[SPOILER ALERT: I will attempt to avoid spoilers here but there is a slight chance that I may throw one in so caveat emptor.]
In a the forward to his recent book (I am waiting for it to come from Amazon), The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy, director Christopher Nolan asks “how many good sequels are there?” A valid question when you think about it. T2 was great, but T3 blew chunks. Return of the Jedi disappointed all of us after the mastery of Empire Strikes Back. Need I even mention Spiderman 3 or Matrix Revolution? So, with all the hype, we were all wondering, would Nolan be able to pull a hat trick? Would he be able to take one of the biggest comic book heros and make three extraordinary films? I have to say that the answer is yes. The story that runs through Batman Begins and The Dark Knight concludes spectacularly in The Dark Knight Rises. There are a few nit-picky details that I’ll mention, but overall, this is an exceptional piece of cinema and a fitting and appropriate conclusion to the Nolan/Bale tandem.
The NSFCCDP was reduced by summertime to a group of three for TDKR, m.poulet, total.com and myself. We chose the Max Linder theater for several reasons: the best THX sound system in Paris, the widest screen in the city, and the fact that it was not dubbed (VO (version originale- English track with French subtitles) as opposed to VF (version francaise – dubbed in French with English subtitles)). This is, of course, one of the founding principles of the NSFCCDP along with proximity to my flat and to bars and that it was definitely a “guy” movie being the other ones. I purchased tickets three days in advance and we were in line about 90 min before the movie and it was a good thing because there was a massive crowd by the time the doors opened. There was lots of anticipation surrounding this film here in Paris. Well, no Batman costumes though and no Bane wannabes either thank heavens.
The movie starts out strong with an amazing aerial scene where we meet Bane and are impressed by his violence and the fanatical devotion of his followers as well as a cameo from Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones (he plays the devious Petyr Baelish). Now, if we compare Bane to the previous Nolan bad guys, he is probably physically stronger than Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, or the Joker and nearly as intelligent as the Joker. In terms of evil, he is more of a terrorist and ideologist along the lines of the Joker but without any sense of humor. The amplified voice he uses through the mask tends to be a little bit distracting at times but adds a sort of Darth Vader feel to the character. Like for the Joker (despite the ambiguous contradictions in his two accounts of his facial scarring in The Dark Knight), we learn of how he turned into this pitiless, violent monster. Interestingly enough, we also learn quite a lot about Ra’s al Ghul as well. That is one of the very strong aspects of the trilogy actually, it does all fight very tightly together as a complete and nearly coherent story. Now, if I can nitpick just a little about Bane, there were two particular episodes that bothered us a bit in the film. (1) The latter part of Bane’s prison speech was pretty lame. I mean the first part was great, but at one point, they should have just dropped it. Plus, as m.poulet pointed out over beers afterwards, if he really believed his anarchist ranting, he probably would have taken a far more violent approach to the storming of the Gotham trading floor earlier in the movie. (2) Near the end of the movie, Bane loses his ferocity considerably. He is shaken by the appearance of Batman and as we learn some interesting things about the relationship of Bane to some other key characters in the movie, he becomes like a little puppy dog. It just seemed a bit strange that his determination and single-minded violence could be unraveled so quickly and easily. Now, don’t get me wrong, the character was exceptional and the story line was relatively coherent, but I just found those two aspects a little odd. I still feel that pound-for-pound, the Joker – and particularly Heath Ledgers incredible performance – over the top and surpasses Bane, but to Tom Hardy’s credit, one must admit that Heath is just one helluva role and legend to follow and I am more than satisfied at Bane as a bad guy.
As for the special effects, they were so well-knit into the overall movie that it was incredibly hard to tell when we were looking at synthetic images and when we were looking at real camera work. It was truly amazing and beautiful from an aesthetic point of view. The arial views of Gotham and its near destruction, The Bat, the costumes…the visual impact of this film is astounding and is in perfect sync with the soundtrack. As with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the work that Nolan’s teams did to create a seedy, chaotic atmosphere is hard to describe but quite realistic. Also, Gotham itself is a character in the movie, always on the brink of being unsalvageable and yet finding a hero and a hope when the bad guys seem to destroy both. As much as I reveled in the visual effects in Prometheus, I found them even more authentic and convincing in The Dark Knight Rises.
The other peculiar aspect of the movie and its ties back to the previous members of the cycle is the motivation of the bad guys. Many bad guys have relatively simple motivations: money, greed, power…all of it for personal gain and gratification at the expense of the victims of the crime. With the exception of Jonathan Crane’s insanity (and his superb return in TDKR), each of the trilogy bad guys was driven by some dark principle: Ra’s al Ghul wanted to destroy Gotham because it represented the evil that the League of Shadows was supposedly created to stamp out, the Joker wanted to descend Gotham into pure chaos so that it would ressemble his own twisted mind (and he proves his point by burning the stack of money much to the shock of the watching mobsters), Bane has motivations of revenge (ok no spoiler here) as well as some twisted anarchist/terrorist ideals. None of them really acted out of pure ambition but rather out of fanaticism. Is Nolan sending us a message about our society and the financial crisis? He seemed to be somewhat explicit about that in TDKR at one point.
Now a few more rants – but with no plot giveaways. How does one get from somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan back to Gotham in a few days with no money and no passport? What was that explosion near the end? How does Batman go from barely-can-walk-with-a-prosthetic-device to galavanting-and-generally-kicking-ass from one scene to the next? And one funny moment, the “Where is the trigger?” actually made me laugh because of the videos that one of my students from a few weeks ago pointed out and I mentioned in the Batman Begins article – it was a comical reminder of the “Where are the drugs?” scene from that movie.
Overall, this is the best movie I have seen this year by a longshot. Even Avengers looks shallow and hollow compared to the depths and textures in TDKR. It is a shame that we have to bid goodbye to Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman, but we have quite a monument to treasure as a result.