by Sherry Lipp
The four year wait is over, as The Dark Knight Rises wraps up the Batman trilogy director Christopher Nolan began with Batman Begins in 2005. The film follows the wildly popular The Dark Knight (2008), which some critics and fans believed set a new standard of quality for comic book adaptations. Rises ties in closely with the first film, following the trajectory of the League of Shadows storyline. Given the popularity of the second film, Nolan had the daunting task of creating a follow-up that would live up to audience expectations. The Dark Knight Rises is a wholly entertaining film that captures the spirit of the world Nolan established in his ambitious Dark Knight series.
The Dark Knight Rises is not without its baggage. The death of Heath Ledger prior to the release of the previous film left the trilogy with an unresolved Joker storyline, not to mention the constant reminder of an actor taken during the prime of his career. Nolan wisely chose to move on without so much of a mention of the Joker, leaving an untainted memory of Ledger’s brilliant reinvention of the character. This time we have Bane (Tom Hardy), an unrelenting menace hell-bent on ridding the world of Batman (Christian Bale). Batman, of course, has become persona non grata in Gotham after the events of the second movie. The belief that he is responsible for the death of Gotham’s District Attorney Harvey Dent has forced Batman into hiding. Thanks to the legend of Dent being a man of peace, and the diligent work of the police force led by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Gotham has become crime-free in the eight years since Dent’s death.
Bruce Wayne himself has become a recluse, unable to forgive himself after the death of his friend, and would-be girlfriend, Rachel. However, mysterious forces have begun to disrupt Gotham’s tranquility, and crime is creeping back into the city streets. Wayne is forced to make a decision: become Batman again or simply do nothing. Wayne’s life is empty. He sees no one except his butler (and surrogate father) Alfred (Michael Caine), and even he has not escaped the recession. Wayne Enterprises has lost a significant amount of its worth, making Bruce not quite as super-rich as he once was. The world’s shaky financial situation serves as a backdrop for this film, just as post-9/11 fears permeated the first film.
Bruce Wayne/Batman has always been a tormented soul and Nolan emphasizes this. Bruce has it all, but has lost everything that ever truly meant anything to him. Proving that money isn’t everything, Bruce is less affected emotionally by his financial loss than his personal ones. What Bruce, and therefore Batman, has lost is his sense of purpose. Batman as a crime fighter no longer exists. When a threat so massive it threatens the city’s very existence emerges, Bruce must decide if he has the will to fight it. It’s those elements that make the story strong, though some may find it disappointing that the exploits of the caped crusader have been diminished.
While Bruce is contemplating his fate, the burden of “the coming storm” falls on those around him. Of course there is Commissioner Gordon, who is consumed by guilt over the deception around the true nature of Harvey Dent’s final actions. He nonetheless strives to do what’s right. Morgan Freeman returns as techno-extraordinaire Lucius Fox. Michael Caine is back as Alfred. There are several new characters to join the battle, most notably the morally ambiguous Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and rookie cop Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Both bring a welcome breath of fresh air to the series. Hathaway is great as Kyle, never directly referred to as the character’s better-known name, Catwoman, never quite letting on whether she is good or bad. The film dispenses with any elaborate origin story, introducing her as a jewel thief out to make a buck. Blake is an earnest cop, who was orphaned as a child and grew up admiring Bruce Wayne. Blake is smart and resourceful, and is quick to figure out there’s more going on than meets the eye. Rounding out the new faces is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy investor who is a potential romantic interest to the lovelorn Bruce.
The Dark Kight Rises features some spectacular action sequences and maintains excitement throughout. The performances by returning cast members Bale, Caine, Oldman, and Freeman are engaging, with Oldman emerging as perhaps the trilogies most underrated presence. Like its predecessors, this is not a movie that relies purely on action set pieces for its entertainment value. However, the film is not without its weaknesses. At nearly three hours, the film is just a bit bloated with perhaps too far-reaching of a plot. Though I didn’t find it boring, I did find some of the plot elements confusing, with a socio-economic subtext that was somewhat muddled. But the film moves at a quick enough pace, making it easy to forgive some questionable character motivations (such as why some of Gotham’s residents so readily take up arms with Bane, given that the corruption in their city was largely abolished).
The Dark Knight series has always been grounded in a certain sense of reality (albeit heightened), so some of the more fantastical elements can be hard to swallow. Without spoiling anything, some primary characters manage to overcome potentially debilitating injuries far too quickly. And ultimately, Rises mostly conforms to the conventions of its genre, rather than transcending them. The whole “mad man attempting to annihilate a metropolitan city with a weapon of mass destruction” has become too standard-issue. We’ve seen it not only in other comic book films, but action films in general, such as Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and on more than one season of 24. Speaking of that television series, there were times when the race-against-the-clock scenario left me feeling a little like I was waiting for Jack Bauer to show up.
Overall though, I found The Dark Knight Rises to be a highly entertaining film and a satisfying end to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Some key cameos (and a thoroughly unexpected twist in the third act) add to the surprises. Nolan, who co-scripted with his brother Jonathan, exhibit a sure sense of storytelling and infuse Rises with the necessary emotional weight to bring the grand trilogy to its conclusion.