The Dark Knight Rises for a Perfect Finale
“The Dark Knight Rises” is pitch-perfect, an emotionally and viscerally divine conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. And true to its predecessors, it is a cinematic excursion that serves the heart as much as the brain.
Taking place eight years after the previous installment, the film finds a beaten-down Bruce Wayne (played by stern-as-always Christian Bale) in exile, hanging up his mask and cape and trying to cope with the death of his love, Rachel Dawes, and taking the fall as a murderous villain in “The Dark Knight.”
There isn’t a need for Batman in Gotham City anyway; with a decline in organized crime, the fictional metropolis is leading a utopian existence that borders on boring, according to some among its wisecracking police force.
All that tranquility is mere “borrowed time,” however, as Bane — a brawny, brainy terrorist played with menacing conviction by Tom Hardy — puts it. Bane’s plan to topple the city’s government has such ominous specificity that Wayne is forced to once again don his Batman cape as he faces off against his toughest opponent yet.
Nolan expertly balances the series’ established characters with the new ones that must be introduced. The result is a persistent sense of added weight and foreboding for what awaits them.
Gary Oldman and Michael Caine reprise their roles as Commissioner Gordon and Wayne Manor butler Alfred Pennyworth. Both play bigger roles within the story’s emotional scope this time around.
Alfred leads a purposeful existence of embedded sorrow as Wayne’s surrogate family and implores his longtime master to retire the pointy mask for his own sake. Meanwhile, Gordon has led an uneasy life filled with guilt over letting Batman become the city’s scapegoat, even as that has unified Gotham’s citizens. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, the brains behind all of Batman’s futuristic gadgets, finds little time to establish his character’s growth on screen, but still manages to feel like more than a wave to the past.
But it is Anne Hathaway who steals the show, with an irreverent-yet-respectful take on Selina Kyle, a cat burglar whose comic book moniker, Catwoman, is never uttered in the film. Hathaway lends a believability to her leather-suited, high-heel-wearing character with a performance that expresses equal parts vexation, humor and wit. That Hathaway manages this without ever coming off like the film’s comic foil attests to her natural charm and acting skills.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s officer John Blake is another strong character whose idealized worldview provides a contrast to that of Batman and Gordon.
The story comfortably shifts between story arcs with hypnotic grace, depicting everything from a fallen Wayne/Batman to Bane’s meticulous dictatorial coup to an enticing final act from which the film’s “rise” takes its title. That it manages some nimble sleight-of-hand is an added bonus (though the Internet has certainly minimized the chance of any true surprises).
Nolan shoots the film with his usual refined poise. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are brutally realistic expositions that counter the film’s special-effects moments.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is not as good as the second installment in the series, “The Dark Knight,” if only for the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn as the Joker. But this one stands on its own, with Nolan managing a film that will probably appease the dedicated comic crowd and still feel as momentous as it does now many years later. People will always be able to turn to the movie for a story of loss, anger, disappointment, love, self-discovery and self-worth, while being blown away by the happenings on screen.