The Dark Knight Rises: A Modern Legend for Today’s America

Okay. I’ll admit it. I was one of the ones who walked out of a theater on July 17, 2008, and said The Dark Knight would never be topped. I was one of the ones who doubted, when Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman. I was one of the ones who was frustrated, when Bane was announced as the villain, and not the Riddler. I was one of the ones who raised eyebrows at the 165-minute running time.

Once again, Christopher Nolan was right, and I was wrong.

The Dark Knight Rises is not just the best film of the year, but one of historical import. Brazen, brutal, and breath-stealing, the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s genre-busting saga is as enlightening as it is electrifying.

The world wondered how Nolan and his team could ever one-up the cultural phenomenon that was The Dark Knight, which was bolstered by Heath Ledger’s otherworldly performance as the anarchist serial killer known as the Joker.

Four years later, we have our answer. Whereas The Dark Knight was a thrilling, chaotic crime drama, this film is an epic tale of a legendary hero. The Dark Knight Rises ties the first two parts of the trilogy to the finale in seamless fashion, and it makes elements of Batman Begins especially important, recalling the oft-repeated line of that movie: “Why do we fall?”

Tom Hardy is ferocious and terrorizing as Bane, who has both the brains and the brawn to match Batman, pound-for-pound, and then some. As a merciless anarchist bent on Gotham’s total destruction, Bane pulls no punches and spares no one if he can help it. When he and Batman finally face off, the combat and violence are escalated to bone-rattling levels.

Every scene sizzles with suspense and uncertainty. Everything we fear about terrorism and anarchy are on full display. The violence pushes the envelope of PG-13, as The Dark Knight did. Many questioned why that movie wasn’t rated R, and this film is probably just as violent and equally disturbing. As one critic put it, “This movie makes The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man look childish and silly.” Make no mistake, The Dark Knight Rises is occasionally fun, but it is primarily an epic story of a hero and a city being pushed to the brink by forces of pure evil, and Nolan isn’t afraid to stretch the PG-13 rating to its limit.

For all the skepticism surrounding Anne Hathaway’s character, she makes a convincing turn as femme fatale Selina Kyle, the cat burglar. Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon delivers his best performance of the series, Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, while Michael Caine gives a surprisingly gripping and important portrayal as Alfred. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers the emotional credibility to his character, and Marion Cotillard, always a mesmerizing actress, rounds out an amazing ensemble cast. Every character has specific motivations and histories that the Nolan brothers bring to the forefront and tie into a fast-moving, complicated whirlwind plot.

But it’s Christian Bale’s reprisal as Bruce Wayne/Batman that is so engrossing. While Batman was overshadowed by The Joker in The Dark Knight, Nolan makes this movie about Bruce Wayne’s physical and personal journey, delving into the psychological toll of the events of the last two movies. Bruce Wayne is realized as a man who is truly alone, charged with snapping out of apathy, and overcoming the impossible. The problem is that he sees only one end to his journey, and that’s what his journey has been marked by: tragedy and death.

Even if people believe that this movie isn’t as good as The Dark Knight, there is no denying that it is a truly great movie in its own right, independent of its predecessor. Its epic themes, immersive performances, and mind-bending plot turns are on the same level as The Dark Knight and, in my opinion, go beyond that movie. The Dark Knight was a crime drama, but this movie takes that to the next level as an epic, echoing A Tale of Two Cities as well as Greek and Roman mythology. Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan, (who helped write Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight), wrote the first 400-page screenplay for the movie and deserves tremendous credit for the risks he takes and for the scope he brought to the table.

Critics are calling it the best post-9/11 film, because of its real-world atmosphere and themes that are grounded in today’s defining issues. It forces the viewer to confront questions concerning terrorism and class warfare, but it doesn’t alienate with specific political messages. Christopher Nolan said that he merely wanted to “honestly reflect the world we live in,” and it does just that, but it goes a step beyond that: it issues a challenge. It’s a challenge for America and perhaps the world. It’s a challenge to fight, to believe, to rise. A challenge to be a hero to ourselves, to our friends and family, and to our world.

Early box office returns indicate that The Dark Knight Rises will far exceed The Avengers $19 million midnight showing with a record $31 million. The film has a legitimate chance at topping the single day $80 million mark set by The Avengers, but analysts are unsure of whether it can claim the top spot of $91 million which was set by the last Harry Potter. Both of those films box office numbers are inflated by 3D ticket prices. Warner Brothers estimates it will make about $175 million on the weekend, short of the $207 million record set by The Avengers. However, speculation is growing that The Dark Knight Rises may indeed squeak out a box office win over The Avengers, despite its disadvantages. The excitement of the final installment of Nolan’s epic trilogy may have been weakened by news reports of a tragic shooting at a midnight screening in Colorado.

To whoever is hired to reboot the Batman franchise in a few years, I can only wish them luck. They’re going to need Divine intervention to surpass what Christopher Nolan accomplished with his Dark Knight trilogy. This movie, along with its hero, is legendary. In today’s world, where so many movies are cheap reboots and sequels and adaptations, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy stands as a beacon of integrity, vision, and originality. Its themes transcend modern moviemaking, elevating it to the level of the highest quality mythological storytelling. To borrow a line from The Dark Knight: perhaps this is the movie that we need, not the one we deserve.

This is a film that defines the times in which we live. And, like its hero, it does not compromise. It’s bleaker and blacker than anything you’ll see this summer, but it holds on to a simple but powerful hope. It’s grand ambition to make a modern myth is fully realized in emotional, intelligent, and riveting ways.

The movie is worth multiple viewings for its complex story, fascinating character development, and even a handful of plot twists. See it, see it in IMAX to experience the best possible picture and sound. Films like this one are an endangered species, and it’s not every day that you can witness something as culturally-defining and poignant as The Dark Knight Rises.

5 stars out of 5

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One thought on “The Dark Knight Rises: A Modern Legend for Today’s America

  1. Pingback: Bain vs Bane: The Politics of The Dark Knight Rises | muse of Odin

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