Rising to epic if imperfect beauty
Few movies in history have come to the big screen with as well-deserved hyperbole as director Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It is deserved because his previous films, the powerful origin-based reboot “Batman Begins” and its sequel “The Dark Knight,” which featured Heath Ledger’s incomparable turn as “The Joker,” were two of the best superhero films ever made.
The weight of those expectations seems to come to bear on “Rises.” Complex and comprehensive, beautiful if bloated, Nolan’s last Batman caper is nonetheless superlative filmmaking, and even though it clocks in at over 160 minutes, it manages to rivet the senses in every frame. Are Nolan and talented crew trying too hard to please?
But the flaws in “Rises” are tolerable, and the highlights provide plenty of the genre-transforming drama and dread we’ve come to expect from this franchise.
Eight years after the events of the previous film, the story begins with cane-toting Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) rehab-ing in self-imposed exile, still mourning the loss of his beloved Rachel, and carrying the blame for the death of Harvey Dent. Gotham’s crime has been mostly eradicated with Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) leadership, despite his reticence to reveal the truth behind Dent’s death. But a formidable villain appears, forcing Batman from retirement—the hulky Bane (Tom Hardy of “Inception”) “Born in hell, forged from suffering, hardened by pain.” His violent backstory has left him with a terrifying mouthpiece, giving him both a muddled, sometimes imperceptible voice and a look reminiscent of a steroid-induced composite of Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader. Bane has both anarchy and annihilation in mind – attacking the stock exchange, freeing Gotham’s prisoners, going mano-a-mano with Batman, and then nuking the city with a fusion-based core stolen from the now bankrupt Wayne Enterprises.
That would seem like plenty of movie by itself, but Nolan introduces several interesting characters that add plenty to the film’s ever-increasing tension and tonality. Sexy Marion Cotillard “(Public Enemies”) is Miranda Tate, a wealthy philanthropist who hopes to (ahem) collaborate with Bruce, while sassy Anne Hathaway (“The Devil Wears Prada”) is terrific as top-notch thief Selina Kyle, whose feline ferocity makes for a compelling Cat Woman that amazingly never gets too campy while offering most of the film’s lighter moments. Best of the newcomers is Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (also of “Inception”) as John Blake, an earnest cop who becomes a hero both as the Commissioner’s right hand man and as inspiration for Bruce Wayne.
With a cast this large, some important characters see reduced screen time, but Michael Caine still provokes indelible emotions as Bruce’s valet and confidant Alfred, while Morgan Freeman as executive Lucius Fox joyfully resurrects one incredible Bat aircraft from Wayne Enterprises.
Nolan’s themes of political unrest and personal redemption feel current and arresting, while the set pieces (many shot in IMAX film) are jaw-dropping (if occasionally pretty preposterous even for a superhero movie) and remarkably CGI-free. The loose ends tied up in the film’s final moments might feel too tidy for some, but they are a welcome relief from the film’s relentless intensity.
Epic in ambition and execution, “The Dark Knight Rises,” even with its imperfections is unforgettable filmmaking and is a must-see and must-discuss movie experience like few others.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action some sensuality and language.