“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012). Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Tom Conti, Alon Moni Aboutboul, Ben Mendelsohn, Nestor Carbonell, Brett Cullen, Chris Ellis, Juno Temple. Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Story: Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Source material: Bob Kane. www.thedarkknightrises.com/In a world filled with despair, where it seems as though its inhabitants have been saddled with circumstances beyond their control and everyone is out for themselves, it can be difficult to envision things being any different. Yet it is possible when the elements of choice, hope and service are present, even in seemingly diminished capacities, as becomes apparent in the new summer blockbuster, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
As the third and final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” picks up the story where its predecessor, “The Dark Knight” (2008), left off. The picture’s complicated narrative is a little too detailed to go into in depth here, especially since doing so would likely result in spoilers, so suffice it to say that the film’s principal story lines unfold from the following seminal events.
Batman (a.k.a. the Dark Knight) (Christian Bale), long the champion of Gotham City’s vulnerable and downtrodden, has been missing for eight years. Having selflessly taken the rap for a crime he did not commit, the murder of Mayor Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart in “The Dark Knight”), the Caped Crusader simply vanished from the Gotham landscape, his whereabouts unknown. Most presumed the superhero’s disappearance was a cowardly act to evade prosecution, but there was more to it than that; the events leading up to the mayor’s death took a huge personal toll on Batman’s real-life counterpart, millionaire Bruce Wayne. As a consequence, the physically and emotionally wounded philanthropist chose to seclude himself in his estate, having little contact with anyone other than his longtime friend, butler and associate, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine). But, by taking this step, the altruistic Mr. Wayne allowed his personal circumstances and his business empire to slowly deteriorate.Things change, however, when new threats arise that place both the protagonist and Gotham City at large in jeopardy. Faced with big choices about what to do, the reclusive Mr. Wayne must decide whether or not he – and Batman – should resurface. The stakes are indeed high, with the outcomes hinging on the fickle antics of the unpredictable Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), the brutal behavior of the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy), the noble gestures of an idealistic young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the soul-searching of a troubled police commissioner (Gary Oldman) and the loyalty of Mr. Wayne’s longtime business associates (Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman). The interplay of these plot lines, coupled with a terrific series of action sequences, weave a colorful tapestry of intrigue and thrills that will keep viewers captivated and guessing right up until the end.
Even though this film and its two predecessors are based on comic book characters, one shouldn’t dismiss them as lightweight fare. In fact, the opposite is true; this is sophisticated, mature material that just happens to take place in a fantastic setting, and its underlying themes have much to say, both socially and metaphysically, on multiple levels.
Central to the picture’s narrative is the matter of choice, namely, should Batman/Bruce Wayne come out of hiding and, if so, how should our hero respond to the challenges presented. To address these questions, he must look deep within himself to determine how to proceed. In managing the power and responsibility that come with his abilities, both as an avenger and, more fundamentally, as a conscious creator, he must draw upon the wisdom of his metaphysical teachings (which harken back to the first installment in the series, “Batman Begins” (2005)), not only to handle what’s before him but also to make sure that he’s being true to himself. He has a good example to draw upon for comparison, too, when confronted with the nefarious behavior of Bane, someone who came out of the same metaphysical tradition but chose to take a very different path with it. Batman must come to terms with his choices and make sure he follows his heart, his true intents, when putting his beliefs into practice, no matter how trying that may be under the circumstances.
Using our powers of manifestation for good or for evil calls upon us to adhere to our personal truths, even when it may be convenient or tempting to cast them aside and employ them in self-serving ways or, worse yet, to simply walk away from them. Batman/Bruce Wayne must wrestle with this, as must a number of his allies, some of whom take surprising turns in their behavior, both for better and worse. Even the residents of Gotham City must come to terms with this question, especially when they fall under Bane’s spell, taking into account a range of beliefs covering considerations as diverse as self-preservation, justice, retribution, anarchy and reform. It’s a message we’d all be wise to follow in light of our own current changing social and economic structures and the rise of movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Will we use our powers of creation and choice just and responsibly? Will we fall prey to apathy? Will we put personal gain ahead of societal needs? Or will we simply allow ourselves to get even at any cost?A key component in examining these questions is the notion of being of service, particularly to others, something that both Batman and Bruce Wayne are well-acquainted with. Their efforts along these lines serve as a shining example to fellow Gothamites and movie audiences alike. Such noble gestures provide a guiding light for creating a better reality but one that doesn’t simultaneously sacrifice its principles in righting wrongs and effecting meaningful change.
At the same time, the film also addresses the correlative concept of being of service to oneself. This is not to suggest engaging in actions that are self-serving but, rather, the pursuit of goals that serve (and fulfill) us as individuals. Being contributing members of society doesn’t equate to us being social doormats who never take our own needs into consideration, for that puts us in a position of personal weakness that ultimately keeps us from becoming socially productive souls. This is a lesson Bruce Wayne desperately needs to learn, for, in his altruism as both philanthropist and crime fighter, he has long ignored it, and his eight-year hiatus from the world isn’t exactly a healthy solution for dealing with it. It requires the imposition of some balance in life where both society’s – and one’s own – needs are addressed.
One might infer from the foregoing that this is a picture fraught with overwhelming circumstances, and the challenges for all concerned are indeed daunting. However, the story line is also replete with hope, rising, like the Dark Knight himself, just when all seems lost. It’s a powerful force for handling even the most daunting conditions, a belief that spawns the best of all possible outcomes, despite the odds. It serves as a potent reminder of what’s possible if only we allow ourselves to believe.At the risk of sounding like I’m gushing, “The Dark Knight Rises” is by far the best movie I’ve seen thus far this year, exceeding all of my expectations (and doing so in a genre that is not generally one of my favorites). The picture is technically brilliant, with action sequences that offer a great thrill ride and a level of violence that’s always in context and never gratuitous. It features a fine ensemble cast with good performances across the board, particularly those turned in by Caine, Hathaway and Hardy. It characters are well-developed, too, successfully avoiding the temptation of presenting them as one-dimensional beings.
The picture is not without its issues, though, either. The complicated story line can be a bit challenging to follow at times, especially in its references to events from the two prior films in the trilogy, something that the uninitiated may find a little frustrating. Because of that, some might contend – and rightfully so – that the movie doesn’t stand on its own as well as it might (though one could easily make the same case for pictures like those in the “Lord of the Rings” series). And, with a run time of nearly 2:45, the film could have been pared down a little without harm to the plot in some of its slower-moving sequences, though none of these issues seriously detracts from the movie’s overall quality.
It’s been said that, where there’s life, there’s hope, and that’s certainly the case for the beleaguered City of Gotham in this picture, as well as in our own often-troubled world. As long as we never lose sight of that and are willing to become our own Dark Knights, we can hold on to the prospect of bringing it into being for ourselves.
Regrettably, it’s virtually impossible to talk about “The Dark Knight Rises” without addressing the tragic events that took place at an opening night screening of the picture in Aurora, CO, where 12 movie patrons were fatally shot and more than 50 others were injured. It’s hard to get a handle on the senselessly violent actions of a gunman acting out a pointless rampage, especially at a venue as seemingly safe as a movie theater. Such actions can in no way be condoned.
However, as utterly appalling as these events were, there’s another potential victim that runs the risk of being unfairly caught up in the fallout of this tragedy, and that’s the movie itself. For better or worse, there’s the potential that this film will always be tainted by this calamity, which is indeed unfortunate. As such a fine piece of filmmaking, it doesn’t deserve the dubious distinction that could be permanently thrust upon it.
While nothing can erase the horrific memories of what happened on that fateful evening in suburban Denver, one can only hope that this picture isn’t unduly saddled with a regrettable case of guilt by association. The film deserves to be recognized for the artistic achievement that it is and not remembered solely as the backdrop for an unspeakable catastrophe.
It’s ironic that an event like this transpired in conjunction with a film that innately carries such uplifting themes as hope and service. Let us hope it is those inspiring qualities that we associate with this picture and not the tragic events that unfolded in connection with it.
Copyright © 2012, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.