There should probably be an additional disclaimer here that this review is from a fan, and fans as we know, are touchy, nostalgic, and… hmm. Anyway. When I first heard the title announcement for The Dark Knight Rises, I grimaced. As a fan who had been introduced to the world of the Batman comics through Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, I honestly wondered why Nolan, WB, or DC Comics would want to confuse properties like that once it came down to the abbreviations - TDKR and TDKR. To make things easy - DKR means The Dark Knight Returns, TDKR means The Dark Knight Rises. Now that we differentiate between The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight Returns, I suppose this is a non-issue, though one can’t help feeling resonances of DKR in the opening of The Dark Knight Rises. A retired, reclusive Batman hiding out in Wayne Manor not only echoes DKR, but Batman Beyond’s ‘Rebirth’ as well. However, Nolan plays it out differently for us on screen. For all intents and purposes, this Batman, and this Bruce, are relatively young in comparison with previous retired incarnations.
A few years into the job and he has already torn all the cartilage from his knees, though not quite requiring the ‘walking hospital bed’ of DKR (you see, it does get confusing). Similarly, Nolan’s Batman seems constantly more… mentally scarred than his comics incarnation, or more obviously so. Bale has mentioned in interviews how Batman ‘feels monstrous’, and therefore dresses like a monster to channel that rage and monstrosity. Think a very expensive Hulk. Interestingly, this same motivation has been cited as one of the current Batwing’s in The New 52. There are many opinions concerning Batman’s sanity, swinging from walking the borderline, to being, despite his theatrics, an incredibly sane person. Bale chooses the borderline route, having already described Batman as suffering from some sort of multiple personality disorder. While this may not actively show in his portrayal, it definitely colors him differently from other Batman incarnations.
There is something very wrong about this Bruce Wayne, even when he smiles, and when he puts on the suit, he is not the calm, calculative surgeon in Dark Knight Rises, or the hardened but sure Old Man Wayne of Batman Beyond. This Batman has a constant death wish, until it’s broken out of him, quite literally. Still, my problem with Bale’s portrayal through the trilogy has been that his best Batman moments were always out of the costume. I felt this keenly in The Dark Knight, mostly because of vox, but also in that his most ‘Batman’ act and demeanor was seen in his crashing his car as Bruce Wayne to stall. In this movie, it was the Batman’s triumphant victory both in mind and body against old defeats and enemies, but completely out of the cowl and Gotham. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know, but it certainly carries resonance from the first movie and his initial ascent/beginnings, which is something this movie constantly tries to do.
Which brings us to Bane. We all, okay, most of us, know the story of Bane. My personal exposure to him was mainly through the Knightfall comics, the DCAU, and the Arkham games after that. With that in mind, I had not known him much beyond the powerful strategist with a bone to pick with Batman, who broke him, and who uses Venom to augment his strength. He’s had a range of adventures since then, including curing his Venom addiction and being named heir by Ra’s Al Ghul. Just as Batman is an idea, or at least, the way Nolan and Grant Morrison have been selling to us the past few years, so are the Al Ghuls in Nolan’s world. The Dark Knight Rises crafts and weaves Bane’s origin into Ra’s Al Ghul’s history and the League of Assassins/Shadows. The twist in the relationship between Talia and her ‘Beloved’ truly caught me off guard, especially when the movie worked actively in dropping red herrings before the final reveal. Is Bane a conqueror, or a tool, or just a man? I was afraid that Bane would be uninteresting in this
film beyond Darth! Bane: yet another megalomaniac set on destroying Gotham. He was not, and Hardy delivers a tremendous performance despite the inhibiting mask.
While the heroes may have been dipped in dark grey in the previous movie, here, the villains are. After all, knowingly or unknowingly, the villains in The Dark Knight Rises not only function as foils to Batman, as they usually do, but alternately inspire and horrify him. Ra’s proves that immortality exists in ideas, not in a single person, something which Batman seems to accept and use at the end of the film. The child’s escape from The Pit inspires Bruce to escape, but the same child ultimately throws him a right hook (metaphorical) and a backstab (quite literal) he never saw coming. Another very grey anti-villain is of course Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. I was skeptical at first, not so much of Hathaway as of the character’s concept, once the costume was released. Why not something more Darwyn Cooke in her design? Where’s the whip? The goggles? But on Hathaway’s first appearance on screen, my fears were put to rest. Selina Kyle, never named Catwoman through the film, keeps both Bruce and the audience on their toes, never sure of her motivations, or just what she is going to do next. Her transformation from the quiet serving girl to saucy, smirking Selina was something that should have any fan grinning in acknowledgement of ‘well played’. But the haunted, torn Selina shines through just as much in this film, much to Nolan’s and Hathaway’s credit in developing her character onscreen.
Nolan goes heavy on the metaphors and imagery in this film. Pull out all the stops, release the clutch, we’re going full speed, yes-sir-ree. Forget the iconic straight-from-the-comic moments like the Batbreaking, the No Man’s Land isolation with its glorious Manhattan skyline, the anarchic court scenes. Forget a rather extreme portrayal of Occupy Wall Street and echoes of the 9/11 tragedy. There are other details that fans will be able to keep picking apart. The many masks the characters wear throughout this journey, not just the physical. The question of legacy: what should be passed on, what if retained turns toxic, and what should be left behind entirely. Objects littered throughout the film and cameos function to spark something in the back of audiences’ minds, something to turn and mull over. This Batception may not have rotating corridors and a lover which constantly haunts you- oh wait-, but for a superhero movie, Nolan once again brings out the epic themes.
Yes, this film is one great, rambling snowball of a trilogy finisher. The duration alone should be prime warning. At times, the length seems to work against it, with lengthy expositions and too much waiting in the first half, followed by a mad dash sprint to the finish. Michael Caine delivers impeccably as Alfred, and again captures the spirit of a number of prime Alfred moments from the comics. However, he seemed to function at times as nothing beyond the dutiful but torn caretaker watching his charge sink further into self-destruction. To this end, Alfred’s speeches, a ‘thing’ unto themselves, did seem to halt the narrative. The waiting as well, waiting for Bane to do something, and then something more, may have been Nolan’s way of trying to place the audience in Gotham’s shoes for as much as possible, but there were moments I found myself fidgeting in my seat with a lack of anticipation. Pacing aside, the cast works like a dream, with Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all turning in wonderful performances, along with cameos from Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson tying it wonderfully with Batman Begins.
There are, of course, the small old-time fan nitpicks. Alfred calling Bruce ‘Master Wayne’, the pronunciation of ‘Ra’s Al Ghul’, Bale’s Batvoice (but only in one scene, surprisingly). Will these lower the enjoyment factor for any fan? Perhaps, in being initially distracting. But once you are over that, then no, they should not, so enjoy the ride. Because Batman translates so well into so many different mediums and genres, and Nolan has given us a wonderful, alternate interpretation of the Dark Knight’s world. And after you’re done, there’s still the DCAU waiting for a revisit on your DVD shelf.
Sarah Ann-Lee is a regular contributor to The World's Finest.