Seven years after it’s inception (pun intended), Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy comes to a roaring conclusion as a masked madman seeks to reduce Gotham City to ashes and break it’s savior.
Well, not quite. The film begins quite differently than you would expect. Picking up 8 years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Nolan’s offbeat yet legendary interpretation of the Caped Crusader hasn’t donned his cowl since taking the blame for the atrocities of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent when a chance encounter with a cat burglar and a mysterious, daylight stock market heist call Bruce Wayne to once again become Gotham’s Dark Knight, a journey which sends him to the ends of the earth to overcome his own broken body and spirit.
Hands down, The Dark Knight Rises blows away the scale of the previous films. Where Batman Begins focused on the birth of a legend in a grim and gritty Gotham and The Dark Knight focused on the personal struggle of a weary hero, Rises ups the ante by encompassing the aftermath of that hero; Gotham is now a city which appears clean and pure, but inside it struggles to recover from the death of Harvey Dent and it’s fallen hero The Batman, who himself struggles to come to terms with the overwhelming pattern of loss that has defined his life. This is a movie about a war, both external and internal, and the acceptance of fate and the desire to rebel against it. Also continuing the trend of the first two films is the insistence to move away from the more comic book elements. While the first two films where thriller set pieces with Batman as the central focus, this movie becomes an epic with Batman at it’s core, a beautiful downhill crescendo from the story laid within Begins.
As expected, the returning players turn in spectacular performances. Watching Bale turn the recluse Wayne from a broken man back into the beacon of hope we knew before is an exciting journey, and his few interactions with returning cast members show how weary and tired they’ve become in the near decade since their adventures began. Newcomers also turn in astonishingly well performances. Tom Hardy’s Bane, despite initially sounding like a Snidley Whiplash archetype, becomes an amazing foil for Batman, menacing and meditative. Joseph Gordon-Levitt serves a role missing from previous films, a human counterpart to Batman, one who relates to him on the level of the people. In a way, this role was served by Comm. Gordon previously, but Gordon-Levitt’s patrol officer feels like a more natural counterpart.
Most surprisingly, by far, is the addition of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, who filled the role alarmingly well. Her Selina Kyle maintains the slinky sexiness typically attributed to the character, but brings a legitimate toughness and independence to the character. Much like her comic’s counterpart, Kyle is never truly in danger or distress, and serves as a close equal to the Dark Knight instead of a shallow female caricature.
It’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, but I would be remiss not to bring up the ending. By far, the ending is half what you’re expecting, half completely unexpected. It’s a different ending, one that doesn’t fit within the terms of the character as we’ve learned by the comics. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that Nolan’s Batman has always been grounded in reality and far, far away from the comics iteration. The ending makes sense in terms of the Nolan-verse.
The question that will be asked is ultimately was it better than Dark Knight. The answer is a resounding…no. While Dark Knight Rises is an epic of sheer scale and adventure, it fails to capture the same quiet, intimate drama and ache that propelled Dark Knight into greatness. But this is easily one of the best Batman films to date, and a beautiful end to a franchise that has woefully bowed out gracefully to the big dreams of a Justice League of America movie.