‘The Dark Knight Rises’
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
For better or for worse, perhaps no mainstream movies have mirrored our time like Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. His dark, dystopian vision reflects the edginess many filmgoers feel about an uncertain world where terrorism and global economics, both themes in “TDKR,” dominate the news. Now, sadly, this last film — a fitting final end to the series — must also suffer the infamous distinction of being forever linked to a senseless tragedy.
Nolan has never disappointed or waivered from his story arc from the start with “Batman Begins” (2005) followed by “The Dark Knight” (2008), perhaps the best film of the three, largely due to Heath Ledger’s hypnotic performance as the Joker. The director has remained faithful to the character, taking Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) from a wealthy playboy reluctant yet compelled to don the mask and fight evil to the broken, disillusioned man he is as “TDKR” opens.
Eight years have passed since the death of Harvey Dent, and Gotham City is thriving except for the pall hanging over Wayne Manor. Master Bruce is a recluse, reliant on a cane and resistant to any pleas to rejoin society. What brings him out of his self-imposed retirement is a series of events beginning with an odd theft by cat burglar Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (a purrfectly great Anne Hathaway), followed by a siege on Gotham City by Bane (Tom Hardy), a twisted menacing manbeast with a face muzzle.
His motives are as murky as his muffled voice, but one thing is clear: If he is not stopped, Gotham City and its citizens will perish, victims to the explosive devices Bane’s minions have set using the tunnel system underneath the city.
With a running time of two hours and 45 minutes, Nolan manages to stuff it full of action—some of it graphically intense. Consider the first two hours a long lead-in to a breathtaking ending that does not disappoint — even in regular old 2D. It’s hard to condemn the filmmaker for trying so hard to complete his vision for Batman. There are references and re-visits to the Legion of Shadows, explanations for past transgressions, a tantalizing glimpse of the future — and the rise of the Batman from the very Pit, a remote desert prison, to save his city from certain destruction.
There are times, even with Nolan’s sure hand, that this feels bloated, almost cracking under the weight of what the somewhat flawed story demands. But it redoubles, finds its footing and takes flight again — and again. So it may come as a mild surprise that Bale is off screen for large periods of time in this as Batman makes way for other characters, and there are many.
Batman’s old friend, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), is joined by rookie cop John Blake, (a compelling Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a Batman believer who agrees with his mentor that Batman must return, and does his earnest best to persuade him. Also new to the cast is Marion Cotillard as billionaire investor Miranda Tate, a business partner and love interest for Bruce. Bruce’s gadget guy Lucian Fox (Morgan Freeman) is on board, and butler Alfred (Michael Caine) too, but he’s largely in the background save for several heartfelt exchanges between servant and master.
Of the new characters, it is Hathaway that stands out, her slim silhouette sheathed in a tight leather costume. By and large, her character is having the most fun – with dialog, anyway. Selina’s loyalties might waver depending on her own interests, but she’s quick with a quip. She and Wayne enjoy some memorable verbal parries that add some lively oomph and levity to the bleak proceedings.
With this trilogy, Nolan has transcended his Batman from the “Bam” and “Pow” of the silly TV show to a living, breathing adult man with no superpowers save his fanatical dedication to physical conditioning and mental focus. He wills himself to be Batman, and so he is. And his pain, both physical and mental, adds to the character the vulnerability and dimension usually missing from the genre. In the crowded field of comic book heroes, this Batman has always stood out.