Theatrical Review: The Dark Knight Rises

It’s been eight years since The Joker’s crime spree in Gotham City. Thanks to The Joker’s machinations, former District Attorney Harvey Dent was killed, with Batman taking the fall for the death in order to preserve the law and order that Dent originally stood for. Gotham City has been mostly crime-free (with the exception of some notable crimes by a mysterious female cat burglar) with the extreme criminals now imprisoned. Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. This leaves Gotham City open to an amazing assault from the criminal terrorist known as Bane.

That’s a very simple outline to The Dark Knight Rises, the concluding chapter of director Christopher Nolan’s take on the Batman mythos aided and abetted from writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer and lead Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne and it’s one hell of a conclusion.

While I don’t think the movie quite hits the same highs that The Dark Knight did, that’s not saying that it’s not satisfying at all, quite the contrary. The Dark Knight Rises is an extremely satisfying film- reaching back to points started in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight while also adding a few new twists and wrinkles building to quite a satisfying conclusion. Like I said, it doesn’t quite hit the same crescendo that The Dark Knight did, but… it does have a lot of very cool moments and a twist with one character that I have to admit I didn’t even see coming. For some, that twist might almost seem to come out of the blue, but for fans of the comics, it’s entirely fitting into the legend of Batman.

Nolan’s story, though I described it simply above, is actually quite layered and complex in it’s own way. It’s not hard to follow by ay means, but it’s hinged by assuming that the audience has seen the prior two movies- so for those that haven’t seen those first two movies (I’m sure there might be one or two of you out there) you might want to invest some time in seeing those before you see The Dark Knight Rises. For comic fans, this is a treasure trove, with many of it’s story points owing to previous stories from the comics, but handled in Nolan’s “keep it real” style. The film weighs in at nearly three hours long, but Nolan keeps a steady pace throughout that builds and builds to the film’s epic end.

Technically, as has been the case for all of Christopher Nolan’s movies, the film is first rate in it’s look and sound elements working totally in tandem with the performances and story points. This is just one nicely put-together production and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see it be nominated for loads of technical awards come Oscar time.

Christian Bale returns as Batman. Also returning are Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as Police Commisioner James Gordon. It’s terrific work from all four men and I particularly enjoy seeing Bale’s interplay with all three. Bale shines throughout, but really excels in scenes right before the film’s third act as he’s trying to escape from the prison that Bane has placed him in. All four are certainly by now comfortable in their parts, but they’re not resting on any laurels- this is first-rate work, they know they’re part of something special and certainly treat it that way through their performances.

The same thing can be said with our new cast additions. Tom Hardy plays Bane, our central villain, Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle/Catwoman (though she’s never called that in the film), Marion Cotilliard as Miranda Tate, a rival of Wayne’s in the business world, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a Gotham City cop who believes Batman wasn’t responsible for Harvey Dent’s death. There’s strong work here from all four. Hardy has the hardest job as his face is masked throughout the entire film, but he’s quite an imposing physical presence and his body language speaks volumes. I’m very curious to just how his voice was created for the film, as there’s parts in his delivery that almost sound Sean Connery-like to me. Hardy’s one of the best young actors out there right now and I can hardly wait to see what he does in George Miller’s next Mad Max film.

Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman is just an extremely fun character- she’s as sexy as it gets, yet just as committal to the physical action as any of the male characters. Her version of Selina Kyle picks up some aspects of the character as written by Frank Miller in the comic story Batman: Year One and yet there’s also just a slight hint of camp to her character as well- it’s not detrimental by any means and just adds another flavor to this already flavor-rich series. Marion Cotilliard, as Miranda Tate first seems to be simply “the girl” of the film, but man… there really is so much more here, and I’ll just leave it at that. She’s sexy and smart and a welcome addition to the series.

Like Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the best young actors out there today. He’s been impressing me since The Lookout and his work on this film just takes that further. Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake is the heart of the film- he’s important to getting Bruce Wayne/Batman back in action, acting as Gordon’s right-hand man and his drive to save Gotham is just as strong as Batman’s. Gordon-Levitt, Hardy and Cotilliard all previously worked with Nolan on his last film, Inception and I’d certainly hope to see them all work with the director again on other productions.

The Dark Knight Rises is absolutely terrific and a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to one of the very best series of comic book-based movies that’s ever been made. While it doesn’t quite carry the same impact for me as The Dark Knight, it doesn’t mean that it’s a weaker film, just one who’s focus is a little more broader and just a little more diluted, but not to a negative at all. This may be the end of Christopher Nolan’s run on the Batman franchise, but I don’t doubt for a moment that Batman will be back on the big screen in some new interpretation down the road. Batman is one of the few comic book characters who I think actually excels from different interpretations (and that can certainly be seen not just in the comics but also in the different animated series and movies that have been made). But in the meantime, The Dark Knight Rises (as well as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) is a movie to be savored and enjoyed again and again… I can’t wait to see this one again…