Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises (PG-13) was one of the most anticipated movies in recent memory (maybe ever) is a bit of an understatement. While there wasn’t the multi-year, multi-franchise build-up that spawned The Avengers, the finale of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was getting a more, shall we say, mature buzz. There was legit talk of a Best Picture nomination. Unlike The Avengers, this was a film that everybody was wanting to see, from the fanboy to the film snob. Was it worth the wait?

First, let’s take a look at what was actually delivered.

In terms of plot, DKR takes place several years after the events of Dark Knight. Harvey Dent is exalted as a heroic martyr while the Batman is regarded as a villain. Bruce has gone into hiding and is pretty much a recluse. His self-imposed retirement ends with the appearance of Bane (Tom Hardy of Warrior fame) who seems to be a particularly vicious domestic left-wing terrorist who happens to work for corporate aristocrats. Allegedly.

You might be wondering how the above paragraph encapsulates a movie that is three hours long. Well, it doesn’t, but I’m not going any further because I have to try very hard not to drop spoilers inadvertently.

After the gangbuster response that Heath Ledger got as the Joker, there was a lot of pressure on assembling a supporting cast for DKR that would furnish a worthy follow-up. We got Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. It just didn’t work. She just can’t do sensual and feline, which is kind of a big deal if you’re going to be Catwoman. Was she better than Maggie Gyllenhaal as a female lead? Sure, but a ficus tree would have been just as welcome a replacement. Tom Hardy was limited as to what he could do as Bane, since most of his face was covered by a mask, but he gave a very imposing performance. The shame of it was that the mask so muffled his voice at times that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. This got to be annoying after a while, especially since his delivery was excellent when intelligible.

For the good guys, Gary Oldman returns as Jim Gordon, which is nice. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a street cop fascinated by the Batman legend has made me forget all about Angels in the Outfield. Michael Caine really shines, though. Alfred’s perspective in the Batman saga gets ignored a lot. This is odd given his role as the guy who essentially raised Batman from childhood. That shouldn’t be easy to forget. Sort of like St. Joseph, he’s written out of the picture far too often. That gets full treatment here, and I’m glad Nolan spent time developing that plotline.

Nolan has made a rep for himself with these movies. Needless to say, he doesn’t stray from the formula here too much. It takes a bit longer for the action to get going, but he makes the wait worth it, I think. Otherwise, things are pretty standard for him, right up until the twist at the end. Yes, there’s a twist. I’m wondering when people are going to start mocking Nolan like they do Shyamalan for that. To be clear, I don’t find this to be a bad thing from either of them. However, I’m fairly certain I’m in the minority on that.

This brings me to the Catholic elements part of the review. Hoo boy. I have no idea if Nolan is Catholic, but holy smokes, if he isn’t then he should be. The whole project is basically a modernized version of Catholic social theories and paternalism. The movie begins by making you consider who Bruce Wayne vis-a-vis his friends, occupation, and his land (as in Gotham). It’s a stark portrait of what amounts to a monarch or lord, albeit not a particularly engaged one since he’s vanquished all of the land’s enemies in the prior installment. This peace, since it’s built on a lie (the sacrifice at the end of Dark Knight), is doomed to fail. The monarch, now quite a bit older and off his game, is called forth to again to banish the minions of evil that are trying to oppress his people. Why does he do this? Because they are his people. They are his responsibility. His station in the social order demands that he protect them.

Now, let’s talk about that social order. The first part of the movie focuses on Bruce Wayne and Catwoman and their conflicts with the rich, powerful, and greedy. There is a great deal of commentary about the excesses of the wealthy and how they misuse that wealth at the expense of the lower classes. Not only that, but they use their wealth to eliminate their other wealthy competitors so that ultimately the guy doing all the nasty stuff is the one with all the money and control. Naturally, Bruce Wayne provides the contrast here, but the narrative is like something you would hear at an Occupy Wall Street rally.

The film’s next act unleashes Bane’s plan on Gotham, which goes off like 1917 Russia. He “liberates” the under-classes and allows them to terrorize the rich. The latter are beaten up, thrown out in the streets, robbed, and put on trial for nothing more than having material possessions. Here, we see the flip side of the “evil rich” scheming. The poor become a mob who justify their sins by the fact that others hold a higher socioeconomic status.

The Church naturally frowns on both of these perspectives. The genius point that Nolan fleshes out in all this is how it’s all resolved. Again, I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but the salvation of Gotham comes from the acknowledgement that every class of society has a role to play and a job to do. We aren’t all Batman. We aren’t all public servants. We all have a place, though, and that place is important if we are to promote the common good. The rich must use their means for something other than self-serving gain. The poor and working classes should not succumb to envy and their own form of greed. Instead, they should use what they themselves have for virtuous ends and find meaning in their work.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard a lot of people criticize DKR as being propaganda for both Republicans and Democrats, so it apparently hit the right nerves even though many don’t seem to have actually understood the message. For me, it was a magnificent illustration of a Catholic vision of society. Like any tale based on comics, it used extremes to do so, but that’s necessary sometimes.

The adult content that was disappointing seemed to have been included just to insure a PG-13 rating. Of course, there was violence. It’s tough to have Batman without it. As could be expected, Catwoman wears a cat-suit, but at least it covered everything. There is the aftermath of a sex scene that could have easily been omitted. Nothing is shown, but it could have been dispensed with. The language was a scattered collection of probably 20 or so swear words. Unfortunately, I did catch one instance of blasphemy.

If you haven’t guessed, I really, really like this movie. I admit that I’m biased. There are a couple of plot holes, you’ll probably guess the twist, and I know some folks didn’t like that it was a long-ish movie that started slowly. That second and third act were very powerful, though. For someone like me who is always looking for real-world examples to demonstrate the Faith to my own kids and those in CCD, this was a tremendous effort. The strengths far outweigh the weaknesses, and the topics addressed are tackled in precisely the sort of way the modern world needs to see.

3 tiaras if it had omitted the aftermath sex scene and the blasphemy, but because of their unfortunate inclusion, 2.5