Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film is an epic. Early reviews have compared it to Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, an extremely apt connection, and an influence that Nolan himself has said helped him to crack the latest Batman tale. Batman fans though will see this latest film’s plot as a mash up of classic tales “No Man’s Land”, “Knightfall”, and of course, “The Dark Knight Returns”. I’ll keep the SPOILERS to a minimum here when I can, but one should know that there’s not too much connection between Rises and The Dark Knight. Other than the facts the Harvey Dent’s death was a cover up job by Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and Rachel Dawes’ murder in the previous film, not much connective tissue remains from the second installment. There’s no mention of The Joker, so don’t even ask.
While there aren’t many callbacks to TDK, there are numerous callbacks to the first film in the trilogy, Batman Begins. In fact, I would argue that it’s nearly essential that you watch Begins again before seeing the latest film, as Nolan and co. drop us right back into Gotham with barely any set up. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a Howard Hughes-esque legend to the people of Gotham. For the past eight years, no one has seen or heard from him. However, the arrival of cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and the terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) convince him to return to Gotham’s streets and bring the fight to them, despite the pleas of Alfred (Michael Caine).
The opening hour or so is extremely dense, introducing and reintroducing us to a multitude of new characters. We not only get back stories on Kyle and Bane, but also Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilard), the new financial backer of Wayne Industries, and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), a rookie cop who was once inspired by the Batman, and is convinced that he’ll return. These characters (as well as a multitude of smaller ones) are given a lot of screen time, and yet somehow, Christopher Nolan never loses control of his narrative train. Sure, there are times where you feel like the focus is shifting away from Wayne, but once you start to get that twinge, the focus is placed back on our hero, and his continuing journey towards becoming a legend.
The Dark Knight Rises is Nolan’s proof that he has learned from his past films. The action scenes, which have long been criticized, are extremely clear and well done here, especially when Batman does battle with Bane, which are some of the most brutal hand to hand battles I’ve seen on screen. Tom Hardy is a powerhouse physical presence, even if there are still times when it’s hard to understand exactly what he’s saying. Even behind that metal maw, Hardy is able to give a very intimidating performance, expressing himself mainly through his eyes.
The real surprise of this movie however, is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. I had my doubts when she was first cast, and while I should’ve known to “trust in Nolan”; I was completely blown away by her performance. Hathaway is a standout in a film filled with exceptional performances. Christian Bale, as always, is exceptional, and proves once again that he is the best actor yet to don the cowl of the bat.
There are some things that keep Rises from being the near masterpiece that its predecessor was. For one, Bane isn’t as compelling a villain as the Joker. As awesome as Hardy is in the role, and as redeeming as this interpretation is from the sacrilege that was Batman and Robin, there’s a constant sense of “what if” surrounding the film, as if you know there was a spot for Heath Ledger here had his life not taken a tragic turn. There were times as well where the dialogue seems a little hokey, and Nolan relies a bit too much on flashbacks at points, but nevertheless, the finale more than makes up for any of these minute criticisms.
The Dark Knight Rises is proof that if a talented filmmaker is allowed to tell the story they want to tell, WITHOUT studio interruption, that a fantastic film can be made. While The Dark Knight is my personal favorite of the three, The Dark Knight Rises is an exceptional film, and a worthy finale to the story of Nolan’s Dark Knight. One thing is for certain here: whoever plunges into Gotham next definitely has their work cut out for them.
5 Batarangs out of 5
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