Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight Rises’ is Fantastic Series Bookend
Direct sequels are for suckers. That seems to be Christopher Nolan’s motto when it comes to his Batman trilogy. Just like its predecessor, Nolan’s final Batman flick is only a slight continuation of the previous chapter’s events. No one mentions the Joker out of respect for Heath Ledger’s passing, but “The Dark Knight Rises” is still a satisfying conclusion to the series. That’s because this tale explores similar themes to the other movies, while introducing some compelling new ones. In doing so, it becomes a fantastic bookend to the saga.
“The Dark Knight Rises” picks up eight years after “The Dark Knight” at time when Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has long since hung up Batman’s cowl. During that time Wayne sustained a serious injury that left him with a limp, and he lost most of his family’s fortune. Since then he has lived as a disgraced recluse with his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) as his only company.
Bruce considers coming out of retirement after he crosses paths with a mysterious cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who viewers might know better as Catwoman. What seals the deal though is the appearance of a muscular masked terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy), who quickly overwhelms the Gotham City police. Despite being older and out of shape, Wayne becomes Batman again because he believes that no one else can stop Bane.
Right in the beginning Nolan lets you know that “TDKR” will be an emotionally intense outing, with a mesmerizing plane hijacking set to Hans Zimmer’s thumping score. The writer/director takes his story to incredibly dark places, especially when exploring Bruce and Alfred’s eroding relationship. Some of the movie’s most heartbreaking scenes involve Alfred’s vain attempts to stop Bruce from placing himself in harm’s way again. Nolan’s tale also contains violent backlash to the economic injustice perpetrated by Gotham’s richest members, something that feels timely in the wake of recent Occupy protests.
Like Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) from “Batman Begins,” Bane is a bad guy with the specific agenda of destroying Gotham so that it can start over. As villain Bane is much scarier because he can literally crush men with his bare hands. Every time Batman gets hit with one of Bane’s ferocious punches, you wince in pain for him. Bane’s voice, which sounds like a mix of Darth Vader and Dorian Tyrell from “The Mask,” is easier to understand than it was in trailers for the film, but sadly there are still a few moments when he’s nearly unintelligible.
Thankfully Batman and Commissioner Gordon aren’t the only ones fighting Bane in “TDKR.” They receive assistance from Selina Kyle, who is more ally than foe in this picture, and an idealistic young cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Anne Hathaway surprisingly plays Catwoman with minimal camp and holds her own in action scenes. Gordon-Levitt is also enjoyable as the unflinchingly honest Blake.
While Nolan effectively uses the film’s 144 minute run time, his story gets diluted by focusing on so many characters at once. Batman himself almost seems to take a backseat in his own movie. Sometimes that works well with Nolan’s series-long emphasis on Batman a symbol rather than a person. In other moments Batman’s absence just bores you. At least Batman’s gadgets are the coolest they’ve been in the franchise. His jet “The Bat” is exceptionally badass.
Without spoiling the ending, Nolan wraps things up nicely, while impressively leaving them open-ended at the same time. As a whole, “The Dark Knight Rises” is better than “Batman Begins,” although not nearly as powerful as “The Dark Knight.” All we can hope is that Nolan’s epic Batman franchise won’t be besmirched with a reboot, for at least a few years.
My Grade: B
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