goes nowhere and elicits nothing, while somewhat short shrift is given to both Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox.

Nonetheless, this is a surprisingly generous and character-minded superhero film, with fine performances throughout from both the established principals — Christian Bale is terrific, though his Bat-voice still grates — and the newcomers — Joseph Gordon-Levitt does nice work as a Gotham beat-cop, and Ann Hathaway shines as the movie’s lightest character, the skin-tight-suited Cat (woman).

Several action sequences astound, though I wish they hadn’t teased the football scene in the trailers. While there’s nothing quite as thrilling as the lengthy chase in The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises does do a better job with understandable action choreography. I didn’t get lost in some sequences the way I did in the previous film. The movie may be nearly three hours long, but it earns its length as a satisfying end to a trilogy. Highly recommended.

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