The Dark Knight Rises may not have the most compelling conflict in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but it has all the character depth and creativity that I love about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.
Like The Dark Knight before it, The Dark Knight Rises gives the villain a compelling amount of screentime. This time around, that villain is Bane, a man who’s all meat in a morphine mask, which gives his voice its muffled boom. Even when his snarl is indecipherable through the mask, it gets the point across: this is not a man to trifle with. (Apparently not everyone liked his voice, but I took it seriously.) His backstory is one of pain, lending depth and credibility to his seemingly one-note personality– even with the twist ending (which I will not give away).
The first action scene of the film is a breathless airplane ride, with Bane filling the screen. Honestly, no series of hero films have so thoroughly surprised me with their inventive action sequences. Aside from the obligatory car chase scene (which I always love, by the way), almost every action sequence in this film shattered my assumptions about what an action blockbuster can achieve in terms of sheer creativity.
I’ll admit that when the Batman faces off with Bane, the fist-fight seems a little unjustified. Nevertheless, watching the Batman grunting and sweating his way through the fight, while the silent Bane rarely has to swing his fist, makes it realistic. Nolan’s films are never afraid to beat up their caped hero and reveal his weaknesses — a refreshing thing in a superhero blockbuster movie. (This happens again later, when Wayne fails repeatedly at a seemingly impossible task but keeps getting back up to try again.)
Without giving everything away, I will say that the addition of Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, is very welcome. She complements Bruce Wayne in this film. He starts off as a recluse who is later beaten and imprisoned. She wants to start over, away from Bane who is after her. In short, Wayne hides and Kyle runs — and this movie is very much about them finding their fight.
In a way, Wayne is right back where he started. He needs to rebuild himself to take on the role of the Batman again. And this is what I most appreciate about this film: it harks back to Batman Begins in relishing attention on Bruce Wayne as a person. Though The Dark Knight is a surprising film that shows the heroism of the Batman, I’m one of the few who prefers Batman Begins, simply because it’s a story about Wayne evolving into the Batman — a more human and interesting struggle, in my opinion. The Dark Knight Rises’ script, along with Christian Bale’s performance, remind me why I care about the anguished Wayne, who often prefers to torment himself as a scapegoat rather than build himself up for the good fight.
I’ve heard people compare Tom Hardy’s performance as Bane with Heath Ledger’s as the Joker, saying it doesn’t measure up. I heartily disagree. Perhaps Bane seems slightly less connected to his troubled past than the Joker. Perhaps he’s just not as interesting to watch. But Bane and the Joker are vastly different characters. Bane is bulky and stoic where the Joker tossed snark. In a way, Bane seems like a more imposing character, in the flesh and in his domineering (yet undecorated) personality. The Joker, meanwhile, was much jumpier and more obsessive — in other words, more entertaining — in his attempts to outsmart the Batman.
My problem is not with Bane; rather, my problem is with the conflict between him and the Batman. As a villain, Bane is genuinely frightening. But as the Batman’s nemesis, he doesn’t bring much direct relevance to the conflict. It’s all just a tad weak.
As in the other Batman films, Gotham City is as much a living, changing character as Wayne and Bane. And this is where the conflict lies. Bane essentially blackmails and manipulates the city — made up of its inhabitants and its spirit — in a twisted attempt to redeem it. And Wayne, as the Batman, wants to save it.
In this way, the conflict between the Batman and Bane is less direct than the conflict between Batman and Joker was — and that makes it slightly less gripping (even for someone like me who likes Bane as villain and Hardy as Bane). For all the emotional knife-twisting Bane tries to inflict on the Batman, the chemistry between the two is simply lacking.
As usual, the Batman cannot succeed alone. This series is not about a single, mask-wearing hero — it’s about many types of heroes. When Wayne has given up, Alfred (Michael Caine) gives cutting advice as usual. (Caine consistently turns in some of the most moving scenes in these films, brief as they are.) And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the perfect choice to play the idealistic young cop who turns detective. I also love Anne Hathaway as Catwoman — quick-thinking, sexy and sophisticated, with a fun insincerity that lightens up the mood in places. Of course, all of this masks her insecurity about playing hero.
Perhaps the most fun aspect of the film (besides Hathaway’s performance) is the cinematography. The camerawork and special effects make the movie feel like it’s in 3D — or should I say, like you’re really there — even though it’s not. Though an exhaustive 165 minutes long, this film definitely sucked me into Nolan’s serious and sinister Gotham City.
In short, all of Nolan’s savory ingredients are there: villains with depth and emotion; mind-blowing action scenes; a sinister city that needs saving; and a team of heroes, big and small, without whom Bruce Wayne would never succeed. And if the conflict seems a little convoluted this time around, you may take heart in knowing that The Dark Knight Rises is very much a story of Wayne rebuilding, a hero’s journey with which we can identify. Though you’ll see plenty of the Batman in this film, you’ll see a lot more of Bruce Wayne.