Another midnight showing* under my belt, and I am happy to report that my excitement for the summer blockbuster has been satisfied. The Dark Knight Rises takes the viewer to the eight-year anniversary of the death of Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent. Despite knowing the truth of Dent’s demise, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) maintains the virtuous persona of the slain District Attorney while similarly honoring the reclusive behavior of the ailing and secretive heir, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale).
Batman, too, has been out of the spotlight in the years following Dent’s death, having taken the blame to cover Dent’s actions, but his absence is put to the test with the rise of a new villain and mercenary extraordinaire, Bane (Tom Hardy), who brings the havoc and rage reminiscent of Wayne’s former mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul. Batman is forced to re-evaluate his former relationships with Gordon, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred (Michael Caine) as well as learn whether or not to trust new people on the scene, including successful jewel thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Gotham Police hothead John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The rest you’ll have to see for yourself.
What is not to like about The Dark Knight Rises? Christopher Nolan relies on some of his favorite actors (and composer) for his exciting finale to one of the most celebrated superheroes of both print and the big screen. It clocks in a tad short of three hours long, but it is a small price to capture the grand scale of this epic adventure.
In a telling moment during TDKR, Bane asks Batman which will break first: his spirit or his body. This physical wearing is a unique departure from the first two Batman films, where both villains rely more heavily on breaking Batman’s resolve. Make no mistake, his resolve is once again put to the test, but this movie takes on a more physical element that is most clearly expressed in the raw strength of Bane. He embodies the perfect mercenary – willing to destroy at any cost and relentless in that pursuit -and Nolan creates plenty of fight scenes to match Bane’s ruthlessness. Hardy plays the role to perfection: he is limited in conveying his facial reactions or delivering clear lines on account of his mask, but the inner rage that fuels his terror-filled leadership emanates despite any vocal or facial hindrances.
Speaking of outstanding new performances, if the physical strength of Bane stretches Batman to his physical limits, the unwavering faith of Blake (Gordon-Levitt) keeps hope alive and draws the audience to root with the city of Gotham for Batman’s victory. Blake stands on his own as the sole police officer who tracks suspicious discrepancies in the system following Gordon’s hospitalization. It is no coincidence that he is drawn to the heroic symbol of Batman, and he becomes invaluable for the final battle between Bane’s henchmen and the city. Blake is perhaps the only untarnished character in this film, crucial for a city that has abandoned its Caped Crusader and then left to destruction. Blake reminds the audience of the things that are worth fighting for.
TDKR holds to the same great standard we have come to expect from Christopher Nolan: a great cast; scoring to get your heart racing; and a story that tests characters’ (and our) capacity to love, trust, and make choices on behalf of the greater good. This time, we see these elements tied together to wrap up seven years of movie magic in the Dark Knight series. You won’t have to watch all three in a marathon to follow the storyline, but if you choose to refresh your memory, the movie relies on much of the framework from Batman Begins.
Perhaps you will be surprised. Perhaps you will get chills. Either way, you will be entertained with a great film.
*The tragedy in Aurora, CO is shocking, infuriating, and has left me at a loss for words. Only two hours beforehand, I joined several hundred others in DC for a similar midnight premiere. Perhaps it is a dying trend, but I believe that the cinema continues to stand as one of the few remaining large-scale cultural third spaces. May we remember the powerful and healing force of storytelling, and may we in share with one another in this time our own stories of grief, loss, and of comfort on behalf of those who are suffering in Aurora.