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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – The Moody (Re)Views

Editor’s Note: Normally The Moody Views tackles topical issues like the Rock Radio Problem and the Importance of Breaking Bad. This week, Kyle couldn’t resist sharing his thoughts on the biggest movie of the year, The Dark Knight Rises. Enjoy his review, and be sure to check out all our TDKR content

The Dark Knight Rises is an amazing experience and a flawed movie. In other words, you should go see it, but you should come back here after seeing it for details about what you just saw. Note that we will talk about two different things in this review.

But let me be clear: This is not a movie one merely sees. You should experience the film on the largest screen possible, a giant canvas with pulsating sound to be sure you fully immerse yourself into it. Downloading or pirating a film like this would be tantamount to crime. More than any other movie released in the past five years, this is the film that justifies a move to a pricey large-screen television for home viewing.

The movie’s plot may be labyrinthine in execution, but it is relatively simple in concept. Bruce Wayne (a weary Christian Bale) has retired his Batman persona for eight years following the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, showing up in flashbacks and pictures for an easy paycheck) in The Dark Knight. He is a shell of a man, physically battered by his personal crusade to rid Gotham City of crime, and also emotionally scarred by the murder of former lover Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes/Maggie Gyllenhaal/Miley Cyrus. Just kidding about that last one). Moreover, he is useless to the current state of Gotham since Commissioner James Gordan (Gary Oldman) used the lie of Batman as District Attorney Dent’s killer to enact the Harvey Dent Act, which was a Draconian measure used to dismantle organized crime in the city.

As Bruce’s doting butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) tries to pick up the pieces of his life, but a robbery of his mother’s pearls by Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) reignites the dormant Batman persona. Simultaneously, a merciless and imposing criminal emperor named Bane (Tom Hardy, pure menace and nightmare) is creating a stir under Gotham City, with intentions that start with a kidnapping and end with nothing less than the utter destruction of the metropolis. Meanwhile, “hothead” police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) are all working to ensure the continued cleanliness of Gotham.

From there, the plot covers events ranging from socialite upheaval to corporate mutiny to imprisoned vigilantes, leaving little room for costumed heroics. But then again, overt costumed heroics have never been the biggest selling points of the series. If anything, this film feels as though it was two separate movies combined into one, which may be a part of our age of separation of films. Though it has become overused in popular parlance, the term “epic” is the only capable descriptor for a film such as this. With a runtime of 165 minutes, this is easily the largest Batman movie – indeed, the largest superhero film – to date.

Which may belie the problem of Christopher Nolan’s film. Notice I said film, not experience. We’ll come to that in a bit.

I don’t want to divulge too many details about the plot (that will come on Monday when I take a second look at the movie). As a film, director Christopher Nolan and co-screenwriter brother Jonathan (with a story co-credit to David S. Goyer) have concocted a terrifying conclusion that follows up the era-defining behemoth of BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. Though it may be difficult to contextualize when one sits inside the theater, what an audience is seeing is the actual finale to a set of films that have helped as much as (if not more than) SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN and THE AVENGERS to validate comic book adaptations as legitimate commercial and artistic ventures. In fact, THE DARK KNIGHT was partly responsible for making the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) change their rules regarding the number of films nominated for Best Picture due to the public outcry over the film’s snubbing in 2009. Therefore, this film has been built up with such feverish anticipation that there would be no possible way to fulfill expectations.

Being a fan of the previous films and Nolan’s accomplishments, I found several logical sequences that detracted from the film, along with structural choices that are unfit. Bruce Wayne basically repeats his first act in act three, leaving the viewer with a question of “Why are we seeing this again?” With some simple changes, this could have been easily avoided. Also, the film suffers from bloat. Bane’s plan is filled with inconsistencies and impossible coincidences, and though it may be true to his increasingly maddened character traits, one cannot deny that the very nature of what he is doing seems outlandish while watching it. Like INCEPTION before it, Nolan is attempting to juggle too many moving parts and creates overly complex situations where none were needed before. By the film’s end, several of the film’s characters become plot devices, with a twist that could seem like a pointless exercise to noncomics fans or those who are familiar with Batman’s animated adventures. The film simply has too many moving parts that receive unsatisfying resolution, and this is all accomplished in spite of the longest feature length of any superhero film.

So why do I like it? It’s a very well-acted, artfully crafted, and carefully placed set of dominoes that Nolan and Company have created. Bale continues to show why he was the perfect choice as Bruce Wayne all those years ago (yes, the Batman voice is annoying, but I’ve accepted that creative choice as a sunk cost. You should too). He wears the pain of loss and physical decay that would become a man who took to the streets all those years ago. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and especially Gary Oldman impress in their supporting roles as Batman’s inner circle, men who have given so much of themselves to various crusades that they too are worn down by them. Anne Hathaway quickly makes Selina Kyle her own. Never called Catwoman in the film, Hathaway is truly a charismatic presence onscreen, another vigilante inspired by Batman to pursue her own ends. What separates her from the other masked avengers is that her personal goal is wholly sympathetic, driven by forces beyond her/our control. Fans may take umbrage at the inclusion of John Blake and Miranda Tate, but I can say that this adaptation largely gets the spirit of these characters correct. I’m being intentionally vague on these points because you might be reading without having seen it first. Know this, then: If you are angry because the film didn’t “do these characters like the comics,” you are angry for the wrong reasons.

What matters is inside the auditorium and should play out onscreen. This is an adaptation, and a thrilling one at that. Furthermore, while the text may make allusions to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the ongoing class struggle that takes up the second act, the film is smart enough to avoid specific statements and allow the audience to make their own conclusion. So many films drive points home to audiences through ham-handed exposition that they fail to stand as pieces of art with multiple interpretations. Much like THE DARK KNIGHT before it, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a film with several vantage points into its ideologies, and it brooks no real answers.

And why should it? More than any other Batman film before it (with the possible exception of BATMAN & ROBIN), the film is a sensory overload. However, unlike BATMAN & ROBIN, all that excess has a point, which is the construction of a fitting end to the saga that Nolan & co. have created. Make no mistake, this film is one that must be experienced in theaters. I could point out the various logical inconsistencies and quickly ended plot threads, but in the auditorium I didn’t care. If the film is a house of cards, then it’s the greatest house of cards ever put onscreen, an overpowering vision of terror and justice borne on the largest canvas possible (translation: See it in IMAX, folks!). I was soaked in sweat and exhausted by the end of the film, with a gigantic smile on my face and clapping in my seat. If that doesn’t make the DVD cover, then I don’t know what else to say about it.

Awe. Some.

What’s more, it’s not all sound and fury signifying nothing. If there is a theme to the film, it is a validation of this idea of chasing a single-minded goal to its logical conclusion. Nolan’s quest to strip a character to his basics while appeasing longtime fans of Batman seems impossible when you consider that the DC Comics character has over 70 years of four-color flights of fancy under his utility belt. That he was able to even achieve his vision while negotiating the demands of fans and penny-pinching franchise-minded executives speaks of a master storyteller. Instead of buckling under the limits, Nolan has taken the structure of a Batman movie and upended it entirely.

While previous films have largely adhered to a ruleset demanding realism, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES manages to top the multiple levels and visuals of INCEPTION by unleashing the comic zaniness of Batman. But it never feels like a cheat. Instead, it feels like we are seeing the true culmination of this story, unleashed in all its glory. For me, that’s worth celebrating more than any plot holes or groan-worthy twists and logical inconsistencies. It may be bloated pop art that we see onscreen, but it is personalized, auteur­-driven art.

Go see the film. You will not be disappointed when you are in the theater, at least not by the experience. While it may not hold water upon multiple viewings, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is spectacle of the highest order.

Go see the movie or you’ll make her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry…
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The Author

Kyle Moody

Kyle Moody

Kyle Moody is a PhD candidate in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. His research and writing interests are digital media, online communities, popular culture, video games, and broadcasting/podcasting, and how online culture is responsible for expanding and shrinking communities. His blog Moodicarus explores these issues further, but with pictures and colors!
His entertainment loves include music from the Nineties, teen movies, karaoke and bicycling. He lives in Iowa City with his plants, LPs and video game collection, and hails from Georgetown, Kentucky. It’s not recommended that you make fun of his Kentucky Wildcats unless you want to get shown up on the court. Visit his blog - https://www.moodicarus.blogspot.com