Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking Batman trilogy comes to a rousing conclusion in The Dark Knight Rises, a vastly ambitious epic that’s at once thrilling, sprawling, exhilarating, messy, touching, daring, illogical and flat-out brilliant. Yes, I know those are some contradicting superlatives – and trust me, this movie earns every one of them.
Since we live in a society where comparing movies and pitting them against each other is the norm, comparisons to the near-perfect The Dark Knight are inevitable. Is it as good as that film? I can’t say. Does it warrant the comparison? No. The two films, and for that matter Batman Begins, are like different seasons. However, I will say this: The Dark Knight Rises is the messiest chapter of the series – there are a few characters too many, arcs are never earned, motivations are muddled, there are moments that require massive leaps of faith, the rushed and expository-heavy first act almost torpedoes the film, and at 2 hours and 45 minutes, I could make a convincing argument that it’s far too long even if it didn’t bother me as much.
That it manages to live up to the exorbitant benchmark set by its dazzling predecessors – two masterful genre transcending pieces of populist filmmaking – in spite of these problems only serve to acknowledge Nolan’s place as one of the consummate filmmakers of modern cinema. Unlike other comic book movies which feel like they could have been churned out by any hack, these Batman films are unmistakably the product of a singular vision – Christopher Nolan’s.
Nolan and his dream team of collaborators which includes brother (and co-screenwriter) Jonathan Nolan, co-writer David S. Goyer, cinematographer Wally Pfister, editor Lee Smith, composer Hans Zimmer, and of course, his grand cast led by Christian Bale, simply said, are among the very best teams in the business. Every scene is stitched together with the confidence and assuredness of visionaries at the top of their game. Pfister’s gorgeous cinematography and Zimmer’s intense score in particular are highlights.
Not only do they have an expert grasp of the tone and story they’re telling, but with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Inception behind them, they’re now seasoned vets when it comes to staging grand action sequences. Even if there’s nothing here that tops the truck chase scene of The Dark Knight on a pure visceral level, the scope of the action here is on a canvas that is so ambitious that you can’t help but applaud them for it. Not incidentally, it’s one of these scenes – a jaw-dropping airplane kidnapping– that opens the picture and sets the tone for the rest of it.
Set eight years after the events of the previous film, The Dark Knight Rises catches up with a bruised and battered Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), living a Howard Hughes-like life, locked-up in his mansion, still tormented by the loss of his beloved Rachel. Thanks to the lie he orchestrated as Batman with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), the streets of Gotham have been relatively clean – that is until two masked villains make their presence felt in town.
The first, a gifted cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) with a penchant for stealing from the rich, catches Bruce’s eye but her crimes are child’s play compared to the second, far sinister villain –Bane (Tom Hardy). An enormously built masked warrior & murderer with a notoriously faithful underground army, Bane recruits from the poor and oppressed to join his fight against the rich yet his larger plan is something more sinister and destructive.
Hardy, who spends the majority of the movie with his face covered by a mask – a tough task for any actor – and speaks through a Darth Vader-like breathing apparatus, is at times tough to understand but that incoherence only aids to the ferocity and intimidating nature of his character. It’s a strong performance that will unfortunately be compared to the late Heath Ledger’s legendary Oscar-winning turn as the Joker. Hathaway’s work as Kyle (who is never referred to as Catwoman) is equally impressive – it’s sexy, intelligent and inspired work that adds a much-needed light to the mostly humorless proceedings (a norm of Nolan’s movies).
Like its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises too is doused with thinly-veiled real world political subtexts. Whereas The Dark Knight touched upon the rise of global terrorism and brandished all the hallmarks of a Michael Mann-esque crime thriller, The Dark Knight Rises more closely resembles a war movie about a political uprising with themes that touch upon the disparity between the rich and poor, the Occupy Wall Street movement, hostile government coup-d’états and the fragility of the economic system.
Unlike The Dark Knight, which ceded its focus to the Joker and Harvey Dent, The Dark Knight Rises goes back to the journey of Bruce Wayne – completing his arc that started with Batman Begins. Bale, who has become one of the paramount actors of our generation since he first donned the suit in the 2005, once again bringing gravitas to the role of the tortured Wayne. As good as he is it’s Joseph Gordon Levitt’s performance as a young cop named John Blake who wins best-in-show honors. Without going into specifics, I’ll say that his arc is the most complete of the film and Levitt’s commanding performance continues to cement him as a mega-star in the making.
With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan brings the greatest superhero franchise in cinema history to a rousing conclusion. Although it’s not without its issues – the standard of filmmaking on this epic re-sets the bar for what action movies can be. Sculpted by top-of-the-line production values, great performances, a touching albeit flawed script and Nolan’s iron-clad vision, this is big-budget filmmaking at its zenith. Batman will live on for eternity and will inevitably be re-envisioned on screen in the near future but there will never be a superhero series quite like this one. What Nolan and company have accomplished with these three films is nothing short of monumental. It’s going to take one hell of a visionary to reboot it.