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The Dark Knight Rises: a Review Essay

It’s tempting to read a sign of the times in superhero movies where good always, always does triumph over evil. It’s especially tempting to do so in the case of Batman, a conflicted superhero who is really an ordinary human with no real superpowers except dedicated co-workers and scientists, an ability to slip into a figure-clenching leather suit and the fearlessness to look staring down at Gotham city perched dangerously on the tallest tower available. In Nolan’s hands, he has also developed self-seriousness and doubt, adding a welcome layer to the comic-book enterprise. The Dark Knight of four years ago had a villain, the Joker (Heath Ledger), whose evilness had no affiliations and whose incendiary insanity burnt everything in its way. That included Batman (Bale), Police Commissioner Gordon (Oldman) and a District Attorney, Harvey Dent, who was almost the ‘White Knight’ everyone wanted till the burden proved too much.

It hinted at the pointlessness of terror and the dilemmas faced by those trying to fight it. Batman constantly struggled with the boundaries of goodness in the film, and ended up taking all the blame so that Gotham could be left with a blemishless hero they wished to believe in, Dent. Four years later — eight years in the film — The Dark Knight Rises has moved on to other pressing social issues. The Dent Act that resulted from the previous Batman venture has led to criminals deemed “hardened” being put behind bars endlessly “without parole” — read anything there? Meanwhile, the moral dilemma that frequently washes up against Wayne’s tortured conscience has to do with the inequities of a society where a privileged few live it up at the cost of many — ring a bell? The nuclear bomb dressed in an inexplicably ornate shell — which could alternatively serve as “the earth’s only answer to sustainable energy” — is just a ruse to throw a Russian rogue scientist in as well as an end-of-Gotham scenario (curiously, nobody is talking the world here).

However even that’s tied in with the ridiculous and fleeting talk of a society being changed for the good after “the storm”. The problem is that ‘Occupy Wall Street’ doesn’t really have the kind of resonance with special effects mayhem as ‘Blow Up Wall Street’ does. So, much as everyone from the lithe ‘cat burglar’ Selina (Hathaway) to the bulky Bane (Hardy) throw this at Wayne and his reclusive billionaire image, it doesn’t stick. The second problem, not surprisingly, is that poor Hardy has to struggle in the ominously large and dark shadow of Ledger. Having Hardy in a mask reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter as Bane, that hides his pillowy lips apart from most of the rest of his face, must surely make it even more difficult to take on Ledger’s legacy. However much Bane tries with his bulk or his strange computer-altered accent here, the menace is missing. Nolan has called it the last of his Batman trilogy, after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. So, there is a certain kind of finality.

Bale evokes this with an aura of resignation, an almost-retired outlook. It’s not that he doesn’t fight, but the passion seems born more out of necessity than need. He remains to the last the reluctant hero. It’s Hathaway who packs real punch, as the thief with an almost-golden heart who constantly spars with Batman and has an own spandex suit and eye mask to match his. Bale doesn’t meet her passion even halfway. Cotillard, Caine and Freeman fill in the rest of the crucial bits of the story. Oldman gets to do more, while Gordon-Levitt a lot more, and by the end, The Dark Knight Rises has picked up to the grand finale one expects of it, without wonderfully the help of 3D effects4 .

However, it misses the edge that Nolan has come to be identified with — in its look, its really ordinary dialogues and, in sections, even its acting. This Batman fights mostly in the day, even if it is tinged in the grey of a city half destroyed. Perhaps ‘rising’ after all isn’t the best word to describe this dark knight. He is unapologetically like the setting sun, shining the brightest just before it dips out of view, leaving behind the promise of a new day.


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