This weekend, Christopher Nolan releases his magnum opus, The Dark Knight Rises, closing the final chapter on Bruce Wayne and the Batman (Christian Bale). Where its predecessor, The Dark Knight, was a carefully crafted needlepoint thriller, its successor blasts its way through Gotham to a crushing finale.
Understandably, The Dark Knight Rises suffers from one of the highest expectations a film could ever hope to have. Nolan’s work with the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight is not only unparalleled in a superhero movie, it gave us by far one of the most remarkable characters in a film, period. Ledger’s maniacal, layered portrayal of the Joker is breathtaking; a cold study of a psychotic whose lunacy ultimately struck a deep chord within Bruce Wayne and shattered his spirit. Stylistically, each action sequence was an epic in and of itself, from its slick bank robbery opening to its exhilarating end.
The underlying theme of Nolan’s trilogy has always been the psychology of good and evil. In Batman Begins, Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neesom) fought to rid the world of chaos and corruption through simple annihilation. Ledger’s Joker took the opposite stance, embracing that same chaos and proving that even the best of men can be broken.
Bruce Wayne himself is a broken man when The Dark Knight Rises begins; his cape and cowl hung up and abandoned. Where a furious and fearful crusader used to be is a fallen hero wasting away. In the eight years since the Batman’s disappearance, Gotham has settled into a sleepy, peacetime lull.
Nolan, in a move of coincidental timing, filmed The Dark Knight Rises during the crux of the Occupy Wall Street movement, giving his villains an even more realistic edge to their cause. Bane, a massive, playful adversary, fought his way tooth and nail out of an ancient prison to eat Gotham alive, and, when he’s finished, wipe it off the map. The tone here is much more straightforward than the Joker’s psychological terrorism, tempting Batman to underestimate Bane’s disciplined power.
Then, of course, there is Selina Kyle. While many still wonder if Anne Hathaway is able to pull of the sultry cat burglar, rest assured: she makes the character her own. The vivacious acrobat is, like in many of the comics, more of an anti-heroine, and quite a match for a grizzled, out-of-the-game Batman. You may find yourself missing that infectious sass when she’s off screen.
Similarly, Tom Hardy is a welcome addition to the cast. The concerns over his voice are mostly laid to rest, and his sheer size is mesmerizing. Like the Joker, Bane maintains a sense of humor as he wreaks havoc through Gotham, but he truly shines near the climax of the film. Hardy manages to relay palpable vulnerability behind a mask that obscures most of his face – no small feat.
There are also a few major payoffs for die-hard fans of the series. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman’s performances, unsurprisingly, reverberate throughout the film with both emotional resonance and satisfying power. Those unfamiliar with the comic books will relish in fun twists and turns, as Nolan is wont to do. As for Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard’s mysterious characters, their individual arcs will leave some fans wanting even more.
As mentioned, the film does suffer from following a near-perfect film. The exposition feels bloated at times, and is sprinkled with pacing problems and plot holes. In The Dark Knight, Nolan was able to include Harvey Dent/Two-Face in such a way that felt natural. While The Dark Knight Rises is quite a spectacle, its influx of characters don’t ring quite as true. It’s universally understood that Nolan wanted this to be his last, but many will wish he had taken his time and split this story into two.
Still, comparing The Dark Knight Rises to any of its comic book competition, the movie is a phenomenal ride. There is rarely a trilogy of this magnitude, with such subtlety and skill that can continue so beautifully to the bitter end. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is without a doubt an unbeatable masterpiece, and The Dark Knight Rises brings us fittingly dark, explosive closure.
For Fans Of: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan
Why We Like It: the epic conclusion to a masterful trilogy, Selina Kyle, Tom Hardy's multifaceted performance