Of Hope and Futility: A review of The Dark Knight Rises.

There is very little that can be said about The Dark Knight Rises without spoiling something, so I want to preface this review by saying that if I do spoil anything in this review it is something that was in a trailer for the film or the first 20 minutes of the movie proper.

The theme of this movie revolves around the concept of hope, whether it be the hope of redemption or the use of hope as weapon. This is one of the aspects I cannot comment on too specifically but suffice it to say that there will be moments where you are exhilarated and want to shout at the screen in victory, and moments where you sink into your chair as things become bleaker by the moment.

While I am not on par with some of the eagle-eyed observers out there on the internet that see every facet and flaw of a film; Nolan’s final romp in Gotham makes no attempt at hiding the fact that Gotham’s real-life stand-in is New York City. The Statue of Liberty, an under-construction World Trade Center, and Sacs’ Fifth Avenue all make accidental appearances in the background throughout the film, as well as some key scenes being filmed on the streets of NYC with the word “Gotham” plastered over it.

At first I grinned at what I perceived as gaffs in editing and forgot about them. They must obviously be mistakes if Nolan spent the time to make a fully CGI rendering of Gotham City’s island in Batman Begins, right?

In any other comic book movie depicting a fictional city there is an automatic and immediate attempt in my brain to figure out which city they are using as Metropolis/Gotham/Fictional CityTownVille. It’s no secret that Gotham City is meant to be a direct reflection of the crime-ridden areas of Chicago and NYC. Gotham has been a nickname for New York for ages, but in Nolan’s creation this parallel serves a purpose: It draws you in as a viewer and suspends that veil of disbelief without suspending the fourth wall as well.

Near the beginning of the movie one of the main characters essentially comes out to Bruce Wayne and says “Listen, I figured out you were Batman years ago” and from that moment on the preconceived notions begin to fall apart. With this comes what could be argued as one of the more intense and powerful climaxes a movie based on a comic book character has delivered. The events that take place during the final half of the film are there to make the viewer consider the values that Wayne holds dearest when he dons the cowl, and the reality of the locations brings this message home the hardest.

While some of the plot devices still hold an echo of goofy comic book deus ex machina, they shadow something that could happen in real life and the fact that they happen in a real-life location with a thin layer of paint covering its identity makes it that much more real.

Spiderman has always been a part of New York City’s culture, but he’s a part of a culture along with Doctor Octopuss, Sandman, and a long list of veritably goofy villains. Iron Man may be a damn good Marvel character and Robert Downey Jr’s performance may be undeniably fun, none of it is believable. Superman represents nothing more than an anachronistic view of morality combined with aliens, magicians, and bored super-geniuses.

I believe that if a magically-funded terrorist organization were to do to New York what Bane does to Gotham, something extremely similar to the movie would take place, and that makes it all the more impressive.

This leads us to my other talking point: The bad guy.

Nolan’s villains each represent a primal lesson to be learned from their actions and Batman’s reaction to their presence. Bane is no different. This character, known for his bulked-up roid-rage from the comics, begins the movie with a special ops mission that rivals the skills James Bond showed off in the Skyfall trailer that had shown moments before. Bane is intelligent, strong, and intimidating.

I stress that last word because it has been quite a while since I was truly intimidated by a film character. Anton Chigurh and Ledger’s Joker are the only two characters that I can remember off the top of my head, and they claim that right because they both represent killers that have absolutely no remorse or moral code that can be reasoned with. Sociopaths.

Bane is just evil. Calm, controlled, planned evil. He believes he is righteous and there is nothing more powerful or deadly than that. Upon seeing the movie with my father he made the comment that he felt Bane is as threatening as Darth Vader was when he was a child, but on the premise that Bane’s mask does not make him, he is truly threatening and committing evil acts almost constantly while Vader was entirely defined by the mask and promise of evil.

Seven hundred and seventeen words later, I’m assuming you want my simple final word on this movie.

After two viewings something clicked in my head that hadn’t before: The Dark Knight Rises is essentially the punchline of the trilogy. Gotham’s fictionality fades as I stated earlier, Batman’s world changes in ways not expected, and the story comes to a full and final stop for Bruce Wayne in a satisfying manner that takes the audience through the moral implications of what drives a man to become a symbol.

While I highly suggest seeing this movie in IMAX for full enjoyment, a crappy mp4 version on somebody’s iPod several months from now would be worth watching it on. Nolan’s prior two movies allow him to pull out all the stops and deliver not just a good finale to a trilogy, but what may be one of the movies my generation will consider classics when we’re old and grey. I’m proud to say that I was there the night it came out, sitting with 500 other fans applauding, laughing, and crying together.

Comment (1)

  1. Cody J. Kempf

    You bring up a wonderful point. The idea that Gotham slowly bleeds through into New York. Although I think the Joker was the most realistic of the villains presented in the series while the final movie has a similar feel as the first movie, with a bit of the Joker’s intimidation thrown in.
    But it all came together as a great send off for the series, as you said.