Review: Batman – The Dark Knight Rises

I think that’s one of the most satisfying films I’ve seen in a long time.

Before anyone accuses me of fannish isolation, yes, I know about the Aurora shooting. I’m reserving comment on that, at least in part because I don’t think anything can be clearly understood about such an incident while the media circus is in full swing. I don’t arrogate to myself any understanding of American gun culture or of the individuals who commit such acts; I have no connection to the people of Aurora or the victims, other than a certain personal knowledge of what it’s like to go through sick times, and basic human empathy with their pain. Because I do know what the more perverse and cruel moments of life are like, I think it would be singularly meaningless and patronising for me to say anything about it at all. So I’m going to restrict myself to talking about a film I saw.

The first thing I loved, and this is a rare comment coming from me, is the female characters in this film. After a life like mine it’s not often that I see a femininity in a movie that I can get behind. Most often, I find them one-dimensional, saccharine, and naive; falling all too cleanly along a simplistic divide between very post-Christian images of “good” and “bad”. These women, on the other hand, were complex people; dark, compromised, touched by harsh environments and driven by need. Human in their inhumanity. That felt real, and I admire a film that can do that with comic books as canon.

Bane, for his part, was a superbly written and performed demagogue. The twisted semi-logic of his speeches was chillingly accurate to my gut sense of the way manipulators think, and the ways human reason deforms under strain. At its best, Batman mythology is a commentary on the meaning of insanity; a journey into the forces that crack open moral courage and drive humanity mad. Bane was a pitch-perfect study of subtle and pernicious evil in that field. On the level of the mythos this film created, I saw a dark and for Hollywood pretty uncompromising analysis of  the moment at the bottom of the well;  the turning point, where a crumbling mind finds its focus again – be that in obsession or in cleaner and healthier drives. That’s what I mean when I call the film satisfying; I found it very psychologically true.

And Miranda – well. I always find it disappointing when the twist in the tale proves to be the who-shaves-the-barber problem recycled yet again. “And… it’s a girl!” is not a punchline; it’s just another person, after all. But because these were such well written women, I could see past that; to Miranda as a creature who came out of darkness, and could see only chaos as a result. For her, the path out of the well was the path of obsession – creating meaning, as we all seek to do, but given so little to make it from that was good.

Christian Bale’s Batman, Albert and the unlikely addition of Catwoman (although a far more subtly played Catwoman than the usual PVC-clad stereotype) were a marvellously twisted exploration of the inverse of that; of how people can go through the worst possible moment and come out of it stronger. I loved the genuine and far-reaching change that was implied; and the shades of grey that persisted in spite of it, in Commissioner Gordon’s complicity, Nolan’s shady Batman turning conscience to Catwoman, Albert’s selfish choices coming only out of love. (And every moment I watch Gary Oldman play Gordon, I fall a little more in love with the character; there’s a raw, impossible magic to that absolutely ordinary man).

Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has been a dark thing attended by darkness; Heath Ledger’s death, and now the Aurora disaster. Even before the news of the shootings, I had deep misgivings that any film could weather the death of such an iconic creation as Ledger’s Joker and show out well. Dark Knight Rises manages that and more; perhaps it took something so sombre to make the big-money filmmakers give up their stranglehold on the morality permitted on the screen.

And I think, as a film that could weather Aurora, as a film that looks at how sanity and morality are intertwined, Dark Knight Rises has a good chance there as well. If it’s true that the Aurora killer is simply mentally ill, the futility of his actions will almost be fitting in the light of the statements implicit in the film. Morality is what you make of it, damaged and imperfect as you are.

But above all, it’s real resolution to a deep story, writ large on a Hollywood screen. The film industry’s greed doesn’t permit us that too often; love it, my friends, and give it all the recognition it deserves.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Batman – The Dark Knight Rises

  1. I appreciate your review, very well thought out and intelligent. I completely agree with you about Bane. What an amazing villain! Tom Hardy will forever be one of my favorite actors because of that role.

    I will say that the female characters were better in this film than the previous. I like Maggie Gyllenhal (spelled wrong, sorry, that’s a hard one) but I didn’t feel that Christopher Nolan gave her much to work with in The Dark Knight. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was very interesting; her motivations, her machinations, her actions. Her dialogue was weak but again, I just don’t think Christopher Nolan (or maybe more specifically David S. Goyer) know how to write good dialogue for women. Nolan can get great performances, subtly nuanced, but somehow the dialogue just falls flat for me. Marion Cotillard is an amazing actress but I just didn’t believe her in The Dark Knight Rises. The twist at the end felt so forced, almost like an afterthought.

    It was, overall, a very entertaining film. It’s sad that the franchise has been so tainted by tragedy. Thank you for writing such a well-thought out and articulate review. It’s refreshing to read someone who’s not just saying: “This movie is cool because it’s cool.”

    • Felix Pearce says:

      Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actresses so I was delighted to see her at all – but then I think if you’re into her work, it’s very hard for any screenwriter to cap the kind of dialogue and depth of character a female lead gets in something like Secretary. I was almost surprised to see her in something so mainstream really, she struck me as much more a character/indie type actress, the roles that really give women the leeway to portray something other than a safe social stereotype. Hollywood’s never great with that at the best of times.

      I’m not familiar with the rest of Anne Hathaway’s stuff at all, I should probably look into her other films…

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