Putting the tragedy in Colorado aside momentarily, it’s time to look at the movie itself. “The Dark Knight Rises,” that seminal conclusion to the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Is it sad that most movies don’t come in trilogies anymore? They come in as many installments as can be created to squeeze money out of moviegoing audiences, it seems. This may yet be another instance of the same attempt to steal money, but it was a rightfully entertaining and epic one.
I will not be providing any plot spoilers in here, nor will I devote any time to considering the multitude of plot holes that exist. It is a superhero film, and plot holes are a minor issue when considering the larger suspensions of disbelief one has to commit. But I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Thoroughly.
There honestly isn’t much to say, because the characters are, for the most part, pure brilliance. Christian Bale returns for another fantastic turn, a bit more egged on by his recent Oscar win. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Gary Oldman rock the supporting cast once more. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hops from “Inception” on over to Gotham with no hitches, and somehow is a really good actor to boot. Even Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman is entertaining, when I feared she would be deplorable.
However the biggest triumph I found in “The Dark Knight Rises” was Tom Hardy’s villainous Bane. All stupid Mitt Romney suggestions aside, Bane is treacherous. He is one of those few villains who the audience genuinely despises and roots against. There is no humanity or empathetic connection to Bane. But what I found unique with Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane was the manner in which he overcame physical shortcomings.
Emotion is a key ingredient to a character’s success, because emotion allows the audience to connect to their struggles, abhor their decisions, and so on. And an important factor in that registering with the audience comes visually, through cues. Expressions, facial gestures, the way in which one enunciates words and moves his or her mouth – these are all ways that emotions are conveyed. Now think about those characters who have large portions of their faces obscured. Lots of slasher characters, the Transformers to a certain extent come to mind, but no one truly memorable.
Except for Darth Vader. We only see Darth Vader’s real face, that of Anakin Skywalker, for a brief few shots at the end of the last Star Wars film. Otherwise, it is a stoic mask. What’s left to fill the void is a booming, evil voice and the sweeping physical form of the villain. While Tom Hardy’s “Bane” had the ability to use his eyes to enhance expressions, I felt he faced similar challenges on par with Darth Vader and matched them. The combination of his physical prowess and that vile voice are a treasure in this film. Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” raised the bar insurmountably high for modern villains, and Tom Hardy’s Bane comes remarkably close to it.
Of all the flaws though, there was a big issue, one that somehow always plagues Christopher Nolan’s films. While Hathaway was entertaining, her character’s motivations and beliefs really don’t pass muster if you think too hard about them. And then there’s Marion Cotillard, who was utterly useless in the film. Just like she was alongside Ellen Page in “Inception,” and just like Maggie Gyllenhall was in “The Dark Knight,” as was Scarlett Johansson in “The Prestige,” and so on. Christopher Nolan didn’t get over his inability to utilize actresses that are actually really good (Johansson not withstanding), and I don’t know if he ever will. It’s a shame, because Cotillard is a really fantastic one, but she just falls flat because of the worthless role she is written into.
All in all though, “The Dark Knight Rises” is epic. There is no other adjective to describe it by.