We saw his beginning, we watched his fall, and now we witness his rise, in spectacular fashion befitting no one but the Batman himself.
To say that Christopher Nolan has left an indelible stamp on the comic book genre would be an understatement. Comic book films existed before Nolan’s Batman franchise, true, and no doubt more will be made, but no other franchise has found the mixture of critical acclaim and mainstream success as perfectly as Nolan’s.
And with his latest installment, The Dark Knight Rises, it’s quite possible that no film series adapted from a comic book will ever reach the meteoric heights achieved by Nolan’s Bat-trilogy. If you haven’t figured out yet what I’m trying to tell you, it’s this: The Dark Knight Rises is a bleak, epic, entertaining, and ultimately satisfying close to the Dark Knight Legend.
It’s been 8 years since Batman (Christian Bale) was last seen in Gotham, hunted after taking the fall for the crimes of Gotham’s White Knight, Harvey Dent. In these 8 years, Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, has become a recluse, shuttering himself in from the outside world and refusing to take up the mantle again.
A cautious optimism floats around the streets of Gotham; career criminals have been locked up at Blackgate Prison for years now because of the Dent Act, but it seems as if everyone is on eggshells, waiting for this period of peace to end. And they’re tiptoeing for good reason.
The opening sequence of the film introduces us to our chief villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), as he and his mercenaries hijack a CIA airplane transporting a highly important nuclear physicist. This prologue is a sight to behold, especially considering this sequence is made up of real effects, done in-camera with real stuntmen as opposed to being composed of computer effects.
Back in Gotham, we see our first glimpse of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a 99-percenter jewel thief eager to start a new life with the promise of a clean slate. But when she is betrayed, Kyle becomes desperate.
Meanwhile, Wayne Enterprises is in dire financial straits. The company had invested in a clean energy project with the beautiful Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), but upon learning that this device could become a nuclear weapon, the project was shelved, leaving the company barely above water due to a lack of steady profits. Bruce is bankrupted and ousted as chairman of the board, leaving Tate in charge.
Bane’s men enter Gotham to take over the city. What ensues is an all out war with Bane and his mercenaries on one side and Batman and the Gotham police, led by Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), on the other. Batman must save Gotham before Bane turns it to ashes.
The truth is, that is just a very small glimpse of the story. The plot of The Dark Knight Rises is so jam-packed that it easily could have been separated into 2 or 3 films. But instead, Nolan opted to give us everything he had with this grandiose final chapter.
Much like Batman Begins, there is a more obvious superhero aspect at play in this film. In fact, Christopher Nolan and his screenwriter brother Jonathan directly invoke the tired and overused “race against the clock” story cliché here, something I never would have figured the duo to use in this franchise. But the funny thing is, it never feels tired or overused. Nolan’s sheer execution in the director’s chair allows this classic superhero storyline to work in his grounded universe.
Anne Hathaway shows us her outstanding acting chops as Selina Kyle — who is, thankfully, never once called “Catwoman.” She has taken immense ownership of her role and displays an interesting and complex ambiguity throughout the story.
Remember the outrage over Bane’s voice in the IMAX-only prologue that was shown to a select number of fans back in December? Well, if you do, you’ll be glad to know that Tom Hardy is mostly understandable as the beefy villain. There are times when his metallic, English-accented voice is unintelligible, but for the most part, Hardy shines through that god-awful mask.
The winning performances of the film come from the always reliable Michael Caine and series newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Caine gives the most emotionally sound performance as Wayne’s butler and confidant, Alfred, while it’s clear that Gordon-Levitt’s Blake is a man with a dark past and a bright future.
In my reviews for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I touched on the color palette chosen by director Chris Nolan and his Oscar-winning cinematographer, Wally Pfister. The color palette in The Dark Knight Rises is notably murkier than that of those films. This one is filled with grays and blacks, pale blues and drowned-out oranges. With Bane in power, Gotham is lifeless, and the cinematography represents that.
As for composer Hans Zimmer’s score, well, it’s quite epic itself. Filled with percussive beats and tribal-esque chants, it is an at-times haunting and other-times triumphant score, reminiscent of his other work within the franchise but notably different in its dire tone.
There is a lot in this film for fans of the franchise and the comic books to love. We witness one very famous comic book storyline play out, see a shocking twist-reveal in act three, and even are treated to a tease at the end that I have to say, I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would.
And let me just add that The Dark Knight Rises is a movie that you will want to see on the biggest screen imaginable. Nolan’s use of his adored IMAX cameras adds a lot of depth and a huge sense of grandeur to the movie, making this already epic film seem almost too big to be true.
As I said, there is a ton of movie crammed into the film’s 165-minute runtime, with various plot-lines woven through each other and some quite shocking twists throughout, all of which can create a little confusion at times as to what exactly is going on on that large screen. It may stumble occasionally, but ultimately, this is one triumphant film.
The Dark Knight Rises is an exuberant superhero epic laced with a gaggle of plot-lines, characters, flashbacks, social issues, and a finale that really comes full circle, ending the series with an astonishing bang. By closing out Batman’s character arc in such fashion, this is likely the most satisfying ending any of us could have asked for, to a series we wish would continue for years to come.