The Dark Knight Rises

Satisfying conclusion
Christopher Nolan
Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman
The Setup: 
New villain draws Batman out of retirement.

I'm a little unenthusiastic to write about this one, and I'm not sure why. Maybe because there will be so much else written about it, and one can't really give spoilers, and although it's quite good and is definitely a satisfying conclusion to this round of Batman films, you don't walk out with that "Holy shit, that was AMAZING!" feeling you walked out of Dark Knight with. Maybe because it's exactly as good as you thought it would be.

So we open with this dude Bane, played by Tom Hardy, escaping from a prison transfer. Then we're at a fund-raiser at Wayne manor in honor of Harvey Dent, who has gone into the history books as a hero who was killed by now infamous villain Batman. Wayne has now become a recluse with a limp who stays inside, and Batman has also been absent for eight years. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle breaks in and steals the family jewels, but also Wayne's fingerprints, which we will soon find out are for Bane. She meets Wayne long enough to beguile him.

Alfred's nagging has gone into high gear, about how Bruce needs to get out there and live life again, but Bruce is still mourning, ummm... whoever his childhood sweetheart was. One of the weaknesses of the last film, that carries over here, is they were never able to convince (me, at least) of the deep, passionate nature of his attachment to whatever-her-name. Anyway, it gets so bad with Alfred that at certain points I expected Bruce to whirl on him and shout "Nag! Nag! Nag!"

More development, more characters, then, at a certain point Bane takes over the stock exchange and bankrupts Wayne Industries. Why he needed to take over the stock exchange for that is unclear, but it leads into a big chase that brings Batman out. He strapped some thing on his leg that fixed it instantly, by the way. One of the things these movies do well is that moment of surprised delight when one of Batman's gadgets does something new and amazing, and there's a good one here where his motorcycle proves able to execute a bat-turn.

More development, more Selina Kyle being wily, and at a certain point she takes Batman to meet Bane, where he gets severely beaten down. He is sent back to the training place from the first film, in Tibet or wherever, where he lies broken in prison. In the meantime, Bane traps Gotham's whole police force underground and effectively creates a revolution, in which the 99% rise up against the 1%. Or something like that. He's also turned the fusion-thingy from the first movie into a bomb that'll explode in a few months. Then something one doesn't often see in action films... months pass.

Months pass with Wayne still in prison, the police underground, and... well, I was never really sure what was happening society-wide. The prisoners (who have been broken out) have taken over? Crime rules the streets? Anyway, Batman saves the day in satisfying manner and all of our loose ends are wrapped up in a 100% satisfying way. It may not be amazing, and there may be some things left a bit vague, but these can diminish against the sheer ambition of the film and it's balancing of so many characters along with real-world resonance.

So what else? Gotham City is now explicitly New York. It is a bit jarring to have it suddenly be a TOTALLY different city than it has been before, but one gets used to it and accepts. Part of this is because the film is explicitly trading on the Occupy Wall Street protest and 9/11 terrorism, and we have shots of the common folk dragging Fifth Avenue women out of their penthouses and taking their spoils. But, although it clearly ties itself to recent events, honestly, in the end I'm not sure what it's SAYING about them. Everything just gets kind of vague. Like who is really in charge, the populous, or the prisoners? Or Bane? What's really happening in this city during all those months? I recall being in high school and justifying liking groups like U2 and Midnight Oil because they were "political," but later realizing that merely MENTIONING a political situation is not the same thing is actually making a statement about it. Kind of the same thing here. This film takes place among real-world events, but that's not necessarily really processing them or making a statement on how to view them. Contrast this with Spielberg's War of the Worlds. That film tied itself to 9/11 terror, but the last half became about the ideological debate between foolishly attacking for revenge, or taking a more reasoned, but perhaps less satisfying approach. So it ties itself to real events, then delivered a statement about them. This film... it sure references real events, but I'm not sure they finally function as anything but window dressing.

I'm going to see it again on Thursday, I'll let you know if anything clears up then.

Still, if it's all in the interest of merely being entertaining without being brain-dead, it certainly succeeds. It's just as entertaining and clever and satisfying as you could want. One of the things I think is most clever is the visor-contraption of Selina Kyle. She is never explicitly called Catwoman, and doesn't have little cat ears as part of her costume. What she does have, however, are these goggles on her mask that, when flipped up, LOOK like little cat ears. So the movie very cleverly finds a way to give her little cat ears without actually giving her little cat ears. Nice!

The other thing is, a lot can be forgiven given how ambitious all of this is. There are numerous characters, including a bunch of new ones, and they are all clearly laid out and all have something to do. The politics of an entire city are deftly handled. It all circles back to the previous films (especially the first one) in ways that tie it all together (but don't quite require re-viewing, as perhaps you've heard). And it finds ways to raise the stakes even further than Dark Knight, even if it doesn't have quite as magnetic a villain. It also finds a quite satisfying way to send off Bruce Wayne and resolve the whole Batman thing for this cycle. Yep, it works, and no one will go away unhappy. Except, perhaps, that it's over.

Should you watch it: 

Like anything I say could sway you.