Batman goes out strong in final 'Dark Knight' film
Watching something like "The Dark Knight Rises" come to fruition has instilled within me feelings similar to that of watching "The Avengers" earlier this year. The sense of amazement in watching a seven year project reach its grand finale is awe-inspiring and epic on a level that is rarely seen in modern filmmaking. Watching a man and his friends and allies making a journey from his childhood to his middle aged adulthood fulfilling what he believes to be his destiny, hitting incredible highs and depressing lows in his life along the way is a beautiful treat seldom brought full circle within any given medium. The only thing that makes reaching the finale of Bruce Wayne's journey from victimized child to defender of Gotham City more glorious is the revelation that said finale is an incredible addition to the superhero genre, one of the best films of the year so far and easily lives up to the legacy of its predecessors, despite being the most flawed film of its saga.
"The Dark Knight Rises" takes place eight years after the end of "The Dark Knight," forcing Batman into criminal fugitive status after taking the blame for a traumatized and corrupted Harvey Dent's crimes at the culmination of the Joker attacks. Suffering from the crippling injuries of his battle with Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne -Christian Bale- becomes a cane bound recluse in a Gotham that no longer needs his vigilante justice, due to Dent's posthumous prosecutions cleaning the streets of most organized crime. In the days following the eight year anniversary of the Batman's disappearance, his old unofficial partner Commissioner Gordon -Gary Oldman- uncovers a conspiracy led by a mysterious masked man named of Bane -Tom Hardy- who plans on leading a criminal revolution within Gotham, plunging the city into anarchy in order to tear itself apart.
After suffering an injury at the hands of Bane's henchman, Gordon sends the young and optimistic GCPD officer John Blake -Joseph Gordon-Levitt - to send word that the Batman must return to combat this threat. Meanwhile, Bruce investigates a robbery from his own bedroom by up and coming cat burglar Selina Kyle -Anne Hathaway- who mischievously warns Bruce that a revolution is coming to Gotham that will change the social order permanently.
Christopher Nolan has made a film epic in scope and storytelling, tying into and expanding upon many of the themes of "Batman Begins" rather than rehashing ideas from "The Dark Knight" despite using its events and aftermath to place its titular character into the status quo of "The Dark Knight Rises." Bruce is at the lowest point of his life; his childhood love is dead, he's physically crippled by his previous life, and the symbol of hope that he created for his people has now been demonized by the mistakes of others. Bale's portrayal of a retired physically and psychologically damaged veteran caught between a place of accepting his limitations and moving on with his life and the obsession of ignoring them and fighting his cause to the death is intensely gripping and far from the air of lighthearted fun that most summer films try to inspire.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is, first and foremost, a very dark drama. The ludicrous world of Batman as portrayed by the film may be grounded in our reality but it is the gravity that these characters assign to the stakes of the battle that make this as dark as it is. Michael Caine returns as Bruce's trusted butler and father figure, Alfred, who has finally had enough of watching Bruce's one man war against crime tear him apart. His scenes of desperately convincing Bruce to let go of the Batman persona are genuinely touching and almost caused me to tear up more than once. Oldman's performance as Commissioner Gordon, guilt ridden by the decision to betray his only true ally in saving Gotham, fully sheds his role as the dark horse of the ensemble cast, taking up a more prominent role in the plot in the second half of the film.
The entire cast easily gives some of the greatest performances of their entire careers. Bane is an incredibly imposing figure, with a back ground that is sure to throw many a viewer for a loop and Hathaway's portrayal of Catwoman steals every scene that she's a part of. It's almost a shame that she isn't utilized more. Even the smaller roles of Morgan Freeman as Bruce's armourer, Lucius Fox, and Marion Cotillard as Wayne Industries business partner, Miranda Tate, are given dedicated time to develop beyond side character status to feeling like real people.
The scope of the screenplay and Nolan's tight direction of the incredible performances of the cast and the fantastic eye for action are stunning from start to finish and I frequently found it increasingly difficult to turn away from the screen. The balancing act that the film plays with so many different plotlines and characters ultimately culminates in a roughly 40 minute climax featuring some of the most incredible filmmaking that I have ever seen for a Hollywood film and an ending that satisfies without pandering. Sadly, in order to achieve such a payoff, the film had to sacrifice quite a bit in terms of pacing and writing sporadically throughout the film.
The first half of the film, in introducing the many elements necessary to study Bruce Wayne's character in such detail, is incredibly slow. The incredible acting goes a long way in distracting the audience from how much needs to be established in order for the second half to work so effectively. As such, much of the development needed to stay interested in these plot threads does not come until much later in the film.
Furthermore, despite his menacing presence, there's just no hiding that Bane's character is slightly underwritten for his role. Hardy does the absolute best he can with the inability to use facial expressions but at his best, he is a scary, yet intelligent threat with little character depth and at his worst he skews his performance a bit towards the hammy side. His voice modulator is generally easily understood but can lapse into incomprehensibility at times.
Hardy's voice distortion coupled with Bale's infamous Batman voice can unfortunately create some unintentionally hilarious moments as well, particularly towards the end of the film, in which, Bane and Batman come to their final showdown. This complaint is relatively small but in a film that is over two and a half hours long, that I found myself taking completely seriously, watching the overly gruff and raspy Bale try to interrogate an exhausted Hardy was so incomprehensible, I almost wanted to laugh and cry at how a scene can be shot and acted so incredibly well and yet fail to be understood because of the voice gimmicks of the actors.
The film is peppered here and there with minor plot holes that are sadly more noticeable than one would want them to be. There is sadly no denying that for all of the heights that this film reaches, its writing probably needed at least one more edit before moving forward to production. These are flaws that would have easily sunken a lesser film but the execution of "The Dark Knight Rises" manages to overcome these minor errors and deliver the grand finale that this series has rightfully earned. The end of "The Dark Knight" saga is tense, thrilling, emotional and unlike any other blockbuster ever made.
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