Conclusions are the hardest thing to pull off. To be satisfactory, a conclusion must adequately call back to and sum up all that came before it, while laying new ground for future dwellers. All conclusions must be emotional, heartfelt, and intelligent. Christopher Nolan has a lot riding on him right now. Not only is he tasked with creating a satisfactory follow up to his genre masterpiece The Dark Knight, he also must adequately wrap up one of the most successful and well crafted stories of this generation, as well as overcome the dreaded curse of the threequel. And it’s with great pleasure that I can say to you that he accomplishes that, and so much more. The Dark Knight Rises puts to shame all other movies to come out this year in all categories, be it action, suspense, or emotion. This is an epic on a grand scale, full to bursting with spectacle and grandeur, yet grounded in reality and character driven. Christopher Nolan has done it again, and delivered a finale more than worthy of standing with its predecessors.
Eight years have passed since The Joker took Gotham City to the limit and Harvey Dent was killed. Batman has since disappeared, as has Bruce Wayne. Gotham is in the middle of a blissful peace; where the wealthy live large, content with the knowledge that their lifestyle is secure. That is, until Bane arrives in Gotham and sends the city into a mad tailspin of violence and destruction. Forced out of exile, Batman discovers he is no match for the masked behemoth and finds himself beaten and broken. As Bane’s dastardly plans for the city come to fruition, Batman must muster every ounce of strength, as well conscript a few allies to his cause, if he can hope to fully become the hero Gotham deserves.
What surprises me is that The Dark Knight Rises is really more of a sequel to Batman Begins, rather than The Dark Knight. A lot of what was brought to light in Begins comes screaming back to the forefront here, giving the whole thing a feeling of closure seldom felt in any medium. Christopher Nolan clearly knew what he was doing when he made Begins, and that level of intelligence comes shining through yet again here. Where The Dark Knight was a full on ensemble piece, Rises, again like Begins, is all about Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego. We open on a Bruce Wayne at the lowest we’ve ever seen him, sad and alone. His arc, from pathetic recluse to the savior he was destined to be is spine tingling stuff, and handled beautifully.
And, luckily, Christian Bale is up to the task. He’s better than ever here, wonderfully playing all the various modes of emotion that Wayne goes through, from the anger and determination as he sees his city falling to pieces, to the acceptance and courage when he finally makes the sacrifices required of him. Helping him along, as per usual, are Michael Caine, still excellent as Bruce’s loyal butler and friend Alfred, Gary Oldman, just as sublime as the worn out and beleaguered Commissioner Gordon, and Morgan Freeman, wonderful as ever as tech-expert Lucius Fox.
New to the fray are Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine, and Jospeh Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt receives the most attention as the hot headed John Blake, a Gotham cop who steps up and becomes a driving force in the resistance against Bane. We all know how I feel about Gordon-Levitt so I won’t go into to much detail, lest review spiral way out of control, but, yeah. He’s pretty friggin’ great! Marion Cotillard is a warming presence as Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member who offers Bruce some relief from his pain. Cotillard lives up to her lofty reputation. Matthew Modine is also very good as a Gotham Police captain who butts heads with Gordon and Blake, but does emerge as a leader in the fight for the city.
But the two people you’ll remember most are the villain, and especially the anti-hero. Villain first. It’s no easy task following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger’s legendary, Oscar winning portrayal of The Joker, but Tom Hardy has no interest in upstaging him. Bane is a beast of an entirely different nature. Where The Joker gleefully improvised his way into causing Gotham’s downfall, Bane carefully plans it all out, and executes with brutal efficiency. He’s also a physical specimen to marvel at; wicked fast and absurdly strong, he earns his reputation as “the man who broke the bat”. Hardy has his work cut out for him, as most of his face is covered by a mask for the entire run of the movie, leaving him only his gestures and eyes to convey emotions. Luckily, he’s more than capable. Hardy’s Bane is one scary piece of work, an intimidating force, both in physical presence and in the way he orchestrates his grand plans. Ra’s Al Ghul was keen to flip a switch and let Gotham destroy itself; The Joker more keen on driving the citizens to their limit and revealing their ugly side. Bane doesn’t screw around like these two. He’s more content to just pull the trigger and go home, and Hardy sells that like a champ.
I would say he’s the most memorable character in the movie, but that would be doing a disservice to a certain cat. Anne Hathaway knocks it out of park as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Catwoman is not may favorite character in the Batman mythos, and she certainly has not been served well when it comes to movies. That this is the best interpretation of Catwoman ever committed to celluloid goes without saying. And Hathaway really is the perfect choice to play her, fully embodying the sexiness and ferocity inherent with the character, but also the innocence and fear. She’s not afraid to knock a few heads or flirt none too subtly to get what she wants, but she is also all too aware of what Bane is capable of. Hathaway continually impresses here; her chemistry with Bale is pitch perfect.
She’s also unbelievably hot in that skin tight suit, but we don’t have to get into that.
At this point, what is there to say about Christopher Nolan that hasn’t already been said? The man just gets it, plain and simple. He just gets how to make big event movies with huge budgets, and make them intimate and engrossing, and his work on The Dark Knight Rises is no different. Yes, we’ll talk about action in a bit, but fact remains that Nolan has a way with storytelling that few people possess. He’s able to take any concept, whether it be magic, dream theft, or a goddamn Batman, and make it seem real, alive and breathing. The character beats, especially for the ones whom we’ve stayed with for the length of the franchise, hit all the sweet spots. At times you feel tears welling up, and at others, you can’t help the desire to cheer. It’s powerful stuff.
And, yes the action is sensational. This is certainly the biggest Batman film to date, with the highest stakes and grandest scale, and the action reflects that. There’s a sequence at the halfway point that sees Bane instantly taking over the city with a series of devastaing explosions that is one of the most intricate sequences I think I’ve ever seen. The magnitude and scope of the whole thing comes to a head there, with the camera slowly panning across the city as bombs rip it to pieces. And then the finale, which sees Bane’s army of mercenaries face off against what remains of the Gotham PD as our heroes rush to prevent he city’s destruction, is friggin’ awesome. Taking place on the ground and in the air, it’s a fitting cap to all the epicness that came before.
For me though, the best action set piece sees Bane and Batman fighting each other in the sewers of Gotham. As Batman employs every tool in his arsenal, Bane casually shrugs them off and lays blow after devastating blow into the dark knight. It’s an intense scene, as Bane continuously taunts Batman about his inability to defeat him, and then the payoff, an image which would cause any fan of Batman to blow a gasket, is one of the most memorable things come out of this series yet.
Honestly though, what’s the point of all this. I mean, who are we kidding? This movie was already going to cap off one of the greatest film trilogies of all time in a satisfactory matter if it were merely decent. Thankfully, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t merely decent; it’s incredible! Full to the brim with stunning moment after stunning moment, this movie makes the four year wait completely worth it. At the beginning of the summer, The Avengers briefly snatched my praise away from Christopher Nolan, and he snatched it right back! Like it was for my parents and Star Wars, this is a series I will eagerly show to my kids one day, the biggest, best blockbuster franchise of our generation. This legend may have ended, but it will endure far into the future.