There was a lot of pressure on Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Rises. As the first superhero franchise that intended to be a finite story, Nolan’s Batman series was aiming for a lofty and unprecedented goal. Could it be possible to give Bruce Wayne, a character stuck in a soap opera-esque continual return to status quo for over 70 years, a complete and real character arc? More importantly, could it be done in trilogy which notoriously fall apart at the third entry? We’ll come back to these questions, first let’s talk about The Dark Knight Rises, itself.
The film starts eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and the death of Harvey Dent, passed in his memory has been “the Dent Act” which essentially rid Gotham of all organized crime. Batman, despite Gordon’s TDK promise that he’d be “a silent guardian, a watchful protector,” hasn’t been seen since that night. Bruce Wayne rarely has either, becoming a bearded, cane-using recluse. Suddenly showing signs of life again after being robbed by thief who really seems to catch his interest, Bruce begins toying with the idea of putting on the cape again. Once he finds out about Bane, a mercenary and a terrorist with ties to the League of Shadows, and just how dangerous this man is, suiting up (despite Alfred’s pleas) is the only option.
The Dark Knight Rises is big film, in every sense of the word. It’s almost three hours long with over an hour of it shot in IMAX, but less literally it features a villain whose plans and actions work on a scale and scope that are impressive even compared to other comic book blockbusters. Heath Ledger’s Joker looks like a child playing with firecrackers next to Tom Hardy’s Bane; hell, even most would-be world conquerors don’t get to rule over a city of cowed citizens like a warlord. And Hardy is excellent in the role, even with his incredibly silly voice he dominates the screen and intimidates.
In fact, this installment has no weak links in the cast. Anne Hathaway’s is, I hesitate to say, perfect as Selina Kyle. She’s exactly how you always imagined the character: clever, sexy, snarky and more than a little violent. (Also, though she’s never called “Catwoman”, keep an eye out for the newspapers that call her “The Cat.”) Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake serves not just as the face of the police department, but also as the audience surrogate. Gordon-Levitt has a lot of heavy lifting to do here, as he’s largely the heart of the film, but he proves himself more than up to the task. And at this point do I even have to mention how good Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are?
Also this far into series (and his career, generally), we all know how fine a director Christopher Nolan is. And he truly does not disappoint here. The Dark Knight Rises is a gorgeous film with amazing epic shots of Bane’s Gotham.
The film, however, is not perfect. It suffers from some serious fridge logic and a weirdly repetitive structure. Also, while any action sequence involving vehicles is really just a joy, Batman and Bane’s fights are a bit lacking. They quickly devolve into two dudes just trading punches (not even boxing really, just playing punchies). Even with those issues, it’s still head-and-shoulders above its peers, both as a superhero movie and as a film.
As to the earlier question of how it ends the “Dark Knight” story, I’d say it succeeds in every way Nolan intended it to. When viewed as a series, it’s clear that not only does this tell the third act of Bruce Wayne’s arc but it builds so heavily on the groundwork laid in Batman Begins that it’d almost impossible not to see the trilogy as one film (like Lord of the Rings). Much of this film will be polarizing, especially in the third act, but it will be hard to argue that Christopher Nolan did what was previously thought impossible. He took a character designed to tell stories that go on indefinitely and gave that character a true arc. And he did it with a trilogy that didn’t fall apart at the third entry.
I give it 9 BROKEN BAT-MASKS out of 10.