Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
Superhero franchises rarely get a neat ending. Too often they simply peter off after diminishing returns at the box office, only to be dusted off a few years later and repackaged. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” instead concludes his series of Batman films by building on the previous two entries and expanding the scope. While it doesn’t surpass “The Dark Knight,” “Rises” is stunningly ambitious and a satisfying close to the landmark trilogy.
The film opens eight years after Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) shouldered the blame for District Attorney Harvey Dent’s murder and retired as Batman. The lie has ushered in an era of peace in Gotham, but it rots away at Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and frustrates John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a restless street cop. Wayne — sporting a limp and a goatee — has become a shut-in. Slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a mysterious Wayne Enterprises board member (Marion Coillard) draw Wayne out of hiding while the nightmarish Bane (Tom Hardy) assembles an army in the tunnels under Gotham.
With all of these new characters and a twisty storyline, the first hour of the movie is choked with expository dialogue and muddy plotting. This is frustrating, and there are more than a couple logical leaps. Even with a runtime pushing three hours, it seems like “Rises” could tack on another 30 minutes to make some of the early plot machinations feel more organic. But after Nolan puts all of the pieces in place, and it becomes apparent what the film is building to, this clunkiness is easy to forgive.
Bane, with his hulking physique and muzzle-like facemask, is Batman’s first real physical match. Nolan’s fight scenes have come a long way, and Bane’s beat-downs are calculated and brutal. When he rains blows down on Batman, every punch sounds like a crack of thunder.
This visceral feeling extends to the rest of the film. Gunshots are ear splitting, and Hans Zimmer’s now iconic score roars, sometimes just over dialogue. In the wrong hands this assault could be numbing, but in “Rises,” it’s mesmerizing.
When “Rises” isn’t brutal, it’s punishingly bleak. As he did with “Batman Begins,” Nolan has redefined the darkness and emotional weight a superhero movie can carry.
Just as “The Dark Knight” morphed Batman’s story into a crime epic, “Rises” is an all-out war movie replete with breathless dogfights, battle scenes featuring thousands of extras and the threat of nuclear annihilation. The opening plane heist is a thing of beauty and a testament to how Nolan’s skill with large-scale set pieces has grown with “Inception.” As with his previous film, the large-scale sequences are filmed with nearly all practical special effects and in gorgeous IMAX.
“Rises” isn’t just a standalone film; it takes the story beats and themes of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” —two related, but singular films —and takes them to places that would have been unthinkable for any previous superhero movie. “The Dark Knight Rises” has its flaws, but by the end, when Nolan delivers all three films worth of catharsis and then some, it makes all of the plot holes and clunky dialogue irrelevant.
Warner Bros. has already announced plans to relaunch the Batman franchise once Nolan has finished. But his revisionist take on the Batman mythos is so complete and so satisfying, it might be unwise to even try.
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