Nolan ends his Batman trilogy with a wallop.
Note: The Dark Knight Rises is best experienced after viewing Batman Begins.
Director Christopher Nolan has finally brought his bat-trilogy to a close with the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and the stakes couldn’t be higher for Nolan or the film. His recent efforts have been so widely acclaimed it’s amazing he has any energy left. So it stands to reason that Nolan would reach for even greater heights with Batman’s final chapter. Does he succeed? Yes and No.
The story picks up 8-years after Batman bested the Joker and his merry band of adversaries. He’s taken the fall for the death of Harvey Dent and propped his memory up as an idol of hope for Gotham City.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired Batman and spends his days hobbling around the east wing of Wayne Manor. His heart is broken after the death of his love, Rachel Dawes (in The Dark Knight,) and is moving even slower than his trusty butler/surrogate father/truth teller Alfred (Michael Cane.) When the hulking Bane (Tom Hardy) and his army of ne’er-do-wells threaten Gotham’s very existence it’s up to Bruce to dust off his old threads and kick some evil ass. I won’t bother with the story anymore for fear of spoilers but trust me this plot is thick.
Other characters fill out Gotham including Selina Kyle or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) who proves more than a worthy adversary for the Bat. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is back, attempting to hide the lie he’s perpetuated about what really happened between Harvey Dent and Batman. John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his trusty sidekick, an intuitive young hot-head straight from the streets of Gotham. And of course Luscious Fox (Morgan Freeman) returns as Batman’s trusty gadget expert and the President of Wayne Enterprises.
At 2:45 the film somehow never loses momentum. The sense of dread is palpable and Nolan rarely gives the audience a breather. When he does, the silence is jarring and as unsettling as Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score. These tonal changes nearly always accompany Bane, the ruthless villain, who’s hulking stature looms over the city. While not as involving as the Joker, Hardy still finds nuance in such a brutish beast. It’s a tough role considering his face is completely covered by a weird, metallic breathing apparatus and he must emote only with his eyes…and giant muscles.
The other cast members are mostly convincing as well. The old hats all sink immediately into their roles. Bale’s performance is calm and assured. His spot at the top of the Batman pantheon is all but locked up (sorry George Clooney nipple suit.) Special points go to Michael Cane who is fantastic (as always) as Alfred. His desperation for Bruce’s well being is heart breaking to watch and Cane is a master of the quivering-lip monologue. Hathaway nearly steals the show as Catwoman. She is penned with a wonderful snarky attitude and delivers a dynamite performance. Other new faces Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are welcome additions, although Cotillard as the wealthy investor Miranda Tate is given short shrift as the others eat up screen time.
The Dark Knight Rises is not without it’s fare share of sins however. The plot while dense and often thrilling requires a lot of faith from the audience. There are massive narrative leaps that seemingly come from nowhere and with a run-time of nearly 3-hours it’s surprising there wasn’t time to fill in the gaps. Also, the action beats (which are mostly jaw-dropping) do lack the natural motivation like those in The Dark Knight. It feels at times like Nolan was searching for the next semi-truck flip and just never quite found it.
I know TDKR is PG-13 but it is not Spider-Man or The Avengers, it’s probably best to leave the kids at home for this one. The violence is bloodless but often shocking and the undercurrents of 9/11 are troubling. It’s clear Nolan and his brother/co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan take their themes very seriously. These Batman films have never been subtle (the dialogue too often wreaks of exposition) but they are rich with subtext. What they have done is create an in-depth reflection of modern times (often invoking images of third-world uprisings in later scenes) while never feeling exploitative.
What Mr. Nolan has accomplished with the Dark Knight trilogy is astonishing. He’s taken a beloved character with massive fan expectations and made him completely unique. The film has many flaws and nearly comes apart at the seams in act three but as a whole much of this can be forgiven. The sheer scope of the IMAX screen as the action unfolds is exquisite and Nolan coaxes believable performances from his wonderful cast. It’s a shame it must end but alas it has. Here’s to hoping Hollywood waits AT LEAST 15 years to re-boot this franchise. While we all know that won’t happen, this of all trilogies deserves it.
Note: My lovely wife attends most screenings with me so we both felt it necessary for her to pull her weight in these columns. So please look out for her new segment below, What My Wife Thought.
What My Wife Thought: Why can’t Christopher Nolan just make Batman movies forever?