It’s hard to say how to approach The Dark Knight Rises. The first two series have launched Christopher Nolan as a Hollywood icon, which he has cemented with his films outside of the series, Memento, The Prestige, and Inception. The first two films pushed the superhero genre from a fun popcorn filled theater experience, to gritty dramas that hold their own against successful crime dramas. The previous film, The Dark Knight, was declared by many critics as near cinematic perfection, and judging by box office grosses, audiences agreed. So, it’s a bit hard to go into The Dark Knight Rises and have unrealistically high expectations. Due to these expectations, not everyone will leave the theater feeling as satisfied as they might hope.
The Dark Knight Risesworks best if you stay completely spoiler-free, which is why this review will be discussing no specifics of plot. If you are going into this film having watched the previous two you are smart enough to know where the story is heading, and what type of things you might expect. The twists and turns of the plot are so well executed, that even if you watch every trailer you won’t have a very good idea the full direction of the film until you see it.
Nolan’s final entry in the series rises to heights that one might casually refer to as “epic”. At slightly less than three hours long, the film uses these epic moments to keep the audience focused on the finale in front of them. The final grade of the film might rely on your interest in the underlying mythology of the series itself. Those who are enraptured with the mythos behind Batman, and Nolan’s version of the Caped Crusader, will find themselves riveted. However, those who found themselves enamored with Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight may not find as much to delve into.
While no character reaches the heights of Ledger’s Joker, the film works solidly on another level due to the intrigue of the antagonist Bane. Tom Hardy’s Bane doesn’t share much with the Joker, other than maybe cruelty. He is cold, calculating, brutal, and most of all he is highly effective. He is the yin to Batman’s yang. Hardy’s cold and deliberate tones deliver what his face cannot in a cumbersome mask that requires him to emote in other ways.
The brightest addition to the series is Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, who is probably the best incarnation of the character to date. Hathaway prowls the scenery in a way that is seductive, scary, and at times vulnerable. My biggest complaint is that Nolan didn’t figure out a way to work her into the series earlier. Kyle works as a much more believable motivator to Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman than the Rachel Dawes character ever did. If there is one thing this Batman series can be knocked on is the lack of great female characters, but this time Nolan delivers in spades with Hathaway and now frequent collaborator Marion Cotillard as Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his string of standout performances with his role as an up and coming Gotham PD beat cop, John Blake. Blake’s role, sure to be a fan favorite, is one of ally to Batman who has been shunned by Gotham after the events of the previous film. Gordon-Levitt approaches the role with the right amount of intelligence, anger, and a splash of naivety.
Returning as Batman/Bruce Wayne is Christian Bale who once again stands out in a field of similarly talented actors. Bale has a weariness to him that echoes that of his character who has seen a lot of physical distress over the years. Bale plays brilliantly with Michael Caine who reprises his role as Alfred Pennyworth, the butler of Wayne Manor. Caine has an incredible knack for upping the emotional intensity of the relationship between Wayne and his caretaker. Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman reprise their roles of Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon and both do a wonderful job.
One might complain that The Dark Knight Rises is a bit absurd at times, that some plot points are a bit far fetched and overwrought. It might be due to fatigue of the series itself, but if you can maintain your suspension of disbelief that a billionaire would dress up in urban assault armor (in the form of a bat), and fight crime every night, you shouldn’t have much trouble keeping it for other plot points. Part of the beauty of Nolan’s series is that while it appears grounded in reality, it contains many of the same fantastical elements so ingrained into the superhero genre. Is anything in the film likely to ever take place in real life? Nope. Would it ever be possible? Most likely not. Does it matter? Not really.
If you’ve enjoyed the first two films in the series, it’d be hard not to enjoy this spectacular finale. Millions of hours over the next few decades will be spent on which of this series is truly the best film, and that is why it deserves to be considered among the best of all time. It’s sad to see it end, but what a way to go.