Let’s just get this out of the way right now, if you have no interest in reading my open love letter to one of the best directors of this generation and how his humanizing treatment of arguably the greatest comic book hero of all time has made me believe in the strength of humanity, then go somewhere else and be entertained. The Dark Knight Rises is quite possibly the greatest ending to a trilogy of films ever told. Yep, better than Back to the Future III, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and yes – even Return of the Jedi. It’s simply that good, and it could not have been done without Christopher Nolan’s vision and direction.
The character of Batman has been such an important figure in my life, and even at nearly 26 years old, I still find myself geeking out over a new Batman t-shirt discovery or catching an episode of the original animated series that I some how missed. The character worship began when I was 5 or 6 years old and still goes strong. While I don’t know how accurate this is – and I might be attributing this to my love of the character but my drive to become a police officer could be a direct result of my love for everything that Batman is and stands for. That’s how deep the character and I go, it’s a connection that only siblings should have or maybe a father and son, but the love connection I have for everything that Batman is, is undoubtedly real. I’m not saying that I have some love connection with the actors who played the part of Batman/Bruce Wayne but it certainly helps when you have great artisans like Michael Keaton and Christian Bale playing the part.
Christopher Nolan’s tale of the Caped Crusader in his Dark Knight trilogy is the most realistic portrayal of a superhero we’re likely to ever see, at least anytime soon (as Nolan is walking away from the franchise). The Avengers was great fun and Marvel’s characters have always been a hoot to watch on screen but these Dark Knight films transcend genres, they became crime-dramas, character studies of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. Christopher Nolan might be a certified sociologist because his Batman franchise has made me question my humanity and what I would do in these life changing situations. What would you do when faced with a great evil? We’re not talking aliens coming through a blackhole from another dimension, we’re talking anarchist evil hellbent on destroying humanity for the sheer benefit of “realizing a vision”. From Ra’s Al Ghul, to the sociopath portrayal of the Joker, to now the most menacing character to ever take place on screen in Bane…they’re all done from a humanizing aspect.
From the onset of the first sequence in The Dark Knight Rises we’re introduced to the overwhelming scale of the film and its action set-pieces. The opening scene of Bane’s henchmen hijacking a CIA plane with another, much bigger, plane midflight was mesmerizing to watch for the pure enjoyment of realizing the scope of what’s unfolding. While Bane’s voice, at times, was pretty painful to understand his eyes told his entire story. There is a part towards the end of the movie where the emotion seen through Bane’s eyes is pretty powerful as you realize that Bane is doing everything for a greater, humanizing purpose – even if that purpose is completely flawed. You find yourself thinking that maybe Bane is human afterall. Tom Hardy was a perfect casting choice for the character of Bane as he knows how to deliver powerful body language without having to say a whole lot. Then there’s the first fight scene with the Batman where Bane gives his view on anarchy while completely kicking the Bats ass. It’s a joy to watch because we’ve never seen Batman more vulnerable than when you see him in that moment. That’s what makes this one of the best movies of all time, your views on comic books and superheroes have no bearing here, it’s all about being human. While Bane wreaks havoc on Gotham City by threatening to destroy it and the millions of citizens trapped within its limits, it’s on such a grander scope than when the Joker left the fate of two boatloads of people up to a choice between right vs. wrong. This time around Bane is playing for keeps and you always get the feeling that ultimately Bane does not care about what happens to anyone he encounters.
While Christian Bale’s performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne may be the best we’ve seen, the true stars of this film are Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon Levitt as Catwoman/Selina Kyle and Gotham PD officer Blake respectively. Hathaway plays Catwoman like the character was meant to be played; sexy, intelligent, and humorous. It’s another perfect casting choice by Nolan among the other great cast members in the film. Blake’s character never appears in the comic books but you’ll understand why after the film is over. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is actually a very big part of the film as the story unfolds through him. While one of my biggest gripes with the film is the time-period transition (example; there is a sequence in the film towards the end where Bruce Wayne has to rehabilitate an injury and it’s supposed to take several months but we’re never given an indication of how much time has actually passed. So instead of going “oh yea, three months has passed…that’s cool” we’re left wondering “wait a minute, how did he come back so fast from an injury like that?”. Both Kyle’s and Blake’s stories needed to be told for Nolan to conclude his trilogy, even if it meant having a nearly three hour long movie to do so.
The Dark Knight Rises is more chaotic than The Dark Knight but that doesn’t make TDK more important or better than TDKR. Yes, Heath Ledger gave the performance of a lifetime as the Joker, but these two films are on two separate levels. Bane’s plan for destruction trumps the Joker’s intimacy for the demise of the Batman, but it’s the Jokers actions that ultimately lead Batman to make the decisions he makes in TDKR. So the movie’s go hand in hand, and I’m sure Nolan has the trilogy’s end in mind while he was making TDK.
After I saw The Dark Knight I instantly likened the films to the Godfather franchise and the impact both series of films had on their respective genres of movies. After seeing The Dark Knight Rises I’m certain now that Nolan has crafted the greatest crime drama trilogy we’ve ever seen, yes even over the Godfather trilogy. Nolan’s attention to detail and his efforts to make Batman human have transcended labels. If Nolan doesn’t win the Best Picture award at the Academy Awards in February it will certainly be a travesty. Hell, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won Best Picture the year it was released and it was, arguably, the weakest of the three films.
Simply put this is a film that pulled at my heart strings, not because of any one moment but because I care so much about this character as a symbol of humanity. It literally broke my heart when the movie ended because I know we’ll never see another superhero character look more human than Nolan made Batman. It’s Batman’s sacrifice for the city he loves and protects that make me love the way Nolan treated the character and ultimately write this love letter to him.
Here’s hoping you all feel like I do after you see it.