The Dark Knight Rises

It took me several weeks to work up the courage to see this movie. As soon as I heard about the premiere date, I was all set, all pumped, couldn’t wait to see how Christopher Nolan could possibly top The Dark Knight… and then the Colorado tragedy happened, and scared me shitless. I cried that morning, angry that a lunatic had taken away the trust we all have in each other inside the confines of a movie theater, and relieved that none of my friends who went to the premiere that night happened to live in Colorado. I’m still not completely over it, but weirdly enough, seeing The Dark Knight Rises after all, in a theater with strangers, did help. I wouldn’t necessarily see it again, though.

I’m not sure if it was the shooting and my subsequent paranoia that tainted this movie for me, or if it really just wasn’t as good as The Dark Knight. Probably a bit of both, I imagine. On the one hand, Heath Ledger owned The Dark Knight, and there were simply no comparative acting performances like his in The Dark Knight Rises. So in my mind his Joker (and thus his movie) will always reign supreme. The Dark Knight is a movie I own, a movie I love to re-watch, love to get into, love to admire. The Dark Knight Rises is a movie that needed to be made to finish the trilogy and the story, but one that emotionally drains its viewers. It’s a brutal three hours.

Sure, there were delicious shots, and it rarely dragged from a spectacle standpoint. That one image of Batman standing atop a statue, overlooking Gotham, stands out in my mind. It was beyond iconic. Plus, Hans Zimmer’s music does something to my bones that makes me want to stand up and scream, “THIS IS AWESOME!!!” every time I hear swelling brass. But I’m having a hard time shaking the fight scenes. Batman (Christian Bale) and Bane (Tom Hardy) beat the absolute shit out of each other, twice, with their bare-ish hands. It was downright disturbing, in a way I’ve never quite seen disturbing before. We watch war movies, where actors channel innocent young men fighting for their lives and some sort of cause, and then we see action movies, where actors play out choreographed battle scenes and wield technologically advanced play weapons. Somehow, the cro-magnon hand-to-hand combat in The Dark Knight Rises combined these two polar opposites and made them wholly unappealing. Batman and Bane became machines, barely human weapons, not even fighting for their “causes” anymore because they had abandoned them long ago. They were fighting to fight, which is even more terrifying because all the emotion leaves the situation and it remains a bloody skeleton of itself.

But let’s backtrack a little. Batman, at some point in the movie, did regain his humanity. And then he lost it. And then he got it back. It’s a little hard to follow. Bruce Wayne isn’t the warmest guy, so I’m not going to beat myself up about it (pun not intended, but sustained). The important thing is that Batman found it within himself to ditch the crippled rich guy act, rescue himself from a hellish pit prison, and ultimately save Gotham City. There’s heroism built into his story. Plus, it sucks that he fell for a traitor, so he gets a bit of our sympathy there. (Sidebar: I did not see Marion Cotilliard’s flip-flop act coming. Sometimes, suspending your disbelief can make things more fun!)

Bane, on the other hand, I can’t even wrap my mind around. Plenty of jokes have been made about his indecipherable basso profundo Yoda-speak, so I won’t travel too far down that road. Suffice it to say, it was hard to take him seriously with the bad guy standard set
so incredibly high by Ledger. And yet I found Bane absolutely terrifying! Even more terrifying than the Joker! What the hell? My only way of explaining it is that I was unable to see Bane’s mouth, and therefore unable to read him at all. The Joker, though he was pure evil, was a fraction of a human being, in the sense that he experienced emotions that were visible on his face. He might even humor you for a second with witty repartee before blasting you. But Bane, Bane was a human machine. Bane spoke in calculated sentences and destroyed everything in his path, and was not remotely fun to watch on screen. Tyra Banks claims to be able to express emotions with her eyes, but I think it’s a load of crap. I’ve always found more expression and subtlety in the mouth, and comparing the Joker and Bane this way is basically just unfair. Bane had no emotions, not even when his backstory was revealed. He was a P90X’d Jason in an Abercrombie and Fitch duster, and I am pissed that I found him scary.

So when these two fight each other on such a base level, I couldn’t take it. It didn’t seem right for two Goliaths to be fighting each other David-style. And for this kind of violence to be glorified on an IMAX screen… well, it gives me shivers.

I enjoyed Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, of course. She put Chuck Norris to Republican shame with all of her high-heeled roundhouse kicks, and she made Christian Bale look really lame for not having as much fun with his role. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine did what they came to do, which is Spout Wisdom. Not much to be said there. I also enjoyed the bit parts from Thomas Lennon (not a gynecologist this time!), Aiden Gillan (not a politician this time!), Desmond Harrington (still a cop this time!), and that one guy from The Hour (still creepy this time!). But if anyone gets to “own” this movie, it’d have to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He was a little awkwardly set up for the next flick in the last 20 minutes, what with all the “Robin” exposition, but his turn as Blake was strong and collected. His signature boyish smile was gone, replaced with a multi-layered cynical sneer and occasional appearances of last-resort hope, and I think he’s such a great choice to carry on the franchise, wherever it goes next.

I want to end this post on a happy note, even if the movie was largely sinister. A wildly entertaining, spectacular three hours of sinister, mind you, ones that I’m glad I spent on this movie but won’t revisit for a long time. I’ll just say that, like in The Dark Knight Rises, Bale got to deliver the one funny line of the film in his throaty Batman voice. Back then, it was, “At least I’m not the one wearing hockey pants.” This time, when Catwoman disappears on him, he mutters, “So that’s what that feels like.” Well played, Dark Knight.