Dark Knight rises in epic fashion

As an avid Whedonist, I can usually come up with a relevant Buffy quote for nearly any situation. Apologies to the unenlightened… but, really, go watch it now. I’ll wait. Yes, the whole series. It’s all streaming on Netflix, there’s no excuse.

A recurring line in Seasons 5 & 6 goes: “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” I couldn’t help but run that line through my head as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy came to its conclusion.

Although on the surface the series follows Batman’s struggle to defend Gotham City, the heart of the story is really Bruce Wayne’s struggle to be Bruce Wayne — to embrace living in the world, which he hasn’t done dating all the way back to his parents’ death — and The Dark Knight Rises deftly brings that thread to the forefront.

TDKR picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight (2008). Batman (Christian Bale) hasn’t been heard from — reviled by the citizens of Gotham who believe he’s responsible for the death of DA Harvey Dent. Bruce is living as a recluse in Wayne Manor, still mourning the death of Rachel Dawes and his inability to rescue her. Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) is now Commissioner Gordon, in charge of an ambivalent police force now that most of Gotham’s baddies are locked behind bars.

But all of that changes with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), who comes to Gotham with a desire to destroy the city — continuing the mission of the League of Shadows that started in Batman Begins (2005) with Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson).

In addition to Bane, Bruce/Batman is lured out of his self-imposed exile by Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), the cat burglar who burgles his late mother’s pearl necklace right out from under his nose.

But Batman doesn’t have to fight for good alone; Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is back with more gadgets and a cool helicopter for the crime fighter and young Gotham police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) quickly finds a place at Batman’s side.

Overall, TDKR is a fitting end to the trilogy — tying up loose ends from the earlier films while moving the story forward in such a way that it’s not just covering the same ground.

I enjoyed the connections with Batman Begins, although I could have done with fewer flashbacks. Nolan is usually good at expecting his audience to keep up with the story; a couple of flashbacks would have sufficed without needing to spoon-feed us the exact imagery we’re supposed to recall.

Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt were incredible additions to the cast, each delivering inspired performances and stealing many of the scenes they were in.

I’m torn on Bane, to no fault of Tom Hardy’s. The mask he wore was too rigid and covered up too many of his natural facial movements. If we’re supposed to see Bane as still being a human figure, I would have liked to see more of his face and Hardy’s acting. If he’s supposed to be more disconnected from humanity, then I would have rather the mask covered up more (a la Darth Vader) so all we’re paying attention to is his voice. The in-between that they went with just ended up being distracting for me.

Similarly, Marion Cotillard delivers a solid performance, although I think it could have added more to the film to learn more about her character earlier on. Since seeing the movie, I’ve read more about her character’s history in the comic universe and I definitely think it was a missed opportunity.

(***MINOR SPOILER***)

The best surprise for me was the return of Jonathon Crane (Cillian Murphy) and his twisted courtroom appearance. I wish we could have seen more of him as well, although I realize the movie I’d like to see with more on all of these characters would have been closer to six hours long. Ah well.

The presentation on an IMAX screen (I saw it at the Indiana State Museum) was simply astounding. Around an hour of footage is shot on IMAX film and it’s gorgeous. Reportedly, the VP of IMAX wanted the whole movie shot on IMAX, but the film is so noisy that it would have caused trouble for dialogue-heavy scenes that are difficult to retrack successfully. I thought they used the IMAX for the action scenes to give them more impact — but those are also the scenes with coincidentally less dialogue. The more you know…

The movie addresses its big picture ideas while, I believe, remaining true to the characters they’ve developed throughout the trilogy. And, by the end, Bruce finds a way to live in the world – at peace with himself.

On a side note, although it’s not my personal fight, I wholly support Nolan’s quest to keep alive the art of actually shooting a movie on film. It’s inspiring to see someone who’s that dedicated to keeping their craft alive, despite the pressure from the studios to do otherwise. Kudos.

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