It’s thorny without the spectre of the events in Colorado hanging over it, and it’s certainly even thornier now. I considered ignoring the elephant in the room when considering how to focus on Christopher Nolan’s latest, and then realized that it was almost impossible. But, if you will indulge me for the time being, I will touch on that more towards the end of this review. So, how then is the wrap-up to this highly artistic, completely unconventional blockbuster trilogy? It’s difficult to categorize. It’s unwieldy and wildly ambitious. It’s not for the kiddies, despite it being marketed as mass entertainment. And there is very little Batman to be had. It may also be one of the best films of the year, although it may take me until December to decide that definitively. “The Dark Knight” sat atop my “Ten Best of 2008” list, narrowly edging the extraordinary “Synecdoche, New York”. In the end, my barometer ending up relying on the issue of “zeitgeist”. “The Dark Knight” captured that in spades, even more so when considering the loss of Heath Ledger months in advance of its summer release. “The Dark Knight Rises” is not the equal of its predecessor, but it is a more than fitting conclusion. Terrorism and fascism, identity and its transmogrification, light and dark, Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street, seclusion and renewal. It’s got an awful lot on its mind. Any serious film-goer has to see it. Any film-fanatic has to view it more than once. It’s a challenging work that contains some wonderful pay-offs. You haven’t experienced this many climaxes since the last section of Peter Jackson’s “Rings” trilogy.
We are now eight full years after Batman ran off into the night , pursued and wounded by police, following his takedown of the unhinged Harvey Dent. And no one has located him since. The loyalty and unshakeable dignity of Commissioner James Gordon(Gary Oldman)keep him from exposing the corruption of Dent after his post-disfiguring duality, and so Harvey is held up to the masses as a hero. Gotham has seen a precipitous drop in crime after some new laws are enforced following the passing of the Dent Act. But there is a new monster in town…and this one doesn’t wear a purple jacket. Bane(“Warrior””s Tom Hardy), after being introduced in a boffo opening action set-piece, descends upon the city and seriously injures Commish Gordon upon his arrival. Bane intends to take over the stock exchange, cut Gotham off from the rest of the world, and bestow all power on the 99%. Oh, and he’ll soon annihilate the metropolis completely with an unstable nuclear device. Meanwhile, a reclusive Bruce Wayne(the now Academy Award winning, Christian Bale)is visited by three very important new players. Officer John Blake(Joseph Gordon-Levitt)is an incorruptible cop who is taken under the wing of Gordon. He tries to coax Bruce Wayne out of his mansion hideaway and also makes Mr. Wayne very aware that he knows exactly who he is. Also, Bruce nabs “cat” burglar(hint, hint)Selina Kyle(the spot-on and increasingly impressive Anne Hathaway)during a Wayne Manor public function after she connives her way into his bunker under the guise of a new maid. Wayne catches her robbing his vault, but she then manages to acrobatically escape. And businesswoman Miranda Tate(Marion Cotillard)who is pulling some strings for Wayne Enterprises while the boss remains in hiding. Both woman are mysterious beauties, and the two of them manage to help and hurt Wayne in a variety of ways. The arc of all of these newcomers is eventually given perfect realization as things conclude. And with the continued aid of Alfred Pennyworth and Lucious Fox(Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, respectively…btw, man there are a lot of Oscars among this cast!), Batman is eventually able to rediscover his mojo, get back the “eye of the tiger” and return to the front. All after recovering from some disabling injuries and some Bane-induced imprisonment, of course.
Really, “The Dark Knight” was an impossible act to follow, and much of this film coasts on the resonance of the former. If it sometimes plays like an epilogue, you should remind yourself that it is an epilogue. And every time I was positive I had pinned the direction it was going, it found another way to remind me that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. At times this movie seems all over the map. But it’s a controlled chaos, and it looks absolutely splendid in retrospect. Your hindsight will surely be 20/20, and you’ll have full realization of why Nolan skillfully worked to lead you astray. He’s much more of a maestro with this than with his overrated and over-analyzed last effort(“Inception”). Whether he likes it or not, Batman is his true legacy. Tim Burton is already forgotten. Joel Schumacher was a deranged interloper. Nolan gave a comic book creation a soul onscreen. And while the studios will never let the franchise fade away, I fear we will never witness this level of artistic quality again. Don’t fret when “The Dark Knight Rises” leads you into a lightless alley. When you finally arrive at journey’s end, you’ll shake your head as to how you considered yourself lost in the first place. Mr. Nolan was two steps ahead of us the whole way. And he’s a mad pied piper of immense gifts and a reservoir of patience. The types of tragedies like that which unfolded in Aurora this past Friday, have unfortunately woven themselves into the fabric of our culture. And this disturbed individual, if only by his alleged choice of moniker when surrendering to police, has apparently tried to enter himself into the Batman universe in his own sick way. This crime will be discussed and dissected for days and weeks to come, and there will continue to be as many questions along with some eventual answers. People are vastly more important than any film or film series. Superheroes in masks and capes are only imaginary after all, while demented villains, on the other hand, are all too real. I think the full scope of this horrendous happening is currently beyond my reach. So, my focus will remain on the film and the film alone. And it’s a damn good film. And, for now, I’ll leave it at just that.