{film} the dark knight rises


A length of rambling in which I curb a rant into a review…


In a call from the daughter (newly 12) during her visit in the land of entrapment, she says, “Don’t be mad but I saw The Dark Knight Rises.” She, like many close to me, know how I feel about violence in media and my concerns as to the daughter’s exposure to it. I am by no means perfect in this matter, but that The Dark Knight (2008) was PG-13 as well, reminds me that “parental guidance” is there for a reason and I would want to view the film first. The things-we-tell-ourselves in this instance (that I feel comfortable repeating here anyway) is: “Well, at least it wasn’t as violent as The Dark Knight.”

It was a feat by Christopher Nolan and Tom Hardy to make Bane as, if not more, terrifying than the Joker. But I am wondering if the “less violent for audiences” argument holds; because while my daughter may see the creepy Joker masks around Halloween and hear of lone madmen running about terrorizing a city, how much more familiar are the occasions of a man in the mask entering a public or private space and opening fire? Alongside fire drills and storm drills, they practice “lock-downs” at school for a very real reason.

At the end of The Dark Knight we get that heart-warming moment where the people of Gotham, both criminal element and upright, choose not to play the Joker’s game and kill the other–we’ve no such warm fuzzy in The Dark Knight Rises. Those scenes of looting and pulling people out of hiding or sending them into “exile,” those were the citizens of Gotham. The horror I felt in watching Bane and the antics of he and his league differed from the Joker, but make no mistake—there was horror. That scene of those men hanging from the bridge?!—you caught that echo didn’t you? I was physically ill. N may not have these particular references, but she is engaged in conversations of protest, rioting, and terrorism.

In both Dark Knights a different sense of extremist portraiture is used to purposefully plays upon our collective fears, even as both stem from a similar ideas: chaos, anarchy, extremism, and terrorism. Joker wants to see the world burn for the sake of the desire to do so. Bane and the League of Shadows are zealots of another sort. Joker is an enigma with no origin, no traceable presence. Bane is born of circumstance. A key conversation in The Dark Knight Rises is that each have been created out of some past event, impacted significantly by their earlier environs.  If the Joker is about nature, Bane, and Batman included, is about nurture. Even as shootings in public spaces have a senselessness, we do have a notion that monsters are created. Why else do we begin digging into backgrounds for explanation? Where we would be more likely to look to mythological tales for characters like the Joker, we’ll find Bane in the local newspaper.


The Dark Knight Rises works as a cautionary tale. A violent uprising has consequence and often a leader with another agenda. Wow, how I love the temperance here, that Bane’s bid for violent retribution is not seated in the rhetoric he feeds the people. Here, the masked man reveals the hearts of some and the fleecy quality of others.

We (of the 99% who acknowledge our not-1%-edness) are to find sympathies with Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) who warns her wealthy dance partner, “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” And with Selina, we linger over the broken picture frame and the smiling family captured there. This wasn’t the change she was really seeking. She was only looking for an opportunity to be liberated from her constraints: social, work, and gender status (to name a few). Selina pulled herself up by her bootstraps–a complication in the film, because they are the boots of a cat burglar. But it is the wielding of her sexuality that is the most painful turn in the film. It is so quiet because she uses it so negligibly, but the young blond friend she protects expresses Selina’s own fragility. Selina Kyle desires only to dictate life on her own terms, not survive it by the terms of others, which we see as being ever denied her by men in power. –until Bruce Wayne, who finds his mother’s pearls worthy of Selina. What do we do with the wealthy Mr. Wayne?

Audience’s other avatar is Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), someone who believes in order, justice, freed-thought, and making the hard decisions with and for the people. He also cares for the most vulnerable in our society. The film does not encourage the viewer to lead or join a violent uprising, instead, finding a rising within the self as Blake has. Feeling orphaned and disenfranchised by your peers or society? There are two tracks and we want to take the better and higher road, not the one with a scarecrow on the judge’s bench. But the film is hardly one in which to find a solution. Batman refuses to kill, but it is a bullet from another that takes out Bane. In Batman Begins, he doesn’t kill Ducard (Liam Neeson) but he doesn’t have to save him either. There is that happy ending, and what our beloved characters are able to create for themselves out of the uprising Bane and others instigate. Batman’s fall after The Dark Knight does not actually release him as this film does. And how is Blake able to become but through opportunities: being good and free-thinking, being in the right place at the right time, networking,…chance? The Batman trilogy doesn’t leave our culture alone in its closing.

As an after-school-special The Dark Knight Rises would tell the viewer to consider any leadership’s agenda and personal motives—and consider your own while you are at it; create only and any good from the torments of your past; nurture your intellect and your own powerful will to love your neighbor. Sean and I re-watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight after this last film and we remarked upon the frustration with Rachel, how grating her piety was, but also how she never really got Bruce Wayne/Batman. By the 3rd film, Batman had arrived. He truly was willing to give everything to Gotham City. His socialist tendency is as important to him as the maintenance of his arsenal. {I use the term “socialist” appropriately understanding that you understand the differences. The term socialism can be used in positive contexts, my American sisters and brothers.}

Politics, anyone?…I had this great but brief conversation on facebook yesterday with a Mr. Shane Atwood who makes some intriguing reading on the political exploration in The Dark Knight Rises. I was mentioning something about the mislabeling of Joker as Socialism after the second film (and in an anti-Obama campaign), when Joker is an anarchist and Batman would be the one to be labeled Socialist, if anyone. Shane noticed: “I thought the latest movie did a good job portraying Bain as an extremist libertarian. Right up to including the fantasy that civil courts will solve all the problems of society.” My comment in between was less interesting.

Shane: “The cat woman I thought was a pretty spot on parody of the Occupy people too. That’s what was interesting to me. The movie certainly didn’t endorse her views about taking from the rich. It also sort of blended opposing ideologies I thought. Generally the agorists and anarcho-capitalists aren’t into the idea of forcing equality. When Bain had taken the city, Cat Woman’s friend seemed perplexed and asked her why she was upset, “isn’t this what you wanted?” I thought the mixing of the idea of wealth redistribution and anarchy was curious. If anything, it seemed like it was in favor of keeping things the way they are, not making drastic changes with more or less government. Very complicated politically.”

The film, and the trilogy, is complicated politically. Much of the pleasure of the trilogy are the conversations one can have with the film and with each other. Don’t get me wrong, the films can be sheer sport adrenal-wise.

How about adrenaline….The gadgetry, the vehicles, the car chases and explosions, the bare-knuckle brawling and tension, The Dark Knight Rises should not let the viewer down. Add the scores Hans Zimmer created for the film and its gorgeous application and you are guaranteed some thrilling moments. You’ll notice that much of the film is shot in reasonably-lit venues and daylight hours. Besides snow and heat, the elements are hardly torturous in ambience. There is no hiding and there is no blaming it on the weather. Countering expectation is, of course, unsettling, so while the devisement of light and set works thematic, there is a disturbance it plans to mine. By no means a perfect film, a few transitions feel startling, and some may worry over length, but short of ordering a smaller drink, it doesn’t have the laboriousness of that prolonged ending inThe Dark Knight.

Casting….Since this is already lengthy, I will be as brief as I can about characterization and casting. I will begin with the one everyone is talking about. Ms. Hathaway as Selina Kyle in a new Hollywood portrayal as Catwoman. Followers of Hathaway are not surprised by her range, but her followers are worth considering. Casting Hathaway lends the character to a nice breadth of the films population. There are suggestions with Catwoman, and I like that insanity is not one of them, nor is all-out victimization.

Ah, Christian Bale, how I love thee. You have complicated Batman for the Nolan boys quite beautifully I think.

I have been hearing many a praise for Gary Oldman with a tone of surprise. Oldman is brilliant, and much of the response from this trilogy is in the way the progression of the character Gordon has been handled. He does helpless but determined so magnetically that I find him inspiring. It is hard in this last installment to see his return to a more tremulous footing (such as we first found him) stuck in a most difficult ethical situation. As with characters like the wealthy Bruce Wayne (and his parents, and a few board members), Gordon gives us an image of that complicates the institution and structure he represents. But then, Batman is all about exploring the shades of gray and the shadows things and people cast. It is fitting that the 3rd and final installment should expose everyone and make glaring those internalized landscapes.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I am glad to see people discovering or rediscovering JGL. You have a fantastic library with which to catch up on this marvelous actor (though I must warn you about Hesher). I didn’t know who Blake was supposed to be in the film going in. I figured he would be the believer in Batman, the one to interject on his behalf and have the youthful idealism. I was not wrong.What I appreciated was how youthful idealism did not translate as naïve. Sure, he was a bit hard on Gordon (whom he models as a younger version in ways) and a bit overly optimistic while audiences cringed to warn him, but Blake is savvy and he isn’t untruthful (“You betrayed everything you stood for.”). He is also courageous, which I think should not go without saying. Matthew Modine as Foley does simpering and misguided well, and he rises admirably. It is tricky in an action film to get good development of a character down without reading a file which belies their most noble characteristics. Nolan had and used two to three films for some characters; but for those within a singular (albeit long) span, he focuses on characterization within the thematic boundaries and it works. Take cultural norms, violate or emphasize them, and cast the hell out of it. The film doesn’t even leave the child actor for the Prison sequences to chance.

Nolan hit the gold mine with villains for his trilogy. I tend to shrug when Tom Hardy’s name comes up.  I do not dislike him by any means, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. The sound in our viewing was fantastic, music and vocals balanced, and Bane’s speeches recorded into the intelligible but weird (my personal reaction).Tonal and inflection issues aside, Bane was imposing, and singular. There is that exchange near the end that would create nobility or romance out of some alternate storyline, and then then the moment is squashed, because Bane is.

A body who comprehends story and can be led away from the horrors into a quaint Italian cafe, will find a restfulness at the end that subdues plenty the film’s agitations. But the agitation returns as reality returns—at least for those who like to think about their viewing—and for those who have to sleep at night knowing that masked and unmasked extremists are real, as are our longings for positive change.

******************The Dark Knight Rises (2012)**********************

director: Christopher Nolan; story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer; Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan; based on Characters created by Bob Kane; music: Hans Zimmer; cinematography: Wally Pfister; editing by Lee Smith; produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, & Charles Roven; starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Gordon), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Marion Cotillard (Miranda), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake), Morgan Freeman (Fox).

Running Time: 165 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language

IMDb page.  Wiki link.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    Wow, fantastic thoughts. Makes me glad I didn’t bother to do a review as mine would have been more along the lines of “liked it a lot” rather than doing a lot of digging into the story, though I did do that in my own head.

    The Nolan Batman trilogy is arguably my favorite comic book movie franchise. Sure all the silliness expected of a comic book film are present in these three movies, but a credit to them is that at the end of the day I don’t remember the bat cycle or the rubber suit, I remember the way I felt about the characters and the things the film made me think about. This one was particularly poignant given the events on opening night and I have to say the violence in this one made me a bit ill as I contemplated the fate of those people when I saw the film just two days later.

    I wasn’t and still am not a fan of the 99% message in the film and was glad to see that they backed off of it some and didn’t hammer that home throughout the film. The issue has been way too simplified by folks on either side and the media has helped in dumbing things down and I don’t generally enjoy films that are that current with their messages. I prefer getting the same point more subtly and I think they did that as the film went on.

    For me the film was so much more about the characters when not in their masks and I liked that a great deal. I enjoyed seeing Bruce Wayne much more than Batman this time (although I enjoyed them both). I like the exploration of the character and especially enjoyed seeing it all through the eyes of JGL’s character (he was FANTASTIC!!!). I was very pleased with the cast as a whole and was so impressed with the way that the Nolan’s didn’t linger overly long on any character but just put them into the mix and allowed their stories to unfold. I get tired of “origin” films and didn’t feel at any time that I was getting too much of the back story spoon fed to me on any character. And given that I am really familiar with these characters I will say, without spoiling anything, that there were things I didn’t see coming and that was fun.

    Are the films too dark and violent. They certainly are for kids. I don’t like seeing kids see violence this “real”. And in some ways they are darker than my sensibilities prefer. It says something that despite my strong affection for these films I haven’t watched the second one outside of the theater and chose not to buy it. I probably won’t buy this one either. It certainly isn’t a judgment against anyone who does, more of a statement of how conflicted it makes me feel. And perhaps that is part of what the Nolan’s were going for.

    1. L says:

      When people bring there small ones into the theater (in this viewing they were as small as 3), I hope they do not sit anywhere nearby. It completely ruins the theater experience for me. It gets squidgy as they get older (like w/ N) because children differ (though I feel the need to argue “to a point”). I am with you on the Dark Knight–I have rarely watched it since the theater, and the other night, thinking we could watch them all–I was still squirming.

      “Origin” films are becoming exhausting, they can be fun, but in volume–ugh. Well-said on how Nolan does balance character’s face time and spends much of that time on their true faces, “allowing their stories to unfold.” They were very clever with Blake. I really liked that part of it.

      I, too, appreciated that they diffused a lot of the more transparent political rhetoric taken from our contemporary scene by complicating it with difficult scenarios and characterizations. It did make the film more palatable, more exploratory rather than push uncomfortable agendas on such a large and diverse audience.

      This is a great franchise, and the lines they took are the better ones. It was hard for N to resist the opportunity to see the film because she adores Batman, and we’ve talked extensively about these story-lines. I am less of a Superman fan, though I grew up on him and his stories, but I may be able to manage Man of Steele knowing Nolan and Goyer worked on the story before handing it off to Snyder. Mostly, I am now ready to take a break from the Superhero for a while… I haven’t seen any word on what Nolan is up to next, but I am excited for it.

      1. theokester says:

        A Fabulous and Well Stated review. Thanks.

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