Wei Chuen and I missed the first 5, 10 minutes of the film 'cause we were late, so I'm going to have to watch it again to see what I missed. I think it should go without saying that I was freaking out throughout the entire journey from my house to the theatre.
It wasn't as good as Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, two very different movies which I love equally for different reasons - Batman Begins for delving into the Bruce Wayne character and his psyche, and basically making an introspective existentialist drama out of a comic book series about a guy who dresses up as a bat to fight crime; and I love The Dark Knight for its larger perspective on human nature, of good versus evil, and its reaffirmation of the need for the rule of law even in the face of utter, complete lawlessness (I'm a sucker for such things; I like serious movies that say things about real life and serious issues), as well as its highly poignant and relatable story about an idealist's tragic fall from grace.
The Dark Knight Rises feels a bit different. Christopher Nolan further shifts the spotlight away from Bruce Wayne/Batman and focuses it on a host of different characters: Selina Kyle/Catwoman (played surprisingly brilliantly by Anne Hathaway - I expected to find her annoying. I'm glad I was wrong), Bane the villain, and Blake, the earnest policeman that doesn't stop asking questions. Whereas Batman is the lone hero in the two previous films, here, he is just one of the many heroes that emerges from Gotham City's perpetual gloom - saving the day is more of a team effort this time round. In many ways, this reveals Christopher Nolan's strength as a director - you get the sense that he tries to do better than his previous movie with every new film that he makes. Compare his first full-length film, Memento, with what he's done with the Batman franchise, and this point becomes really clear. He's more ambitious with his themes in this film: Bane's complete arrest of the city is on a much larger scale than the Joker's attempts to take control of Gotham, and Nolan brings the rest of the USA into the action to give the movie another dash of reality. He also makes references to the decadence and terror of the French Revolution with Bane's exploits, and, in a too-obvious allegory that I didn't like, likened Bane's attack on Gothamn to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City. In short, Batman is up against a behemoth this time - literally, as Bane is ten times the size of the Joker and easily lifts up Batman in a brutal (and amazingly shot and acted) fist fight. With Bane's army similarly ten times the size of the Joker's cronies, Nolan makes it clear that this story isn't about one man's insane and pointless desire to see anarchy befall a corrupt city; rather, it is about a calculated, premeditated attempt to bring about an extreme and extremist revolution based on questionable ideas, but in response to a wholly unfair world order where, as the familiar line goes, the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. That's what Selina Kyle is about; that was also what triggered the French Revolution, as well as Maoism, Pol Pot's insane reign of terror in Cambodia. Evidently, Nolan has many historical antecedents at his disposal to make Bane's revolution in the movie as realistic and believable as he could.
Where it fell short for me, though, was that I didn't fully get Bane's motivations. He gives a speech about returning power to the people, but also tells Bruce Wayne that he wants the city completely destroyed. Which is it then? Is he guided by a set of misguided principles laid down by the League of Shadows, or is he just a ruthless mercenary hungry for power and control? With the Joker, it was unambiguous: he just wanted to see the world burn. With Bane, though, his motivations are less clear, and to me, that made all the difference between The Dark Knight Rises and The Dark Knight. Revealing Miranda Tate as Ras A'ghul's daughter in the last 15 minutes of the movie also brought the impact of the film down a little: knowing that Bane worked for and/or with her all along further throws his motivations in doubt, as it felt more like a daughter's quest for revenge than anything truly "revolutionary", and also even undermined his menacing nature that was so dominant and terrifying in the entire movie up to that point. In fact, Bane is a truly terrifying figure, and that was what gave the film its sense of urgency and brutality. I wish Nolan hadn't written Miranda that way. Sure, the reveal was shocking, but I don't think it served the overall theme of the movie.
Now that I'm done being objective, I can finally talk about the things that I love about the movie. First, I totally love that BRUCE WAYNE DID NOT DIE. I understand that his death would've left a greater impact and I totally see that, but I would still be in tears now, 2 hours after the movie ended, if he had died. These films and this character appeal to me on an intellectual level as well as on an emotional level; he feels like a real person, and he is a wholly admirable figure to me. When Batman first appears in the movie, all suited up with his cape blowing in the wind, standing tall against the darkness of the night sky, I felt myself getting all emotional. My emotional investment in this character is unparalleled and second to none, and I was all outraged when I read online that he'd died in the movie. That would be just too damn tragic and dark, even for this franchise. Objectively, it would be fitting and awfully poetic; but damn fucking it, I don't give a shit about that. I just want Bruce Wayne to be happy.
Second, I wish this had been 3 hours long because I really didn't want it to end. It was thrilling and exciting and entertaining from start to finish. Like I said earlier, Bane is a truly menacing villain, and this movie is the most brutal of the 3. I had to close my eyes in a few scenes because the violence was a bit much. The movie was well-paced, brilliantly acted, and the addition of the new characters added to the movie's breadth and depth rather than crowded it. I love the Blake storyline (though I wonder if a Nolan interpretation of Robin would take off...hahaha, it just sounds weird. But Nolan is a genius so I'd still watch it) and Catwoman was used brilliantly here. As usual, Christian Bale is just amazing - he plays tortured souls almost like no other, and he spends more time here without the mask than in The Dark Knight, which gave him more room to act. I didn't like Bane's enhanced voice as I couldn't decipher everything he said and had to rely on the Chinese subtitles (which probably explains why I didn't fully get his motivations), but apart from that, the character was absolutely brilliantly portrayed - physically imposing and his seeming lack of any humanity was terrifying as well.
I'm really sad that the franchise is over. Never in my life have I ever been so into a series of superhero movies, and I watch all sorts of those kind of shit. I'm definitely going to watch this again - in fact, even if I had been on time for the movie, I would still have wanted to watch it twice.
One aspect of the series that I think is quite underrated is the relationship between Bruce and Alfred. Michael Caine was mostly relegated to the provider of the rare moment of comic relief in the first two movies, but here, his portrayal of Alfred is a timely and stark reminder of the fact that Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, a human being, who has people that care about him. The scene where Alfred implored Bruce to give up his Batman alter ego and move on with his life and find happiness is one of the most moving and heartbreaking and heartfelt in all three films combined; when he was crying in front of Bruce's tombstone, my heart broke into a million pieces. Much as I love The Dark Knight, I always felt like it lacked an emotional core; I'm really glad that Nolan gave The Dark Knight Rises the same emotional core that he gave Batman Begins.
All right, I'm gonna watch it in IMAX next. I can't wait! Hopefully Bane would be less inexplicable the second time round so that I can fully appreciate the movie. As it stands, though, I love it anyway. I just can't believe it's all over. Sigh.
Edited: Totally forgot to mention how much I was dying of happiness inside when I heard Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte, albeit the inferior orchestral version, played in the scene where Bruce danced with Selina.