A generous and meaty dénouement to Christopher Nolan’s vision of Gotham City, The Dark Knight Rises is an intelligent and enthralling film. It pushes the envelope of The Dark Knight and feels more like the philosophical counterpart to Batman Begins, proving a more important picture than the middle verse and finishing what the League of Shadows started in grand style.
The bar for The Dark Knight Rises was set impossibly high by the overhyped The Dark Knight, the 2008 film in the series. After Nolan had the chance to work on Inception, a wondrous motion picture in its own right, the cloth of The Dark Knight Rises is sewn together with impeccable care and attention. It is a remarkable achievement, a nearly three hour film that holds attention and provokes until the bittersweet end.
The movie opens eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent is a hero as far as the people of Gotham City know and Batman (Christian Bale) is the target. Bruce Wayne (Bale) is a recluse, locked away in Wayne Manor with Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and generally avoiding everything that’s going on in the city.
The trouble is that trouble is always a few steps away. Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a villainous terrorist who was once a member of the League of Shadows. He wants to finish the League’s work (see Batman Begins) and is intent on destroying the city. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) appear to be standing in his way, but an opportunistic cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) complicates matters. Will Batman get involved or is he gone forever?
The answers are obvious, of course, or there wouldn’t be a film. But Nolan compellingly sets his picture up with more design and care than utilized in The Dark Knight. While the second film jumps in and never jumps out for a moment of thought, The Dark Knight Rises is a considerate motion picture that builds tension extremely well and gives the audience characters of depth.
Nolan shows the audience the characters’ depth this time around, avoiding The Dark Knight’s pitfalls of simply suggesting that a character is crazy as hell. In the case of Bane, his gravity is apparent with every single action. His attack is forceful, his punches are thrown with heat and thunder behind them. He knocks through walls, blasts through enemies without a care and speaks with authority and intelligence. He doesn’t mince words and he doesn’t merely describe himself as a menace. He is a menace.
Hathaway makes for a brilliant Selina Kyle. The Dark Knight Rises never makes the mistake of labelling her Catwoman outright, but her character is clear and the cat ears are on-point. Wayne knows her, after all, and he recognizes her prowling pitter-patter without much effort. That doesn’t mean she’s not up for the challenge and it doesn’t mean she’s afraid of a little hand-to-hand combat, as Hathaway fits the emotional and physical requirements of her role perfectly.
The supporting characters are on target as well, with Caine performing beautifully as Alfred. This time around, he is a man of regret. He should’ve done something, he figures, and he can’t stand by and bury another Wayne. This puts him and Bruce at odds, but it also sets up an impossibly delightful conclusion. Caine shows his range and skill, keeping his emotions barely restricted until the torrent can be contained no more.
The action sequences are shot with clarity and enthusiasm. This is a more ruthless picture and the combat is more organic. While The Dark Knight relied on too-organized heists superficially designed by a madman, The Dark Knight Rises conveys true chaos. The streets are populated with mayhem, there is a kangaroo court run by Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) and the one-percenters ought to be very afraid. It’s a magnificent chaos indeed.
The Dark Knight Rises is a film that finally lives up to the hype. It raises the quality of Nolan’s Batman series, improving each film with it. It excites and provokes, providing a dominant villain and a hero in over his head. The performances are special, the action is splendid and the philosophical corollaries are presented with precision in the tormenting night.