Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises. Even though we do not talk at length or detail about many of the plot twists and turns, we do discuss the ultimate conclusion of the story. If you want to read thoughts from us BEFORE we saw the movie, you’ll want to go here.
We just haven’t known what to write yet. To some extent, we still don’t. We both absolutely loved the movie. Although we weren’t together at the midnight premiere like we were for The Dark Knight, we chatted before while waiting in our seats and we chatted at 3:15 a.m. as we each drove home in Memphis and Nashville. We decided we needed to process it more before attempting to write a review.
One of us laid awake until 4:15 a.m. thinking about the last two scenes of the movie, absolutely relishing in the ending.
The other one of us laid down in bed, checked Twitter, and read the earliest reports out of Aurora, CO. Upon seeing it, he laid awake until 4:15 a.m. as well, but with different images in his head.
As we woke up to varying reports (some true, some false… God Bless the 24 hour, cable news cycle) of terror, death, injury, and chaos in Colorado, there was no movie review we could write. We discussed it amongst ourselves and agreed that we were too tired and it was too soon to try to process Nolan’s closing chapter of his Dark Knight Trilogy, especially in light of so much death and tragedy.
In the days since The Dark Knight Rises premiered and the Aurora shooting, our country is still a bit somber. We’re a bit more scared. We’re a lot more heartbroken. And, most of all, there is just a general sense of anxiety about our culture and the world we live in, with an undercurrent of uncertainty about where evil comes from and what can we do about it.
It is these feelings that Nolan’s films eerily speak to, which is part of the caution we have in writing anything at all. After all, so much (arguably too much) has already been written. Every possible talking point, approach, political position, cultural analysis, and faith has had its advocates and articles. What can possibly be left for us to say?
Well, we’ve decided there’s only two things to do – (1) review The Dark Knight Rises as we would any other film; and (2) parsing through the stories from Aurora, CO along with the bevy of articles about the film and/or the tragedy, try to make sense of the tragedy in light of the film. Because whether you believe Nolan’s trilogy is pure silly blockbuster, a moral tale for our time, a takes-itself-too-seriously superhero story, an example of what caused the Aurora tragedy, or something else altogether, it will undoubtedly be linked to the massacre at the midnight premiere.
As a film, I felt it was the perfect closing chapter to Nolan’s story. I couldn’t have been happier that Nolan tricked me in the end and Batman lived on, as a sacrificial symbol, a Joseph Gordon-Levitt successor, and a retired and content Bruce Wayne. Christopher Nolan wins again, leading us down a path to hinting toward doing something no other superhero movie has done, and in the end, letting us know that it was just his own way of telling a superhero story all along. I must admit, that as many analysts and critics have pointed out, the twists and reveals in the final half hour of the film leading up to the final sacrifice and sequence felt a bit anticlimactic at times. Batman’s “death” didn’t resonate as much as I imagined it would. The Miranda Tate turn and Bane’s reveal as a beast-sized lovelorn puppy felt more like something out of The Avengers or a Spiderman movie than a Nolan Batman film.
But it was redeemed by the ending, in which Nolan continued to turn the superhero story on its head and leave us with an unconventional yet still “happy” ending. To me, it was almost as if he was saying, “Gotcha again. This was a superhero story all along… but still different. Because although the legacy of Batman lives on, our hero has hung up the cape, because he’s as human as the rest of us.”
As WB over at Mockingbird explained it, “And this is why Nolan concludes the trilogy perfectly: evil isn’t vanquished permanently, Gotham’s era of heroes isn’t over (as we see from Robin’s spelunking scene), but age and humility have finally freed Bruce. As befits Batman, the closing scenes are not epic rebuilding of Gotham or the punishment of evil. Instead, we see one man’s delight in simple human life (after dying to the hero’s burden) and a woman’s freedom now that her record has been cleared.”
Nolan’s films aren’t any more perfect than Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is. Michael Caine’s performance on the other hand might just be. And I must say that, although not a very big fan of her, Anne Hathaway may have been the most pleasant surprise as an understated Catwoman. The other pleasant surprise was how engrossing and memorable the middle act in The Pit was. That is the part I’m most looking forward to seeing again upon further viewings.
As much as you don’t want one lost and depraved soul’s shooting spree to take away from debate over one of the most anticipated films of the decade, it undoubtedly does. And it does feel a bit silly to discuss/debate plot points in a fictional universe. But it feels a little less silly to discuss why Nolan’s trilogy has resonated so much since it began in the summer of 2005.
As Ross Douthat in his excellent article, “The Way We Fear Now,” states, “Nolan’s films are not the great art that some of their admirers imagine them to be, but they are effective dramatizations of the Way We Fear Now. Their villains are inscrutable, protean, appearing from nowhere to terrorize, seeking no higher end than chaos, no higher thrill than fear. Their hero fights, not for truth, justice and the American Way, but for a more basic form of civilizational order: He knows his society — his Gotham, our America — is decadent and corrupt in many ways, but he also knows that the alternatives are almost infinitely worse. [...] Yes, sometimes vigilantism saves the day; sometimes people working on the outskirts of the law can protect those of us who live within it; sometimes the law itself can prevent evil men from gaining the tools to wreak destruction. But often, the most important defense of civilization takes place only after tragedy has struck, and innocents have perished. And the real heroes are neither police nor politicians nor an imaginary batsuited billionaire, but the people — whether in Columbine or Lower Manhattan or now Aurora, Colo. — who carry one another through the valley of the shadow of death, and by their conduct ensure that the Jokers and James Holmeses of the world win only temporary victories.”
So we sit here after the tragedy has struck. We’re re-entering the same stale debate of archetypal extremes concerning gun laws instead of having pragmatic discussion about what we can do to actually improve the safety of all our citizens. We’re focusing (as we should be to some extent) on the sociological breakdowns in our culture, institutionally and organizationally. (Sound familiar to Gotham? And we wonder why Nolan’s movie resonates) As David Brooks points out, we are overlooking all too much the psychiatric issues that need to be addressed: ”Looking at guns, looking at video games — that’s starting from the wrong perspective. People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders. The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too. The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships — when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s. The truly disturbed have always been with us, but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms.”
So the debates swirl on. The yelling gets louder. We debate over what we should prioritize, what the real problems are, and what the solutions should be. Most of all, though, with the Olympics upcoming and this tragedy on our minds, we become more anxious. Society questions whether God exists and how a merciful God could allow such a thing. We celebrate the miracles that are the lives saved and the true real-life heroes that actually gave the ultimate sacrifice for their loved ones. We mourn those who are lost and try to learn the lessons to ensure it will never happen again. Narratives are sewn together that combine the politics, the culture, the law, faith, sociology, psychiatry, and any other aspect of our human existence on this earth.
We’re trying to make sense of that which is impossible to make sense of. Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s amazingly portrayed John “Robin” Blake at the end of the film, we’re trying to provide hope to the hopeless even at the moment when all hope seems to be lost forever. We cling to eternity, hoping it will provide comfort in the temporal. We’re reminded that the beauty of humanity is that it has great capacity to do both ultimate good and ultimate evil. We’re reminded that the frustration of humanity is that no matter what we do, both will always exist.
Nolan’s films have captured these themes better than any other blockbuster (and most other movies) ever have. It is all too sad that we continue to have massive scale, real-life reminders of them as well, both here in our country, on the other side of the world, and everywhere in-between.
Theater/Redbox/None: Without a doubt see this in theaters.
As you can see by the scoring, we both loved the movie. Nolan’s ability to combine the summer blockbuster with a truly thoughtful and complex plot is unrivaled in Hollywood today. Which is a shame really, considering most all summer blockbusters have huge budgets.
Ultimately we both agreed on a few main points:
1. In the end this WAS Nolan’s superhero movie. As it was written by us that Bruce Wayne would likely die, it was written by Christopher Nolan that Batman wouldn’t. And I think ultimately most people were pleased by that.
2. We wouldn’t expect any kind of Batman reboots any time soon ala Spiderman. That would simply be career suicide for whoever helmed that.
3. Every single minute of The Dark Knight Rises was both relevant and exciting. And with there being 165 minutes, that’s quite the feat.
4. Midnight premiere experiences are well worth the sleepiness the following day.