The Dark Knight Rises is the Best Christopher Nolan Batman Movie (This is not a Hyperbolic Hot-Take; This is the Truth)

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I’ll be completely honest, I was never all that into Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. I thought the movies were fine and wholly entertaining, but it always bothered me that the greatest modern film director was spending so many of his prime years making Batman movies.

After Inception came out, I was so jazzed on Nolan, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Inception was the work of someone who had a very specific passion (dreams) since they were a child and spent decades making it happen. Do you know how often “passion projects” end up being a director’s shittiest work? For every Inception or Almost Famous, we have to put up with an endless lineup of dumpster fires like This is 40, Aloha, Super 8, After Earth and so on. But Inception worked so well; I thought Christopher Nolan could do anything (and based on what you think of Interstellar [it’s great] he either can or can’t but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Unfortunately, I became completely deflated when I found out he was doing yet another Batman movie to follow up Inception. So two years went by and I saw The Dark Knight Rises. Once again, I was definitely entertained from start to finish but wasn’t blown away like I was with Inception. But back then, after I first saw it, on the car ride home with my friends, who were complaining about the ridiculous issues they had with the movie, I thought to myself, “I think that was pretty good…”

The Dark Knight Rises has been plagued over the years by fanboys breaking down every single small element of the movie that might not make sense: “How did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham after escaping the pit??” “How can there be a program that deletes your entire electronic history??” “How would Bane know his entire convoluted plan would go off without a hitch??”

Seriously? The fanboys who worshiped the previous movie about a man who dresses up as a bat, and fights a criminal wearing clown makeup, suddenly have issues about the minutiae of the plot?

The Dark Knight Rises is a massive movie and constantly has five or six story mechanics churning all at once. If anyone can handle this, it’s Christopher Nolan, and while detractors of the movie say he didn’t, he did. He absolutely fucking did.

I re-watched this movie twice in the last few years and it blows me away with every line. I couldn’t believe how important re-watching it was. It is easier to wrap your head around Inception on a first viewing than it is to wrap it around The Dark Knight Rises on the first bout. Every single line, for the first two thirds of the movie, are absolutely essential to what happens later on; everything that is said, is said for a reason and is setting up something to come later. It honestly can be a little exhausting at times. My girlfriend (yeah, I have a girlfriend AND write about Batman; we live in a paradoxical time), stopped the movie about 12 times to regroup and ask me what was going on and why people were saying what they were saying (does it count as mansplaining if she asked me to do it?).

Because of all this, the plot is obviously very convoluted, but damn if it doesn’t work so well. This movie is patient as hell. I’m sure the studio had issues with the fact that viewers don’t even see Batman in the suit until about 40 minutes into the story but the fact that Nolan fought for that, is a testament to his storytelling prowess. When Batman finally shows up on his motorcycle, flies his Bat-Airplane and beats the shit out of faceless goons with Catwoman, you can’t help but accept that it was all worth the wait.

What works so well about this movie is that we had not yet seen Batman be challenged physically. Batman Begins brought him face-to-face with fear. The Dark Knight introduced chaos that would test his morality. But The Dark Knight Rises makes him reconcile with the idea that there will always be someone out there who is stronger than him; someone who can break him. Bane is easily the best villain in this trilogy. Not only does he have the smarts to take down Gotham and Batman, but he also has the muscle to do it without breaking a sweat.

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This is a perfect opportunity to talk about the scene. You know the scene. Bruce prematurely goes into the sewers to stop Bane before his plan can progress any further. Bruce gave up being Batman for years but knowing that he never came across a thug he couldn’t pulverize, he figures Bane will be no different. When he challenges Bane, he comes to the unfortunate realization that Alfred tried to warn him of: Bane has the fiery, fighting passion that Bruce once had but has long since abandoned it.

What we are treated to is the best fight scene in cinema. I am not being hyperbolic. The whole thing is executed perfectly because it looks like it wasn’t planned. We are currently living in a world where fight scenes are so expertly choreographed that they end up looking more like a rehearsed dance routine, than a fight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s thrilling to watch Captain America take on The Winter Soldier on the streets of Washington, in a scene that stunt coordinators clearly spent weeks putting together, but Batman’s fight with Bane is something completely bulkier and somehow better. The fight is so effective because it’s honest about what it is: two muscle-headed guys slowly slugging their fists at each other. The sound effects in this scene are a bit over-the-top but that’s only to service how brutal this fight is supposed to be. Every punch, crack, tear and gasp can be heard.

Bruce does a great job of holding his own in the fight, which is another testament to Nolan; it would be less heartbreaking if Batman took on Bane and immediately got absolutely destroyed. The fact that Bruce can land so many brutal hits but somehow still end up on the ground, getting his face mashed in, makes us even more devastated. And because of this, it’s all the more satisfying at the end when Batman beats the shit out of Bane once he knows he has to break the mask first.

Many critics of this movie say that it gets too rushed in the final act and I suppose that might be valid but it’s also why I love it. The final 40 minutes of this movie are clunky, bombastic and all-out ridiculous and when I watched it, all I could think was, “finally…” Keep in mind, these are movies about a billionaire who nocturnally fights crime in a bat costume, so what works so well about this movie is that it actually leans in to the absurd, comic book-nature of it all. Yes, Batman is going to fight a giant man who can feel no pain, amidst an army of police officers going to war with prisoners and then he’s going to stop an atomic bomb from killing everyone… oh and by the way, he also has a flying Batmobile now. This is all objectively great and it all works. Not only does it work but it has emotional heft to it; the moment where Catwoman offers to help Bruce escape the city because he’s given Gotham everything he as to offer and Bruce responds, “Not everything; not yet,” still sends chills down my spine. The audience collectively has the same thought: Holy shit. Christopher Nolan is gonna crucify Batman for our sins.

The Dark Knight is definitely a tighter and more thoughtful movie, but it leaves me wanting more payoff. Batman kicking around the Joker a little bit at the end is not nearly as adrenaline-inducing as him punching Bane, square in the face, and saying “tell me where the trigger is… then… you have my permission to die.”

If The Dark Knight is a somewhat strong guy with perfectly sculpted abs, then The Dark Knight Rises is a dude who can deadlift a refrigerator but still has a 3.6 GPA.

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