Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
I already feel bad for whomever is tasked with the inevitable reboot of the Batman franchise because even if they turn out a competent and perfectly fine film, it’s bound to suffer in comparison. What writer/director Christopher Nolan accomplished with his three Batman films so completely transcends genre limitations and expectations that it feels reductive to call the films “comic book movies” or action movies, and it’s difficult to imagine that a new take on the story can be anything but a disappointment. With The Dark Knight Rises Nolan brings his series to a close, and brings it full circle, leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been a recluse ever since, having given up Batman and shut himself off from the world, giving rise to Howard Hughes-like rumors of his eccentricities. Harvey Dent is still held up as a hero, with a controversial law having been enacted in his name that has basically rid Gotham of major crime, and Gordon (Gary Oldman) is now Commissioner, though not for much longer if the Mayor has his way. The city is at peace, but a mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy) is plotting to take control of both Gotham and the technology currently in the control of Wayne Enterprises – technology which can be manipulated to create a nuclear bomb.
Bane’s arrival prompts Bruce to return as Batman, which is easier said than done after being out of practice for so many years. His efforts are aided, and sometimes thwarted, by Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar he meets when she cracks a safe at Wayne Manor and whose motivations are complex and constantly shifting. When Bane and his army get control of the bomb and stage a military coup, Gotham descends into a period of martial law with most of the police force trapped under ground, the bridges out of town destroyed, and the government held at bay by the threat of the city’s destruction.
There’s a fair bit of plot to The Dark Knight Rises, as Nolan ties it together with the first two films, revisiting characters who are already established like Bruce, Gordon, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), and Alfred (Michael Caine), and also introducing Selina and Bane, as well as Bruce’s love interest Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an idealistic cop who proves to be an asset to Batman and Gordon. Although there are a lot of pieces that need to be moved into place, not to mention a couple of back stories that need to get explored in order to set up the twist at the end, Nolan manages to keep everything moving in harmony. At 165 minutes it’s a long movie, but I found it riveting from beginning to end (though I’ve read a number of complaints elsewhere that the second act drags too much, so obviously mileage varies) and, although I think that The Dark Knight is superior overall, I think that Rises is actually better paced.
Though not perfect, The Dark Knight Rises is a really good movie and an excellent way to bring the series to a close. The regulars are back in fine form, with a few extra shades to their characters thanks to the passage of time and the experiences of the first two stories, and the new additions bring new life to the world that Nolan has spent three films nurturing. Although not really in the same league as Heath Ledger’s now iconic performance as the Joker, Hardy does well as Bane, a character whose Fascistic control is the polar opposite of the Joker’s more laissez faire anarchy. Hathaway, in the slightly trickier role as Catwoman (a character that can easily end up on the wrong side of “cartooney”), also acquits herself well, managing to make the character somewhat comic without veering into camp, and Cotillard fares better than previous Bruce Wayne love interests – though she does get more narrative help than either Maggie Gyllenhaal or Katie Holmes had. Between the excellence of the actors and the many amazing action pieces, it’s almost easy to ignore the story’s rather regressive politics. Though Nolan has denied that his Batman films are political and that people are reading into them when they assign political value to them, I’d argue that when it’s as easy to “read into” something as it is with these films, there must be something there. Still, politics aside, The Dark Knight Rises is a very well made and very entertaining film.