The Dark Knight Rises Review

(3.5 STARS)

With The Dark Knight Rises, the stirring finale to the wildly successful post-millennial Batman trilogy, director and cowriter Christopher Nolan laughs in the face of staggeringly high expectations and gives us perhaps the grandest of all superhero movies. The movie itself is this big, hulking monster—not unlike its main villain—but its flaws are masked by unparalleled scope, genuine unpredictability, and an intense passion on the part of the filmmakers, the cast, and those viewers who’ve been with the series for seven years now. This is the end, folks, and it’s a better, more satisfying end than you could have possibly imagined.

While we’ve waited only four years since the events of The Dark Knight, we pick up Batman’s story eight years later—only Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is no longer moonlighting as the Caped Crusader. In fact, he isn’t even being Bruce Wayne anymore. Torn apart by the murder of Rachel Dawes and the tragic turn and fall of District Attorney Harvey Dent, Wayne has gone into self-imposed exile within the walls of Wayne Manor with only his ever-loyal butler, Albert (Michael Caine), for company.

Underneath Wayne’s beloved but historically troubled Gotham City, an army is growing. A man called Bane (Tom Hardy) is gathering followers with a message targeting those disenfranchised by the growing gap between Gotham’s haves and have-nots. It’s time, Bane says, for the people to seize control of the city. Elsewhere, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is putting a similar ethos to practical use by using her cunning and agility to pocket valuables off some of the city’s most privileged, including Wayne, from whom she nabs his dead mother’s string of pearls and a sampling of the billionaire’s fingerprints.

There’s a lot more going on, as we’re introduced to Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a lovely Wayne Enterprises board member who’s heading the quickly crumbling corporation’s efforts to create a revolutionary source of sustainable energy. We also meet John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an idealistic rookie on the GCPD force. He fashions himself a cop in the vein of Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and he’s not convinced the story of Batman’s disappearance is true.

The running time of The Dark Knight Rises is a whopping 164 minutes, but it tells a story that needs this time to cover every base. It’s also important, of course, to allow the audience to breathe. In this respect, The Dark Knight Rises easily outshines its predecessor. The Dark Knight is a pretty relentless film; Its follow-up is as much a brooding character piece and post-apocalyptic/war movie as it is a traditional action-adventure. Rather than punctuate epic chase scenes and fights with mood-setting exposition and theme-building drama, Nolan does the opposite. It’s both a wonderful change of pace and a totally appropriate decision considering the strength of the material.

At the center of The Dark Knight Rises is this intensely personal battle between two men who are eerily alike but fight two very different battles. Bane is a physical and psychological beast—a man with real beliefs and the perfect body and mindset to carry them out by whatever means necessary. His frigid disposition mirrors Batman’s (as do aspects of the two men’s personal histories), but his ability to kill without a second thought gives him an upper-hand our aging hero struggles mightily with. It echoes Batman’s struggle with The Joker in The Dark Knight, but in this one, the stakes are arguably higher, and there’s even more political weight to the villain’s actions. You see this play out during Bane’s climactic encounter with Batman, during which these two become emotionally unmasked and go at each other with the utmost urgency and hatred. Fury overtakes both men, as every swinging fist and labored breath signals how near they, and we, are to the end. Credit Bale, Hardy, and the writing team for selling this conflict so well. It’s one of this wildly successful film’s biggest positives.

Want some more great performances? How about Anne Hathaway, whose Catwoman Selina Kyle is the lone shade of gray in a mostly black-and-white cast of characters? How about Gordon-Levitt, whose John Blake is a kid so doe-eyed that he could have come across as cloying and one-dimensional? Not so with JGL; He’s even better here than he was in Nolan’s Inception. How about Michael Caine, whose Alfred is the film’s emotional crux? The only acting blemish comes from an unlikely source—Marion Cotillard. She was one of the best things about Inception, and her Oscar-winning performance in La Vie en Rose was stuff for the ages, but her Miranda Tate never feels established in this universe. We know she’s important because she’s played by Cotillard, but why she’s important is murky for the bulk of the film.

No discussion—positive or negative—of The Dark Knight Rises should go this far without acknowledging the series best work in the score department by the great composer Hans Zimmer. Bane’s theme, in particular, is spine-tinglingly good. Wally Pfister is back in the cinematographer’s chair, and his vision of Gotham City is as steady as ever.

Stripping all the superhero/super villain stuff away, this is a pretty simple story about a man and his city; In fact, that’s a pretty easy way to sum up the entire series, or at least the Nolan chapters. Both Bruce Wayne and the people of Gotham yearn for a path forward. Before they can reach it, though, they need redemption, and to achieve that, they need each other. Bruce has lost so much, it’s only Gotham that keeps him moving toward the light. Gotham, meanwhile, has been duped time and time again by those not strong enough to resist the temptation of crime and the power it brings. Could it be that the one they shun most fervently is the one true hero left?

Nolan, over the course of three films, tells this story in a way that’s as realistic as possible, while not forgetting this is ultimately a comic-book movie. The first chapter introduced the players. The second gave us a villain for the ages. The lugubrious third wraps it all up in monumental fashion. It never loses sight of its origins, yet its director isn’t afraid to challenge our expectations. And yes, it gets messy at times, but The Dark Knight Rises, faults and all, is the film I’ll remember this trilogy by because it tries more and pulls of more than either of its predecessors. So while it’s sad this team won’t be returning for another Gotham City adventure in a few years, it’s wonderful they are able to exit on the highest of high notes.

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