The Caped Crusader rises for the third and final time in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”, a film that the director is adamant will spell the end of his involvement with the character. If that’s the case (and Nolan’s reputation has not led me to think otherwise), then “Rises” makes for one hell of a send-off. Clocking in at nearly three hours (though you probably won’t notice), this is the culmination of everything Nolan has built up since 2005’s “Batman Begins” and continued in the gazillion dollar earning “The Dark Knight”. In many ways, Nolan’s Batman is everything Joss Whedon’s superhero team-up “The Avengers” isn’t, and it’s that complete opposite nature of the two movies that will allow many (including myself) to appreciate them both without ever having to do the ridiculous either/or dance. Whedon’s Avengers could never exist in Nolan’s Batverse, and vice versa, and that’s exactly how it should be.
“Rises” is set 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight”, and finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) self-exiled in his mansion, much to loyal butler Alfred’s (Michael Caine) displeasure. Caine, as always, is soulful and elegant, bringing tremendous heart to the film’s surrogate father-son relationship. Bruce’s secret, and that of Gotham City DA Harvey Dent’s death (as chronicled in “Knight”), is shared by now-police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who has used Dent’s death to push forward tough new laws that have all but wiped out crime in the city. It’s a new Gotham, one built on lies, and it’s all about to come tumbling down when a masked anarchist name Bane appears on the scene. When we first see Bane, he’s pulled off a grand escape involving two mid-air planes in spectacular fashion. Bane is vicious, without mercy, and he’s damn smart, too. He is possibly the most dangerous villain Batman has ever faced — all of the Joker’s malevolence and none of the crazy.
Bane has a plan for Gotham and its protector. Only Batman, Gordon, and a handful of willing citizens can stop him. Batman has never had to fight harder, or faced a more destructive force. Before the film is over, the Dark Knight will be beaten, battered, and bloodied, and forced to once again rise from the ashes. A mostly unrecognizable Tom Hardy plays Bane like a warped version of his character from “Warrior” — a battering ram of violence, supremely confidant in his skills and fueled not just by the machine that covers his mouth, but by unbridled faith in his motives. When he and Batman clash for the first time, you will feel every punch, kick, and strike. Even hindered by his metallic mask, Hardy gives a chilling performance, doing just as much with his eyes as he does with his metallic-infused voice. There are still moments where you have to strain to understand Bane, but to me this only adds to the man’s dripping menace.
Christian Bale, in his last go-round as Batman (if, indeed, this is the last for him as well) is the best he’s ever been as Bruce Wayne. I’ve never had any trouble with Batman’s growling voice, the source of many online jokes, so I could always appreciate how well Bale played the role. In “Rises”, Bruce Wayne is not the man we remember, but the presence of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a brazen thief re-ignites the fire in him that has been missing all these years. When confronted with the scope of Bane’s plans — to lock down Gotham and unleash chaos into the streets — Batman is forced to put everything he holds dear on the line. I’ve always thought Bale had to work the hardest of all the actors in the series, mostly because he’s covered up in costume for the majority of his screentime. To me, there is no doubt — Christian Bale will go down as the best Bruce Wayne/Batman. I feel sorry for whoever tries to replace him in future reboots/re-imaginings/whatever.
Now three movies in, “Rises” smartly injects new life with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a street smart cop with ties to the streets who remembers when Batman was still around. Blake is what you would imagine a young Jim Gordon must have been like — idealistic, tough, and smart. Gordon-Levitt, who was in Nolan’s “Inception” (along with Hardy and Caine), is our street-level perspective on the film’s city-wide mayhem. He, along with fellow newcomer (and also “Inception” alum) Marion Cotillard provide a much-needed infusion of freshness into the series. Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a wealthy socialite who Bruce Wayne turns to after one of Bane’s assaults on Gotham’s financial institutions put his holdings in dire straits. Cotillard is charming and captivating, and it’s too bad she’s going up against Anne Hathaway as the other woman in Bruce Wayne’s life, and that’s a battle few are going to win.
Because Hathaway is simply fantastic as Selina Kyle, an impudent cat burglar with a sharp, sharp tongue. Christopher Nolan and co-writer Jonathan Nolan made a concerted effort to never refer to Selina as Catwoman once in the entire movie, which I guess makes sense in a way, but in other ways seems a bit silly. After all, there’s already a Batman, right? In any case, Hathaway plays Selina with verve and sex appeal to spare, but never with the comic book flourishes that could have made the character, well, comic book-y. Everything about Selina Kyle serves a purpose, from her seductions to her alliances, and when she hops on Batman’s ride, it turns out she can fly on wheels, too. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, under Nolan’s direction, never once feels like a rehash of old, previous Catwomen; she’s her own woman, in more ways than one, and Hathaway is shockingly good.
“The Dark Knight Rises” was made on a reported $250 million dollar budget, and good God does Nolan and his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister put every single cent of that onto the screen. When a movie costs this much, you’re expecting plenty of CG worlds and wild effects. Nolan isn’t a total Luddite, of course, but he’s old school in that anything he can get away with using physical effects, he’ll do it. “The Dark Knight Rises” is filled with stunts and chases and the type of grand action spectacle that Hollywood used to do so well back when CG wasn’t a crutch. Sure, Nolan could have used CG for action sequences involving the Bad-Pod and Batman’s latest toy, a flying wonder called The Bat, but why go there when he doesn’t have to? Simply put, “Rises”, like “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” before it, just looks and feels real. It’s hyper-realism, to be sure, but you do get the sense that it’s all possible.
At times the film’s unrelenting doom and gloom threaten to swallow you, but Nolan always manages to stay just a step away from plunging completely down the abyss. Hans Zimmer’s score is particularly of note, fabulously bringing out the epic nature of “Rises” with every clash and sweeping action sequence. Make no mistake, despite its PG-13 rating, the wrath of destruction that Bane wreaks upon poor Gotham is on a massive scale. For the political-minded among you, you could certainly read plenty of ideology into the film’s plots — Bane’s crashing of the Stock Market, scenes of the 99% storming the 1% and, literally, tossing them into the streets — and you’re more than welcome to them. What cannot be argued is that “Rises” is vastly superior filmmaking, the product of, possibly, the finest director currently working with big-budget Hollywood canvasses. While “Rises” signals the end of an era, the bright side is that we got three great movies out of it, capped off with a whopper of a finale, and the fact that Nolan will be making more movies. They just won’t have a guy in a bat suit in them, that’s all. Well, probably. Hey, this is Hollywood, after all, where anything is possible. Directors have been known to change their minds a time or two…
Christopher Nolan (director) / Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan (screenplay), David S. Goyer (story)
CAST: Tom Hardy … Bane
Christian Bale … Bruce Wayne / Batman
Anne Hathaway … Selina Kyle / Catwoman
Liam Neeson … Ra’s Al Ghul
Joseph Gordon-Levitt … John Blake
Gary Oldman … Jim Gordon
Marion Cotillard … Miranda Tate
Morgan Freeman … Lucius Fox
Juno Temple … Holly Robinson
Michael Caine … Alfred