The Dark Knight Rises | Christopher Nolan | 2012 | ★★★½
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after The Dark Knight ended. Now, the streets of Gotham are safer because of an act passed in honor of Harvey Dent, and things seem to be going just fine. However, there is an evil lurking in the sewers of Gotham, as Bane (Tom Hardy) an excommunicated member of The League of Shadows is plotting to destroy Gotham, just as Ra’s Al Ghul wanted in Batman Begins. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has become a shut-in who is just waiting for death to take him away. That is until two things happen that persuade him to once again become the “caped crusader.” One is the appearance of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) a cat burglar who is messing with the wrong people, and a visit from John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hothead cop who discovers Bane’s underground network and who inspires Bruce by telling him how he realized he was the Batman and how much that inspired him. And so, once Batman returns, Bane sets his plan in motion of making the city destroy its self by making the people rise against those with money and power, and Batman will face his most powerful foe(s) yet.
That sounds like a mess, doesn’t it? Well, in fact, it is. So, why, you may ask, do I consider this to be the best of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy? Because, finally, Nolan has made a Batman film that wants nothing else but to be a completely mindless and epic summer blockbuster. Batman Begins that the right mix of comic book fantasy and real-world look to make it stand out from any other superhero film that had been released up til then. The Dark Knight, despite the fact that it remains one of my favorite movies of 2008, is not quite so lucky. Although commendable for its technical efforts and Heath Ledger’s still-amazing performance it suffered on rewatches because once the awe of the first theatrical experience is gone you just start looking at things more closely. Plot wise it is a mess and it takes its self too seriously for such a messy movie. Nolan and his co-writers tried so hard to make this film transcend its sub-genre by trying to turn it into a deadly serious “what-if” scenario that at times, when it delved into the non-Joker comic book stuff it just looked silly. But with Rises, Nolan fixed these problems by doing-away with all that and gives us nothing but a good time at the movies.
We will never know in what way Ledger’s death affected Nolan’s plans for the franchise but from various interviews since TDK’s release and the fact that he says he is done with super heroes show that it affected his plans quite a bit, and it shows in the script. In addition to the messy plot and Nolan’s signature exposition vomit, there really is nothing thematically important about it. The events linking Gotham City’s happenings to the “Occupy” movements really is only there as a simple plot device and to give the illusion of depth so that his least demanding fans would be fooled once again into thinking it is one of the most politically important films of our time, which it is not. The script is really just an outline for Nolan to stage these completely unimportant but awesome sets pieces, and that is why the film ultimately worked for me.
Take the opening scene as an example of these unnecessary but great excesses. To simply kidnap a person, Bane and company set up this overtly-complex way to fake a death and crash a plane that involves dismantling the plane in mid air. Now, things didn’t need to be this complicated. In fact, we could have saved a few minutes if it had been staged any other way. But Nolan was given $250 million to make this movie a huge spectacle, and he did. Every other action scene was an unnecessary, from the first time the Batman returns, to the battle in front of city hall. But it doesn’t matter at all because those scenes are breathtaking in IMAX. They are fun, they are mindless, and add a little bit of sexiness every time Anne Hathaway’s amazing take on Catwoman is on screen, and you have one of the most memorable mindless blockbusters in recent memory. Really, this whole film was nothing but a training exercise for Nolan as he ventures into his next phase as a filmmaker.