I just got home from seeing a marathon of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, including the new one, and I have to work out some thoughts. I kept this spoiler free, but most of these ideas will make more sense after you’ve seen it, which (spoiler alert?) I strongly recommend you do.
- The biggest question, of course, is how good is it? Does The Dark Knight Rises live up to the other films, especially the second? Certainly it’s an excellent work, and I’ll be honest that my preference is for the new film (even though I eventually loved The Dark Knight), but I’m fairly confident that most people will say that they thought The Dark Knight was even better. Most fans of the series will still opt for its darker, more complex vision. Fair enough.
- But consider that they are very different movies. TDK was a dense, episodic thriller. In fact, watching it again during tonight’s marathon, I was struck by just how much ground Nolan covered. TDKR, however, is a more linear narrative, with a single focus, albeit one that constantly crescendos to an emotionally explosive climax. Where TDK packed in as much of everything as possible, TDKR actually goes out of its way to strip down the distractions of excessive characters and subplots so it can develop its primary interests as much as possible.
- I wondered about the wisdom of this approach as the film was getting going, but I soon saw how necessary this strategy was. It was incredibly satisfying. It set TDKR apart from its predecessor, for one thing: this is no mere clone.
- Coming out of the theater, my friend noted that despite being 164 minutes long, TDKR still left room for even more detail in its narrative. Definitely.
- Last summer, I wrote about the first trailer for The Dark Knight Rises: “The teaser trailer for The Dark Knight Rises hints that this third film will be a redemptive story with a more clear-cut victory [than The Dark Knight had], perhaps making this a trilogy in the Star Wars-Empire-Jedi format.” That surmise paid off in spades. This film is absolutely about rising up, portrayed in this film both spiritually and physically. Nolan even has a brief flashback to Bruce Wayne’s father from the first film asking him why we fall. As you should remember (though Nolan tastefully doesn’t force the lesson down our throats by quoting the answer as well), it was so that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.
- Another aspect of good trilogy format that I didn’t see coming, though, is that this film doesn’t just complete the other films’ thoughts about fear, sacrifice, and the need to struggle on despite hopeless setbacks, but it concretely ties up loose ends from the first film, ends we may not have even recognized as loose. Surprisingly, the trilogy ends up offering a totally united arc, which comes full circle and brings us to journey’s end while letting us share with Batman a measure of psychic closure that few films of any genre can achieve.
- What little time the film devotes to its supporting and minor characters also consistently builds this redemptive theme. Of course this applies to obvious people like Commissioner Gordon and Selina Kyle, but as you watch, also note Matthew Modine’s deputy commissioner Foley. As with TDK, it’s these little human touches that make its landscape so rich.
- I want to stress here that this movie absolutely does not fall into the saccharine inspiration of Spiderman 3, which only got mixed results from trying to handle this theme. TDKR is much more grounded in believable motives than that was. Part of Nolan’s success here is his ability to make an optimistic film set in a genuinely dark and dangerous world.
- Please stop saying, “Bane isn’t as interesting as Joker.” Not only was Heath Ledger’s performance a classic, but Tom Hardy didn’t get to use his face or real voice as Bane. Considering how thankless the role was, he did a great job.
- Politics alert: Much of the discussion of TDK was about its topical allusions to the Patriot Act, violence by law enforcement, and surveillance, with most people perhaps thinking that it seemed to favor a conservative view. The trailers for TDKR have made no secret that class warfare is a major topic in the film, and I will tell you that its treatment in the second act clearly favors the right; Occupy Wall Street must have started too late to have influenced the development of the film, but the parallels are eerie. The Utopian idealism of current anti-capitalists is shown to be largely a smoke screen which quickly degenerates into a French revolution-style nightmare. Nobody’s walking away from this movie’s vision without second thoughts about the purity of a socialist world.
- For those who might remember my scandalous initial reaction to TDK four years ago, one of my problems was the prevalence of deception being rewarded in the film. I’m happy to say that TDKR addresses and resolves that issue very maturely. No punches get pulled, but we’re shown in no uncertain terms that, even in a gritty real world, somehow the truth does set you free.
- In conclusion, kudos to the marketing machine for TDKR, which gave us a solid introduction to the film while managing to keep some concerns–even major characters–completely secret. This is a good film to go into blind, and it’s easy to do so. Enjoy.
OK, I do have to add one spoilery bit of nit-picking. Scroll down if you’ve seen the movie:
If the 3000 men of the Gotham City Police Department only got food and water underground, how were they all clean and beardless when they came out? Did they somehow have plenty of soap, shampoo, and sharp razors down there in the dark for five months? Were some of them amateur barbers on the side? Their clothes barely even looked wrinkled. And where were the female officers? I don’t remember seeing any.