A Crazy Violent Act and A Very Good Film (“The Dark Knight Rises”)

The movie theater where I watched The Dark Knight Rises (2012) had this poster in the coming attractions display, warning the audience for Step Up Revolution (2012). While the dance movie has garnered some positive reviews, some are concerned that a scene with the dancers wearing gas masks amid a cloudy haze might evoke thoughts of the shootings at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. My theater, however, had no similar warnings for The Dark Knight Rises, a film that is full of scenes of terrorism, violence, and killings. I guess it is all about expectations, and one going to a Batman movie in 2012 should expect levels of violence that far exceed the Batman television show of the 1960s.

I have written about how movies often follow a familiar pattern of endorsing redemptive violence, showing a hero who is repeatedly beaten down so that we want nothing more than for the hero to rise up and use violence against his oppressor or oppressors. And The Dark Knight Rises follows this typical movie pattern, where we accept that the solution to the problems will be more violence. Director Christopher Nolan does present these themes with more complexity than other movies, as we see Bruce Wayne tiring of the Batman job while Batman still declines to use guns.

But I do not think that the movie violence itself determines whether a film is good or bad, only that we film-goers should be knowledgeable about the way our entertainment is used. So, that said, The Dark Knight Rises is a well-told story that ties up and concludes one of the best trilogies in movie history. So do not let the press about one crazy act in Colorado stop you from going to see this film.

The film picks up years after The Dark Knight (2008) left off, and it also ties in much of the story of the first film in the trilogy, Batman Begins (2005). Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a recluse and Batman has disappeared. A powerful new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), appears, and we meet Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). We learn of a connection between Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) from Batman Begins. And, well, if you have not seen the previous two films — or it has been awhile — you might want to rent them before seeing The Dark Knight Rises as the new film assumes a certain level of familiarity with the earlier films.

The acting is excellent, as Bale may give his best performance as Wayne/Batman, showing layers of character in Bruce Wayne and growling less as Batman than in the previous film. While Bane wears a mask so you cannot see his mouth, Nolan makes sure you can understand what he is saying. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Alfred (Michael Caine), and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), return as much of the heart of the trilogy. The film also introduces new key characters, including young police officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

The movie has several layers that may leave one wondering about the message of the film. Bane and other villains talk about the oppressed rising up against the rich class, which some have noted evokes recent protests by Occupy Wall Street. But as the bad guys advocate chaos and destruction, does that mean Nolan is against them? Or is he just incorporating the reference without taking sides? And is Nolan supporting the strict Harvey Dent law that evokes recent terrorism laws passed in the U.S.? The answers are not clear, but good movies give one something to think about after the lights come on, and The Dark Knight Rises is worth further thought and discussion.

Although the film takes 2 hours and 44 minutes to reach its conclusion, it did not seem long to me, as it tied together the various stories (although there is no reference to The Joker out of respect to the late Heath Ledger). About half-way through the film someone said something that made me realize how the film would end, but I was still entertained as the movie took some twists and turns to get there.

Conclusion: How does the film compare to its predecessors? The Dark Knight had the great performance of Heath Ledger, so I suspect most people will find that the second film is their favorite of the series. I also liked that The Dark Knight avoided the typical villain-as-brilliant-genius story and went for a villain-as-mentally-ill story, which as we see from the Colorado shooting is probably more realistic. But for the excellent screenplay asking more complex questions than a typical superhero film, a few surprises, and the way Nolan wrapped it all up, I would make a case for The Dark Knight Rises as one of the best final films in any trilogy.

I have already posted the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, so check out a trailer for the entire trilogy, which reminds you of what Nolan and company have accomplished with the films.

Other Reviews Because Why Should You Listen to Me?: Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 87% rating from critics and a 92% rating from audience members. The movie has received some mixed reviews, perhaps partly due to high expectations. Anthony Lane at The New Yorker says The Dark Knight Rises is “is murky, interminable, confused, and dropsical with self-importance,” although he finds the film redeemed by Anne Hathaway’s performance. The Daily Mail calls the movie “a pretentious mess.” Bob Garver at the Herald-Mail, by contrast, says the movie is “satisfying enough to be considered a worthy finale” to the trilogy. Lisa Kennedy at The Denver Post liked the movie even more, saying “the film is a feat of painstakingly crafted closure.” Omer M. Mozaffar wrote a very good essay about the trilogy on the Chicago Sun-Times website, but be warned that it contains spoilers if you have not seen the film. Finally, my reference in this post to “redemptive violence” in films, cartoons, etc. comes from scholar and theologian Walter Wink, who passed away this May. Although he wrote books on the topic, one of his short essays on redemptive violence is at Ekklesia. RIP.

What did you think of “The Dark Knight Rises”? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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