Mark at the Movies: The Dark Knight Rises
I had the pleasure of watching The Dark Knight Rises on Monday, and I thought I might try my hand at reviewing it here on the blog. As you know I started this blog in order to become a better writer, and I think writing a movie review would be a good experience. A friend of mine once had the idea that we should start reviewing movies together, and though that never went anywhere we did have a couple of cool ideas on how we would do it. One that I’ll be utilizing here is a dual rating system: I’ll be rating the movies between one and ten based on Artistry and Entertainment. Artistry judges how well the movie is put together, whether it tries anything new and interesting, what emotions it inspires, and just how it holds up to examination as a unique work of art. Entertainment judges how much fun the movie is to watch, how exciting it is, how funny it is, and whether you feel satisfied with the experience as a whole. Those two measures will be in agreement less often than you might think. I think Schindler’s List is an incredible achievement of artistry, a masterpiece of cinema that touches on deep and important subjects; but if I just want a flick to watch on a Saturday night I’m probably going to pick something more like Pirates of the Caribbean. With that in mind at the end of the review I’ll score the movie in each category. Also, because I’m a nice guy, I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can.
The Dark Knight Rises is the final Batman movie that Christopher Nolan will be involved with. If there is another Batman movie in the future (and there probably will be; he is Batman, after all) it will almost certainly be a reboot of the series with a new Batman, a new Gotham, and a new take on the Batman mythos. Because of this Nolan has had a lot of freedom to end this movie however he wants to. He doesn’t have to leave room for a sequel, and this is his only opportunity to tie up any loose ends in the trilogy. It also gives him the unique opportunity to finish a superhero’s character arc. In comics (and in most superhero movie franchises) the writers cannot actually end the principal character’s story. If Peter Parker decides to quit being Spiderman then you can rest assured that he’ll change his mind within the week and go back to web slinging. If Superman dies (and he did, back in the nineties) then you know that they’ll find a way to bring him back to life. The reason for this is that comics (and movie franchises) rely on a continuous story and the longer that story runs the more valuable the characters become. Marvel is never going to say “Alright, that’s it, no more Spiderman, his story is finished” because that would be financially unsound; Spiderman is worth a lot of money and it doesn’t make sense for a comic book company to stop making comics about its most popular characters. This means that Nolan has a very unique opportunity here; he gets to tell us how the story of Batman ends. This movie promises us closure. I don’t think it is revealing too much to let you know that we get it. One way or another, Bruce Wayne’s story will end by the time the credits roll.
The fact that Rises is the last in the Nolan trilogy has caused many speculators on the internet to theorize that Batman is going to die. These rumors are helped by the fact that the movie’s principal villain is Bane. If you’ve never heard of Bane before that’s alright; he’s a pretty unimportant Batman villain, all things considered. Bane is really only famous for doing one thing in the comics; breaking Batman’s back. Batman almost dies because of it. So why would Nolan choose a b-list batman villain for his final film instead of someone more iconic like the Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, etc.? For a lot of people the answer is obvious: Bane is there because he’s going to break Batman’s back, and considering that it’s the last movie in the series it seems all the more likely that he’s going to kill him this time around. I’m not going to reveal whether any of those rumors are correct, or what actually happens in the film. I just think it’s important information to have before watching it. I believe I’m justified in saying so because the entire movie appears to be built around this question: “Is Batman going to die?” I wouldn’t find it hard to believe that Nolan intended for those rumors to spread because the effect on the movie as a whole is an excellent one. The fact that there is a very real possibility of Batman dying this time makes everything seem more exiting and suspenseful. We all knew that they wouldn’t dare kill Batman in Batman Begins or The Dark Knight; The fact that there are no guarantees this time around adds weight to the entire film.
Whether Bane was chosen just to cause this kind of audience reaction is something only Nolan knows. What I do know that many people, myself included, were disappointed to hear that Bain would be the main baddie. When the first trailers came out and I saw Bane stomping around in a parka with a very proper (almost British) accent I wasn’t sure what to think. The entire effect was a little silly. So if you were also worried about Bane as a villain let me reassure you: he works. He works very well. I have no idea how he stacks up with the comic book version of Bane, but this Bane is a villain that is enjoyable to watch and interesting to follow. He’s mysterious, charismatic, and frightening in power. He’s not the kind of villain who walks around pacing while yelling at minions, or the kind who’s (delightfully) over the top like the Joker. Instead he is the picture of a reserved, patient, and inspiring leader. You can tell a lot about a villain by the company he keeps; Ra’s al ghul‘s League of Shadows was made of disciplined and ruthless ninjas, reflecting his own disciplined, honorable, and unyielding personality. The Joker’s thugs consisted of nutjobs, psychopaths, and anarchists because his own fractured and eclectic personality attracted them like moths. Bane’s goons are simple men in rough and practical clothing with submachine guns and beard stubble, yet they act with a strange sense of pride, respect, and complete self-sacrifice to the cause. This reflects Bane himself, whose calm, patience, and total devotion to his mission belie his muscle-bound and thuggish appearance.
This review is too long already, so I’ll get down to the nitty gritty: The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie. It delivers on the promise of closure for Bruce Wayne, it has an excellent villain, and the plot (though arguably containing a little too many twists and turns) works well. When I left the theatre I was thoroughly satisfied. Nolan has created an excellent finale to his trilogy, and I have no real complaints. It’s not a perfect movie, but no movie is.
On the Artistic level I’d have to give the movie 7 out of 10. It finished Bruce Wayne’s character arc well, it’s well written, and the visuals are stunning. It’s not an artistic masterpiece, but for a blockbuster it’s far above par.
On the Entertainment level I’d have to give it 9 out of 10. The fights are exciting, the special effect excellent, there are never any boring moments, and the conclusion is satisfying. My only complaint is that the move does go a little long, so it won’t be a movie that will be easy to just casually watch when you have a couple hours free.
So that’s my take on The Dark Knight Rises. If you liked the first two movies at all, then this is one you cannot miss.