The Reel Deal
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
A Reel Deal Film Review
By Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5
“GO BIG AND GO HOME”
What could Christopher Nolan do after The Dark Knight? How does one top a movie almost universally seen as not just the best of its genre or one of the best of its decade but an instant classic? It’s pretty much impossible, and The Dark Knight Rises proves that fact. So up front I must admit, even as I give it a 5 out of 5 score, The Dark Knight Rises is no Dark Knight.
I guess the first thing to do in examining The Dark Knight Rises is to re-evaluate it’s predecessor and determine why it was such a phenomenal film. The obvious reason is the Joker. There are a million intricate little pieces that went into the whole perfect picture that is The Dark Knight, but they all lead back to the Joker, and had Heath Ledger not given the performance of a lifetime (sadly, quite literally), all the other pieces would have had a much more difficult time falling into their finished places. Not only did Heath Ledger give the ultimate swan song performance, with his brilliantly sinister, humorous, creepy and believable portrayal of the villain, but the Joker as a character himself is Batman’s quintessential archenemy. He is Batman’s antithesis. And so, in Nolan’s moody poetic take on superheroes in a realistic setting, the Joker was the perfect representation of chaos, and Batman therefore took on the problematic counter-role of order. While pushing Batman to his limits, the Joker managed the impossible: enticing viewers with his anarchic view.
Sure, the viewer is still disgusted by the extremes the villain goes to, but these extremes are just the logical extension of the Joker’s nihilism. After all, his whole speech to Harvey Dent about everyone else being schemers, where he claims himself “an agent of chaos,” is terrifying, but mostly because it makes rational sense. Rarely do movie villains, especially comic book villains, have such a profound philosophical core. His motives make sense because he has no motives, he is “a dog chasing cars,” he “just wants to watch the world burn.” So where as the Joker’s rationale makes sense, even as it makes us cringe, Batman, the hero, is forced into not making sense. Batman has to spy on us NSA wiretap style, he tortures a mob boss, and then he–spoiler alert, though if you’re the one person who hasn’t seen The Dark Knight you deserve a spoiling–kills Harvey Dent. That final act, even if not done with murderous intent, still seems to, if not break Batman’s one rule, complicate it immensely. Of course, morally we side with Batman for the most part (even if the whole cell phone spying thing is a little to Patriot Act-like for our liking), but really the Joker is the only character with any sort of philosophical consistency.
I think it’s this philosophical consistency and honesty of the Joker that allows us to succumb to his logic, even when holding his darkness at arms length. He’s not a “schemer.” He’s not trying to control his environment, he’s not trying to order the chaos of the universe, he’s simply trying to fuck things up to show just how fucked up things already are. It’s almost commendable in theory. But of course, the Joker is no hero to romanticize–the shooting in Aurora, CO, at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, reminds us that even if the Joker’s philosophy can seem enticing on paper, no one likes the effects of such violent psychopathic/sociopathic anarchism in reality. But that was the beauty of The Dark Knight: it forced us all to confront a dark side within us much more sinister than that in Star Wars mythos–not a mystical dark side that acted as counterbalance to a force determined by pseudo-scientific midichlorians, but an existential philosophic darkness, the terrifying chaos of life.
What could possibly be more terrifying than that darkness? Nothing. So with the option of going for darker and more terrifying in the final film of his Dark Knight Trilogy off the table, the only feasible option for Nolan to up the ante was to go bigger. “Go big or go home,” as the cliched phrase goes–but The Dark Knight Rises decided to go big and go home. By “going big” I mean that though philosophically there might not be more at stake than there was with the Joker, certainly the number of lives at risk is much higher with Bane (one of the villains of this new film), and he puts an aged Batman through the ringer physically much more so than the Joker ever could. Though Bane isn’t as known as the Joker–or for that matter as known as much of Batman’s rogue’s gallery–he performs a pretty major role in the comic books, and the movie goes down that route to some extent, which was satisfying (and made the use of the lesser-known villain worth it). By “going home,” I mean that there is more connecting this film with the first film of the trilogy, Batman Begins, than with the middle film, The Dark Knight–so it does manage to finish the story in a way, to come full circle, to go home.
In The Dark Knight Rises, once again, Batman plays a complicated role. He’s a hero certainly, but he is forced to do things that would otherwise be morally questionable, yet we give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s, well, Batman (and we “know” he’s good). But what does that mean? Here is where Bane becomes an intriguing Batman foil. Like the Joker, he is also Batman’s antithesis. He is Batman with a different set of morals, a different set of drives, and a different set of interests. So here we get a view of a man who, like Batman, has a certain amount of power, but here is a man who we can’t trust with this power. The question as to why Batman deserves his status as a moral authority, while others don’t, may not be foregrounded in the film, but it certainly contributes to the film’s philosophical underbelly.
As a self-proclaimed comic book fanboy since childhood, I must say, I’d have done The Dark Knight Rises differently. I’d argue that there are better ways to use Bane (and/or other villains) to “go big,” better ways to bring back in the Ra’s al Ghul plot to “go home,” than the way the filmmakers chose. When I left the theaters after having seen the film for the first time, I’ll admit, I was a bit disappointed. I planned on going home immediately and writing a review, giving it 4 out of 5 reels. Something kept stopping me from writing that review. I wanted to trash it for not being up to the level of The Dark Knight, but every time I tried to write a little screed against it, I just couldn’t put words to paper.
Maybe I have to see it again, I thought. And I was right. When I did, I realized why, not only could I not give it a 4, but I had to give it a perfect score (even if it isn’t exactly perfect): I couldn’t think of another big summer blockbuster in the last, say, 20 years, besides The Dark Knight, that I thought was better than The Dark Knight Rises. Were there disappointments along the way? Yes. Would I have done things differently? Yes. But most of that was due to unreasonably high expectations. Had the expectations left over from the previous film not been there–if The Dark Knight never existed, and it went straight from Batman Begins to Rises–I’d certainly be hailing The Dark Knight Rises as the best superhero movie of all time. For all the praise heaped on this year’s The Avengers–and yes, I also gave it a good review–any of the three films from Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy makes The Avengers look like child’s play.
The Dark Knight Rises is a film directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, and based on characters by Bob Kane. It stars Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Josepph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Eight years on, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham’s finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Film Still from The Dark Knight Rises, Photography Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures