Rare is the film these days that can leave one feeling equal parts thrillingly exhilarated, emotionally exhausted and satisfyingly satiated by it’s well crafted and nuanced plot line, action sequences and performances. Even more rare is to find such qualities in a summer blockbuster of the superhero genre where spectacular CGI special effects, colorful spandex outfits and clever wise-ass dialogue often rule the screenplay with frequently mixed results.
Thankfully, the aforementioned superhero film cliches and tropes were never part of the Batman storyline that director Christopher Nolan has been carefully crafting over the past decade. Nolan always aspired to creating something more layered and believable.
That in mind, I am giddy with delight to report that Nolan’s finale to his groundbreaking Batman trilogy; “The Dark Knight Rises” is a phenomenally epic film that brings Bruce Wayne and his brooding alter ego’s journey full circle with memorable panache. Indeed, “The Dark Knight Rises” elevates Nolan’s trilogy overall to a status that transcends all superhero franchises that have preceded it.
With this film, and now that it’s complete, his Batman trilogy as a whole – Nolan has raised the bar to formidable heights regarding what is possible in terms of telling an otherwise fantasy comic book story, when it’s rooted in grim, gritty reality with characters that are wonderfully nuanced, flawed while heroic and consistently interesting to watch.
“The Dark Knight Rises” also elevates the standard of choreographing action sequences that truly keep you spellbound with a minimum of actual CGI effects. Indeed, the final hour of this film is a taut, relentless juggernaut of action and suspense that relies largely on the intensity of the human drama and crises taking place on screen, while coupled with the requisite eye popping visuals.
The film’s breathtaking opening action sequence, a high flying and deadly airborne hijacking, is a white-knuckle, wild ride experience worthy of the best of the James Bond films, which introduces the film’s primary villain, Bane ( Tom Hardy ).
Bane is a hulking, muscle bound behemoth who must wear a tube encrusted metal breathing mask which dulls a numbing pain he must endure. However, this mask also gives Bane a cruelly malevolent quality that often muffles his voice into a menacing growl; while his eyes are exposed to express a coldness and clear disregard for life. It’s these callous qualities that figure prominently in what will ultimately be Bane’s corrupt plan to destroy both Gotham City and The Batman.
Meanwhile, eight years have passed since the events that transpired in Nolan’s second film, “The Dark Knight”. During that time, Gotham City has become largely free of organized crime thanks to laws put into effect in the wake of D.A. Harvey Dent’s death. To the city, Dent remains a hero, while The Batman is seen as his murderer and a pariah.
During this period, The Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne ( Christian Bale ) have vanished into self imposed exile and seclusion. Wayne sequesters himself in his mansion lamenting the deaths of those close to him in the previous film. Gotham may not need The Batman; but Wayne himself has found little need for his own place in the new order of things, much to the well intentioned chagrin of his loyal friend and valet, Alfred ( Michael Caine ).
Moreover, Wayne is not the Batman he used to be physically. He’s hobbled with a cane and a slight limp. He’s internally battered, scarred and debilitated from the previous years of battling crime in the streets.
Entering into Wayne’s secluded life are two women who seem to be polar opposites. Selina Kyle ( Anne Hathaway ) seductively connives her way through a fundraiser at Wayne Mansion only to reveal herself to be a cunning, relentlessly self-serving cat burglar. Though she is never referred to in this film as “Catwoman”, it’s clear that character is the iconic feline female whom Kyle / Hathaway represents.
Kyle enters Wayne’s living quarters above the party with designs on stealing not only Wayne’s pearl necklace that once belonged to his mother; but also, his fingerprints for purposes not to be divulged here in this review, for fear of spoiling much of this film’s ample twists and turns. Wayne manages to surprise her in the act; but not before she escapes with a sensual flourish that will be repeated on several occasions when these two meet throughout the film.
The other woman entering into Wayne’s life is Miranda Tate ( Marion Cotillard ) a wealthy Wayne Enterprises board member with amorous designs on Bruce; as well as seeking his support for one of her altruistic pet projects, a nuclear powered form of clean self-sustaining energy.
Meanwhile, Bane puts into place an increasingly destructive and massively deadly plan to bring Gotham, Wayne and The Batman literally to their collective knees or face nuclear annihilation. Through his plan, Bane also seeks to reduce Gotham to chaos by turning it’s vast less fortunate citizens and criminals against those deemed to have gained riches through corrupt means. Think Occupy Wall Street meets The French Revolution in the streets of Gotham.
To reveal all the details of “The Dark Knight Rises” labyrinthine plot would spoil much of the highly entertaining surprises that this film dishes out as it evolves to it’s satisfying conclusion. Suffice to say, this film successfully brings the threads of the trilogy’s first installment, “Batman Begins” full circle to tie up the overall storyline as one cohesive saga.
Established characters such as Commissioner Gordon ( Gary Oldman ) and Wayne’s technical wizard Lucius Fox ( Morgan Freeman ) return in fine form to aid Wayne / Batman in his often brutal and difficult journey to redemption, in both his own eyes and those of the citizens of Gotham.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt also plays a key role as a former orphan turned dedicated and resourceful street cop named John Blake, who has more in common with Bruce Wayne than appears at first glance.
Hathaway is elegantly sexy and dangerously formidable as Selina Kyle. Her “Catwoman” possesses motives and allegiances that seem often self-serving; but eventually she becomes a much needed ally to The Batman when Bane’s ultimate plan is apparent. Hathaway skillfully owns this incarnation of “Catwoman” making her an initially selfish opportunist with an underlying sense of moral purpose.
Hathaway is a delight in this role and wonderfully redeems the big screen portrayal of Catwoman; effectively washing away Halle Berry’s ineptly asinine take on the character years ago from our collective nightmares.
Finally, Bale does the fine job that he has always done with this role throughout the trilogy. However, with this installment, his Bruce Wayne is far more vulnerable, more physically and emotionally damaged and frail. The years of crime fighting have taken it’s toll on Wayne’s body and psyche; and Bale gives his dual characters something unique to a superhero film. In “The Dark Knight Rises”, Bale gives Wayne and The Batman a true sense of mortality. There are multiple moments when you realize Wayne / The Batman are mere flesh. blood and bone – easily breakable and perhaps not likely to recover and triumph.
He, and many others in this film, could truly die and that gives this superhero film trilogy it’s delightful sense of gravitas.
Once again, Christopher Nolan’s direction of this film’s action sequences are truly breathtaking in their sheer intensity and execution; leaving you with imagery that sticks in your mind even after the film has ended. The destruction of Heinz Field during a football game mid point though the film is jaw dropping in it’s stunning power. The final act is relentless in it’s adrenaline pumping vigor, tension and explosive action giving this film the wonderfully grandiose finale it so rightfully deserves without at all being gratuitous.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is indeed, epic. There are portions that may seem perhaps too weighty and others that may plod a bit under the weight of too many characters or plot exposition. However, as a whole, this film is solid.
Comparisons to it’s predecessor, “The Dark Knight” are inevitable for some. However, this film could never replicate the impact or resonance of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Instead, “The Dark Knight Rises” attains it’s own epic status for telling a mammoth story that; not only stands on it’s own; but also, fully completes the Batman story as one truly fascinating and unique journey.
For me, Nolan’s trilogy which culminates with “The Dark Knight Rises” is as rich and as comprehensive a portrait of a flawed, but noble superhero as Hollywood has, thus far, created. I have no need to see another Batman film or, heaven forbid, a vulgar profit-driven reboot; at least not for quite awhile.
With the completion of the superb “The Dark Knight Rises”, Nolan’s vision is enough to satisfy and savor for quite some time to come.
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