In “The Dark Knight Rises”, a man, broken and defeated, rises against revolution as a city crumbles. But that’s just one-part of the story.
On July 20th, a few hours after the mid-night release “The Dark Knight Rises”, the epic and subtle conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman legacy, a friend of mine texted me what I thought could only be a cruel joke: a one-line news of the Aurora shooting.
Someone near me, also an avid reader of Batman retorted without thinking: “Sure, that’s got to be the Joker’s work”. While “The Dark Knight Rises” doesn’t proclaim a villain born of unfathomable, motiveless, quench for anarchy as immortalized by Heath Ledger or his spiritual predecessor Jack Nicholson, or the real-life actions of the individual behind the still-in-investigation act, what its villain sets out to accomplish is nearly radical enough: the domination of a free spirit.
The disaster, although racking up from the movie’s inception is imminent, and its threat — or that of the destruction of Gotham — rings a little closer to home, without making it apparent. A fellow critic of mine, who saw the movie before me, said that you can only talk about the first 30 minutes of the movie. Anymore and you are liable to trip-up on spoilers. She is right.
In “Rises”, Christopher Nolan’s deliberately and delicately crafted swan-song to Bob Kane’s comic centering on a billionaire orphan turned detective-vigilante, pain (physical and figurative) is intensified, a city-falls and a hero — or make that heroes — rise.
Banking on his and brother screenwriter Jonathan Nolan’s aptitude for complex character juggling, Chris Nolan expands and contracts a handful of deep-rooted individuals for 165 minutes of the film’s running time – right into the overarching climax on Gotham’s streets that include everything from an army of weaponless cops to tank-cars and a ticking nuclear weapon.
Although Googler’s would have no doubt picked up the clues, “Rises” is an adaptation of a number of Batman comic-arcs since DC comics rebooted, and permanently relocated, the dark knight to a grittier domain in 1987’s “Batman: Year One” (which subsequently plays a substantial role in “Batman Begins”). The titles in question for inspiration would be: “No Man’s Land”, “Knight Fall” fiddles around with Nolan’s auteurist touch.
“The Dark Knight” had ended 8 years ago when “Rises” opens. Bruce Wayne (played with phlegmatic restrain by Christian Bale) is a recluse with a bad-leg, moping for Rachel Dawes (his deceased love interest played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). The Dent Act — a law fortified by the death Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent and Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) — has eradicated crime to the street-level. Gotham is safe. Gordon is “a war hero” in “peace time” — and that guilt is eating him alive.
Gotham is soon stormed by Bane (Thomas Hardy, mean, trenchant and maniacal) — a calm and nefarious villain flaunting deterrence and an oddish mask that garrotte’s his voice into a strangled wheeze.
Here, Bane’s single minded agenda, which we later learn is a by-product of unmovable belief (and which comes full-circle to “Batman Begins”), is a perceptible layer in Hardy’s low-key, but frightfully aware performance.
And is it brutal. In the highly publicized poster art, which divulges a key aspect about Bruce Wayne/Batman’s butchery, we see Bane’s hulking figure walking away from a cracked-cowl. The “real” fight scene, which happens at halfway through the film, is as atrociously pitiless as it is mesmeric. It is a single instant, in a string of grandly-designed incidents that numb the audience into absolute submission.
In a separate, interconnected layer to Bane and Bruce is a neophyte “hot-head” cop, Jonathan Blake (a winning Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an orphan who walks up to Bruce’s home one day and tells him that he’s known about his cape and cowl. As the screenplay works out, the masks are an extension, and not a divergence, of Bruce or Bane or the velvety cat-burglar Selina Kyle’s (Anne Hathaway) inherent personalities.
“Rises” doesn’t need to label Selina Kyle under the moniker of “Catwoman” (and after the disastrous stand-alone starring Halle Berry, who would want to); Her role, as the roles of every single individual — whether Michael Caine’s trust-worthy father-figure-cum-butler, Morgan Freeman’s company chief and tech wizard, or Marion Cotillard’s philanthropist (and half-baked love-interest) – are precociously pre-composed. After all, this is the end of the era.