The Dark Knight Rises
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
The best thing about Christopher Nolan’s Batman films is that for comic book films they aren’t very comic-bookish, which is why they work so well and exude an appeal that transcends across all audiences. They’re really serious, weighted films with the solemnity of Shakespearian dramas.
Bruce Wayne, and his alter ego, “Batman” are singularly tortured and lonely souls. They’re filled with angst and suffering, tormented by tragedy and demons from the past. They live in the shadows carrying the sorrows and the weight of the world on their shoulders.
But the villains as well are not simple cartoon villains; they’re just as tormented and psychologically damaged as Batman himself. They’re opposites struggling for superiority in their quest to become whole.
Those ideas are still very much evident in The Dark Knight Rises, which, if it doesn’t quite equal The Dark Knight, does come very close. One can argue that Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the best film trilogy ever made, and wanting to go out with a bang, Nolen gives DKR a bigness of scale and scope.
With its epic length (clocking in at 165 minutes), spectacular action set pieces, as well as using the IMAX film format for some 40 percent of the film, Nolan wants to make the movie an almost overwhelming experience, something that will linger with you long after you’ve left the theater.
Like all of Nolan’s films, DKR is full of complexities, where nothing is ever simple or direct. Characters and their motivations are never clear-cut or easy to understand. Nolan instead prefers to challenge you to work things out for yourself.
Plot wise, the film starts off eight years after the Dark Knight. Gotham City is in relative peace and Wayne has become a Howard Hughes-type. Semi-crippled reclusive Batman is a thing of the past and still wanted by the police after taking the blame for the murder of Harvey Dent in the previous film.
At his side is the still loyal butler Alfred (with a tremendous performance by Michael Caine this time around) who serves as Batman’s, as well as the film’s, moral conscience.
Of course, things don’t stay quiet for long, and Batman is forced to return with the appearance of the grotesque Bane (Tom Hardy) who’s in league with one of Wayne’s business rivals to ruin him. Naturally this partnership for Bane is simply a means to an end, since he has other bigger and much more sinister plans in place.
Nolan’s script, which he wrote with his brother, perhaps takes on too much for the first 50 minutes, with a ton of exposition and little plot details, and a tad too much philosophizing while introducing new characters such as Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kale, a cat burglar; Marion Cotillard, who plays Miranda Tate; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a young cop who feels he owes a debt to Wayne which leads to a great payoff.
As a result, the first part of the film has a somewhat scattered feel, lurching from one set piece to another without a smooth narrative structure.
But Nolan cleverly ties in everything throughout the rest of the film and the plot eventually goes full circle, back to Batman Begins. Even when a last minute, and somewhat preposterous, plot twist is revealed in the climax, Nolan still provides a true tragic dimension at the end.
Even Morgan Freeman’s “Lucius Fox” and Gary Oldman’s “Commissioner Gordon” are more involved this time around, with Gordon actually becoming an action hero in a pivotal sequence.
Where the film falls short is with the villain Bane, who, while quite impressively acted by Hardy mainly with his hulking physicality and his eyes since most of his face is obscured by his breathing mask, he’s still no match for Heath Ledger’s memorable turn as the Joker. But then, who would be?
More unfortunate are the two female characters in the film, Catwoman and Tate, neither of whom is really developed as full dimensional characters.
Though she does get involved in the action and fight a few baddies in her skintight Catwoman suit, Hathaway, for the most part, remains on the periphery of the story and in fact is never even called Catwoman once in the entire film.
The same fate also befalls Cotillard’s Tate, whose occasional presence practically brings the film’s momentum to a halt since Nolan doesn’t know exactly what to do with her. It’s not until practically the last 20 minutes of the film that she come into her own and becomes an essential part of the story, something that Catwoman never really does.
Nevertheless, Dark Knight Rises is a stunning achievement and further solidifies Christopher Nolan’s status as, without question, one of the best filmmakers working today in cinema.