SPOILERS AHEAD–if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t read this review!
Not perfect, but an excellent and, above all, necessary ending to the best superhero trilogy ever put to screen.
It’s not better than The Dark Knight. But it is a fantastic film that I will most certainly be seeing again, if only to more deeply understand the machinations of one of the most intricately-woven plots in recent memory.
The film has its flaws, I admit; it’s much like The Hunger Games in that respect. The plot takes a while to get going, there are some implausibilities that remove the film from the tonally realistic world of the first two films, the humor quotient is toned down, the intimate character studies are pulled back to allow a more epic, standard tentpole film scale, the editing is a bit too unsubtle at times, and it requires the viewer to make minor assumptions (at least on first viewing, but no more than the mostly poorly-plotted Avengers, which skated by on its deft wit, tight characterization [not character arcs, there’s a difference] and excellent action sequences).
HOWEVER, THAT DOESN’T MATTER.
First, from a pure entertainment standpoint, Christopher Nolan realized that he couldn’t top the Joker as a villain. So he replaced the Joker with two things to create somewhat of an aggregate, Billy Beane-style: the plot twist revolving around Talia Al-Ghul, and the scale of the film, with raised stakes substituting for the realism of the previous films, a worthy tradeoff. The performances are stellar, all around–no one is weak, ever. Wally Pfister shot the film with grace and beauty. The film’s editing is mostly spectacular, acknowledging the flaws. Of course it was incredibly well-directed. Few-to-no plot holes (ahem, Avengers [sorry, Joss]). The music is fantastic and drives the action well, and Catwoman’s theme is appropriately alluring and unique–great work with the dissonant piano, Mr. Zimmer. Well-written structurally (I’ll get to that in detail later), the film also challenges its audience intellectually–awesome for a superhero film (much like the last two, the mantra is: NO MORE SHALL WE BE AFRAID TO BE SMART!). Oh, and I almost forgot: THIS IS THE SUPERHERO MOVIE AMERICA DESERVES, AND THE ONE IT NEEDS RIGHT NOW (stolen from my good friend and roommate, sir Cameron Evans).
Secondly, and more importantly (to me, anyway), the film has eight, count ’em, EIGHT, excellent messages, mostly revolving around choice, whereas most movies have one, and they’re generally not-so-great:
1) Pain and suffering breed strength — “Why do we fall?” “So we can get back up.” This is a motif throughout the series, but it’s expanded upon here with the message that…
2) You have a CHOICE in how you choose to handle that strength — Like Batman, or Blake, or hell, even Catwoman by the end of the film, you can choose to use it for GOOD (and are encouraged to). If you’re like Bane or Talia, you can choose to use it for evil (and are discouraged to).
3) Selflessness beats selfishness — Catwoman’s arc teaches us that much. She starts out acting selfishly, and learns to be selfless, helping to save the city and later sexxxing our hero, thusly proving that selflessness is (and should be) rewarded in the end with selfless acts from others.
4) Death can be both feared AND embraced — This is where the film becomes its most existential. Bear with me here. Batman learns in the pit that death must be feared and fought against–living life to the fullest and doing as much for others as possible should be the ultimate goal–but also embraced, as in the end when he sacrifices himself, or at least his identity, metaphorically if not literally dying, in service of such a goal. That’s straight outta Camus, even if I articulated it like a five-year-old (sorry, it’s 4 AM).
5) Anyone can be a hero — It’s the simple acts of SELFLESSNESS, like putting the coat on a young boy. I don’t care how cheesy it is (just like The Newsroom), it’s brilliant and beautiful.
6) Truth is important, and the means matter just as much as the ends — Machiavelli said “the ends justify the means”. Well, yes, the means of lying about Dent did, for eight years in Gotham, but it didn’t stop the underlying issue–that Gotham was still corrupt and vulnerable, as long as those in power (i.e. Daggett, the Wall Street stockbrokers) were still selfish and solely interested in money, and would LIE and scheme, like Gordon had to lie and scheme, to keep it. Once trust and TRUTH was restored, selflessness became the mantra, as evidenced by the small, but important, Matthew Modine arc.
7) Catwoman is the sexiest character in the history of moviedom — Anne Hathaway. Damn. Great chemistry with everyone she shared the screen with. And not just physically… her intelligence, political savvy and character arc make her personality positively… magnetic. But onto the real message…
7) Anarchy doesn’t work — Simple and obvious, I know, but it’s cool to see a movie about mostly individual actions giving focus to the importance of government and how, when led by the right people acting selflessly, it becomes a force for good.
8) Plant and payoff is the best device in all of screenwriting — This script is masterfully structured. It’s execution might be imperfect, but the STRUCTURE. DAMN. Chris & Jonah Nolan (and David S. Goyer too, I guess) pulled off something incredibly difficult.
All of these messages are not only good, important, and relevant, but timely, in this defining era of American history. The Avengers made huge money, but it squandered its potential to affect positive change in its audience, an audience in desperate need of it. The Dark Knight Rises will beat The Avengers at the boxoffice this weekend and teach people about the importance and necessity of SELFLESSNESS. Now THAT is a heroic feat that even the Batman could be proud of.
Thank you to all involved with this beautiful trilogy. You deserve all the good things in the world. And by that I mean a life with Catwoman.