As a superhero fan it has been an exceptionally good summer: we’ve had the Avengers and now we have the Dark Knight Rises. Spider-Man was ok, but I doubt I will ever seek it out to watch it again. The Dark Knight Rises, however, I had incredibly high expectations of. Expectations that it either met or surpassed.
When The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated for any real Oscar categories I was aghast (and what I think of Slumdog Millionaire has neither mellowed nor improved with time). If the Dark Knight rises is similarly snubbed, despite my cynicism, I will be apoplectic. The Dark Knight is not just the best film of the trilogy, it’s a great piece of film making regardless of pedigree and genre.
As good as the Avengers is, and it is a truly excellent film, it doesn’t really have much in the way of metaphor, subtext and theme. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t just a film, it is a meditation on the power of myth, on symbolism, desperation, freedom and anarchy. If you thought the Dark Knight was cerebral, Rises builds on it (and, oddly, moreso upon Batman Begins) to actually say something while reflecting the mood of the times and creating something that is primal and likely to become timeless.
The film opens with Gotham no longer needing Batman, having found security and order on the back of a lie born of the events of the last film. The Mayor is milking it for all it’s worth, Gordon is ill at ease and wrestling with his own conscience, and Bruce Wayne has retreated from the public eye to live a half existence in his mansion. There are strong echoes of the Dark Knight Returns, but this retirement feels logical and emotionally satisfying. The main players have adapted (or not) in different ways because they have had to.
When he believes that there is a need for Batman to return Bruce relishes in the moment in a way that makes perfect sense in both the movie milieu and with nods to the comics. There is a foreshadowing of the horror to come, but it is a stirring and resonant resurrection. We want him to be the force he once wants, but a large part of the film is actually about how he can’t be and the sacrifices he has to make in order for Batman to be a force for good in a world that has grown more desperate.
Gotham itself is soon far more unruly than ever before, its villains more pervasive and entrenched in the fabric of the city. The city is nearly pulling itself apart and it seems as much as the Batman and his allies can do to prevent its complete destruction, rather than returning it to status quo. It’s an end to a legend in much the same way as the destruction of the round table or Hood firing his last arrow from his death bed. But it isn’t just about the legend of one man, of the myth of his actions, it’s about something more fundamental and more universal: it’s a film about humanity trying to survive in general.
There are other themes too, of the importance of legacy, of abandonment and of family. Of duty and sacrifice. It’s stirring and emotionally resonant, with the action incredible not just because of the spectacle but because of the stakes and motivation. The film elicits far more than mere excitement.
The cast, to the last, is excellent. Bale is as good as ever, Morgan Freeman sly and funny, Anne Hathaway is an absolute revelation as Selina Kyle and Marion Cotillard takes what could have been a simplistic role and infuses it with subtlety and nuance. The stand out, however, is Michael Caine. With an earnest, simple power he is the emotional heart of the film and shows the effect on humanity of the events in the film.
Nolan seems to bring out the best in everybody he works with. Throughout his career he has teased out incredible performances. More than just his people skills, he crafts and tells stories of complexity and texture. He also films with an epic sweep married to a clarity that makes the events seem more real and more akin to a documentary than the camera tricks of other directors. He presents us a truth of believable visuals and complex people and events. It makes for a persuasive and engaging whole and is yet another reason that the film is so good.
It’s a truly great film, one I can’t wait to see again. And again. I just dread to think what it will lose to at the Oscars.