2008’s The Dark Knight is one of those rare sequels that is not only considered the equal of the original (Batman Begins), but actually seems to overshadow its predecessor. The only similar case I can think of might be The Road Warrior with its sprawling post-apocalyptic mythos seeming to redefine the world established in the original Mad Max. With The Dark Knight Rises, I was surprised to see a final act that not only surpasses both its predecessors, but serves to unite all three films into a remarkably cohesive and masterful trilogy.
Christopher Nolan co-wrote and directed all three installments, taking breaks betwixt to make little one-off indie projects like The Prestige (2006) and Inception (2010). He drew much of his inspiration from Frank Miller‘s reinvention of the caped crusader in 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns, but it’s not a direct adaptation. The overall tone is darker and, in many respects, less fantastical than most superhero stories have tended to be. This new take has been so critically and financially successful, that some Hollywood producers have taken it as the holy gospel on how to reboot any franchise. Results have been mixed.
No doubt some of you dear readers will have already seen The Dark Knight Rises in the theatres. To the rest of you, I’m a little reticent to spend many lines describing specific plot points. This film introduces four major new characters: the new villain Bane (an excellent Tom Hardy as a sort of Mujahadeen Darth Vader), the cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway–yes, she’s Catwoman), savvy rookie cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and corporate board member/philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, who I would have pegged as the next Catwoman after Nolan put her in Inception). Beyond that, all I will say is that I recommend watching both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before diving into The Dark Knight Rises. The third act references the first much more than I anticipated, so it’s good to have a passing familiarity with it.
The themes Nolan has been playing with all along crystallize quite well here. Bane and his ilk have an agenda built on paranoia, anarchist philosophy, and the false populist ideals of failed despotic regimes. Arrayed against him are seemingly fragile and sometimes taken for granted forces like the rule of law and public trust in government. Though Gotham City is ostensibly a fictional village, Nolan’s evocation of New York City, in the post-September 11 era, is very effective. He reminds us that civilization is built upon great cities, and that a great city can be a much bigger and more communal place than we appreciate sometimes.
Then there’s Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. the Batman. His superpower has always been his money, which obviously is what enables his high-tech crime fighting hobby. But Nolan has explored the themes of class and privilege a good deal further than that, looking at the typical mindset that abuses wealth as well as the rare public-minded patrician philosophy that uses it for good. As dark and foreboding as these movies are, there’s no shortage of nobility in the streets and towers of Gotham alike. Some of us remember seeing these weighty issues tackled with gravity and heartfelt candor by Adam West. But for today’s generation, this is pretty darn good too. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 12/4/12