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Obsession Drives Batman

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Batman Begins
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises
Starring Christian Bale, Anne
Hathaway, Michael Caine

DANCE OF IRE: Bruce Wayne (Chirstian Bale) falls for Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and her trap in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Courtesy photo

It’s hard to look at ‘the dark Knight Rises’ without addressing the previous installments, since this is part of a grand trilogy in the works for seven years. I liked “Batman Begins,” but I didn’t love it. I thought it was a well-made film with some questionable choices—the biggest being the casting of Katie Holmes, which made it extremely difficult to take seriously. In a movie about a guy who dresses up like a bat to fight crime, one wouldn’t think the least credible thing in it would be the actress playing the female lead. But high holy hell! She was terrible.

“The Dark Knight,” on the other hand, was perfection. The origin of the story was out of the way, so filmmakers could introduce the character’s most iconic villain, The Joker, and create a crime drama about the choice between order and anarchy. Nolan re-cast Holmes with the far more tolerable Maggie Gyllenhaal, built off the strong foundation he erected in the first film, and delivered the finest piece of comic-book cinema ever made. “The Dark Knight Rises” falls somewhere between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” Don’t get me wrong: It’s a fantastic film—an amazing summer blockbuster! It continues to take a very grounded approach to pop culture’s favorite bat.
At the end of the last film, Batman (Christian Bale) takes the fall for some murders to save the legacy of Harvey Dent. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) uses the death of Dent and the vilification of Batman to get tougher crime laws passed, which ushers in an eight-year crackdown, cleaning up Gotham for the first time. This more peaceful Gotham doesn’t need Batman. Without a cause, Bruce Wayne goes into an eight-year exile, leaving his company, his body and his mind in shambles. His longtime guardian Alfred (Michael Caine) seems desperate to get Bruce back into the world, and his reintegration into society comes in the form of a clever and attractive thief, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Basically, a boner gets Batman back into the game.

Selina is super hot and something of an armchair sociologist. She justifies stealing from the rich as an act of protest. Bruce Wayne represents the elite one percent who have lived in their ivory towers for far too long, the very target of her ire. Selina is merely a distraction. The real threat is a murderous mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy), who plans on leveling Gotham and destroying Batman. He’s a super intelligent, robot-voiced killing machine—a physical threat that Batman has never had to face. After being out of the game for eight years, Batman’s not exactly in peak physical condition.

Like Nolan’s previous films, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a large, sweeping story, packed to the brim with compelling characters. It tries to introduce some larger ideas to a genre of film not exactly known for intelligence. “Batman Begins” ultimately tackled the concept of choosing justice over vengeance. It introduced an idea that Batman must adhere to a higher standard.

“The Dark Knight” was about how society responds to the threat of violence. The Joker represented anarchy and the kind of random tragedy that threatens society, while Batman represented order. In the end, the people of Gotham proved order will prevail.

“The Dark Knight Rises” has a muddled message, but comes into focus in the third act. It’s about the importance of abandoning our obsessions and the necessity of sacrifice. Each of the characters has an obsession, one that drives them to various depths. Bruce Wayne has become obsessed with Batman. Commissioner Gordon is obsessed with revealing the truth about the lies he’s been harboring for eight years. Selina Kyle is obsessed with erasing her past and finding a fresh start. John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a young police officer obsessed with Batman and what he represents. Alfred is obsessed with Bruce having some kind of life that doesn’t involve putting on a cape and punching out criminals.

Obsession is what motivates all the characters, even the ones I can’t talk about due to not wanting to spoil some pretty awesome third-act twists. The fact that we’re this far into the review, talking about character motivations should tell just how wonderfully complex “The Dark Knight Rises” is. Most summer blockbusters never achieve this level of engagement. The problem is, it doesn’t always work; “The Dark Knight Rises” feels bloated. There’s more here there than needs to be: characters that serve no real purpose to the movie. Matthew Modine has an entire subplot which felt like it could have been cut without losing a single emotional beat. Nolan is one of the few filmmakers today who tries hard to give more, so I’m willing to forgive the excess.

The movie isn’t perfect. Convoluted plot points exist, and not everything always makes sense. Overall, it’s a far better blockbuster than we deserve. The last half hour is pure bliss, and Nolan manages to give us an ending that feels right for all the characters: redemption and pathos for all. The ending beautifully ties everything from all three films together with a nice, tidy bow. The acting is impressive, from series veterans Caine, Bale and Oldman, to newcomers Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway and Tom Hardy.

Christopher Nolan makes for an interesting filmmaker. He never explains everything outright, and a lot gets left up to the audience to solve. I think that’s the greatest gift to giant comic-book nerds like myself: We finally got an intelligent take on a comic-book character. Thanks, Mr. Nolan, we appreciate the effort.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Brand

    June 4, 2020 at 9:39 am

    I absolutely loved the Dark Knight Triology and watched it already multiple times. Christian Bale was a revelation which I honestly did not expect.

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