For the past seven years, director Chris Nolan has reinvented one of the most well-known superheroes of our age. For years before 2005, we saw versions of Batman that were alternately campy, smart, brooding or just plain wrong. But, beginning with the masterful Batman Begins, Nolan painted a Caped Crusader that was suave, calculating and darkly realistic. What we see in his latest, and final, entry into the Batman mythology, is no exception. And while few films will compare to his near-perfect The Dark Knight, Nolan’s conclusion, The Dark Knight Rises, is every bit as thrilling as its predecessor and is a fitting conclusion to one of the great trilogies of our time.
Rises begins eight years after the end of Dark Knight, with a Gotham scrubbed squeaky clean of organized crime. But it’s not because of Batman (Christian Bale), who took the whole “not the hero Gotham needs” thing to mean an early retirement. Likewise, Bats’ alter-ego Bruce Wayne has spent the last handful of years as a shut-in, his injury-addled body a convenient excuse to tune out the world. The peace can only last for so long, though, and when Bane (Tom Hardy), a ruthless criminal with seemingly endless reserves of both strength and cruelty, comes to bring justice on the one-percenters of Gotham City, Wayne dons the cape and cowl to once again defend his hometown.
That’s about all I’m willing to tell you about the plot, and it’s for two reasons. The first is that so much of this movie is so good that I’d hate to spoil it for you. The second is that some of the elements of the plot – the struggling relationship between Wayne and the board of his company, for instance – seem less like the intriguing gangland drama of the first two Dark Knight films and more of a means to an end to break down Wayne and Batman so he might rise from nothing to become the hero Gotham needs.
Plot distractions notwithstanding, Nolan has brought an excellent team to the table to bring his Batman trilogy to a close. Bale is stellar as Wayne/Batman, the growth of his character both over the trilogy and within this film a testament to his craft. Hardy, with Bane’s voice digitally corrected from early previews, plays up the intimidation factor perfectly. Meanwhile, series newcomers Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt fit perfectly into Nolan’s world, the former as one of the better interpretations of Catwoman we’ve seen in years and the latter as a young police officer whose relentlessness proves annoying to his superiors but inspiring to Batman. Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine return to their roles and never miss a beat.
The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t succeed for me because of the actors, while brilliant, or the connection to the other two films, while strong. What stands out in this film is its third act, which is so well paced, so expertly crafted, that it had me gasping for air more than once. I won’t tell you more lest I ruin the experience for you. I’ll just say that it achieved one of my favorite feats in film: you walked out far more excited about the film than you walked in.
Bravo, Mr. Nolan.