“I’m not afraid… I’m angry!”
The H-Bomb: It’s been eight years since The Joker wreaked havoc on Gotham City, and since then, things have been relatively peaceful, with a crime rate that has dwindled to almost nothing. But for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), time has done very little to heal old wounds, as he has since become a Howard Hughes-like recluse. It’s not just the loss of his life-long love that has sent him, and his crime fighting alter ego underground, but also a pact he made with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), to take the fall for the murders committed by Gotham D.A. Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, a once heroic figure who was disfigured and driven insane by The Joker.
So, with Dent’s heroic image intact, the citizens galvanized to pass a tough anti-crime bill that finally stomped out the mob’s rule over the city. At last, Gotham is at peace, but, it’s a peace based on a lie… and peace based on a lie cannot last. One person who doesn’t seem to buy into the “official” story about Dent is a young, earnest cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has more or less pieced together Batman’s true identity.
Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, finds his curiosity piqued by the sassy and agile cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), after he catches her stealing, of all things, his fingerprints. What could she possibly want with those? Wayne would really like to know. All the while, a chase into the sewers leads Gordon to a horrifying discovery… the rise of an underground army led by a gargantuan, muzzle-masked freak known simply as Bane (Tom Hardy), a man hell bent on ending the eight years of harmony that Gotham has enjoyed.
Now, Wayne must once again don the cape and cowl in order to battle this new evil. But, he is nearly a decade older now, and in that time he has been worn down both spiritually and physically. It doesn’t help that, for the first time in his crime fighting life, he is going up against a foe who is, physically, his equal. A monstrously powerful man who he might not even have been able to defeat in his prime, let alone eight years and a bum leg later.
Since I am committed to keeping this review free of spoilers, I’ll just stop right there with the plot. Yeah, there is a lot more going on than I described, but it is best to go into this movie as cold as possible. I’ll just say, that with The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan has done the impossible… or, at least, what I thought was impossible, he has made a film that not only rises to the same towering level of excellence as The Dark Knight, he has actually surpassed it. Sam Raimi, do take note, this is how you wrap up a superhero trilogy!
The best way to see The Dark Knight Rises is to re-watch the two previous Nolan Batman films right beforehand, that way you can really see how the character of Bruce Wayne grows from film to film, and how he comes full circle at the end. In Batman Begins, he was an angry young man who learned to channel his desire for revenge into fighting for what’s right and just. With The Dark Knight, the chapter where, much like The Empire Strikes Back, everything goes wrong for the good guys, Batman is forced to question his own morality while facing off against a fearless villain whose end game, it seems, is to make Batman kill him. Now, with The Dark Knight Rises, we see Wayne as a bitter, broken man, who is set on a path to redemption.
Watching the journey he takes over the course of this trilogy is what really makes it for me: Bruce Wayne, unlike in the Burton or Schumacher films, is a flesh and blood human being who is constantly changing and growing throughout. Just looking at him, you can really see that he is carrying the weight of what happened to him in the previous films on his shoulders. That’s why I say watch all three movies back-to-back-to-back, the character arc is really impressive, and that, to me, is why Bale is the definitive Batman. His Batman is by far the most challenged and conflicted, and he is terrific through the whole trilogy, even if he was upstaged in the second film.
Which brings me to a few concerns I had going into the third Nolan Bat-film. How are they going to top the last one? How are they going to deal with the Joker? As stoked as I was, I just had that general fear of disappointment leading up to this movie. But, as stated, that fear was very much misplaced, as I was absolutely blown the fuck away by what has to be both the best conclusion of a trilogy I have ever seen, and perhaps, the best comic book movie of all time (I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t mean it).
Much like The Dark Knight, it took me a while to get into it, with a first act that goes in about a million different directions, introducing a whole slew of new characters and story threads, that seems kind of choppy and becomes dangerously close to being too busy. But once Bale puts on the suit and comes roaring through the darkness on his Bat-Pod, this thing had my complete and undivided attention, with my ass planted firmly in my seat and my eyes glued to the fucking Imax screen for the duration. (If you can see this bitch in Imax, then see this bitch in Imax!)
With all the characters and subplots running around, some may fear this is going to be another Spider-Man 3. Let me put your minds at ease about that right now. While, like Spidey 3, this is a pretty crowded playing field, this film managed to fit all those individual pieces together to create a whole that is satisfying and focused, where every character got their due screen time, and nothing felt half-baked or shoe-horned in (like Venom in Spidey 3). At two hours and forty-five minutes, it is a long ride, but there’s nary a dull moment.
An aspect of The Dark Knight that put it heads and shoulders above all other comic book movies was how emotional it was. During the last third of that film, I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next, with my stomach tied in knots, terrified for the characters. No comic flick, especially a Batman movie, had ever done that to me before.
This time, Nolan has both duplicated and amplified that intensity. During the latter half of Rises, when Wayne is recovering physically, and rediscovering the hero inside himself, I felt that same level of investment, and was rooting for him all the way. When he makes his fiery return to Gotham for the final showdown, I had to restrain myself from cheering aloud. Like in the second film, Nolan creates an atmosphere of utter despair, only this time he has his Dark Knight rise in a way that is truly triumphant, thus making the emotional payoff all the more satisfying.
There’s also a sense of playful humor in Rises that many people thought was missing from its predecessor, coming mainly from the cheery old Alfred (Michael Caine), and gadget man Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). It was great seeing both of these veteran’s back, though I didn’t like how Alfred abruptly exits the story about midway through. It just seemed like a strange thing for the character, Wayne’s one true friend, to do.
Hathaway also brings a welcome dose of sly, sardonic wit as Selina Kyle, a rather desperate character with an agenda of her own. A lot of people poo-pooed the casting of Hathaway in the role, but I say poo-poo on them! She was perfect! Whether trading barbs with Wayne, or kicking the crap out of people, or just looking dead fucking sexy in her catsuit, she was amazing.
Speaking of amazing, there’s Gordon-Levitt as the eager beaver cop John Blake. Now this character may sound bland and boring, and if the wrong actor had been cast, he probably would have been. But Gordon-Levitt plays him as such a complex, layered person with his own tragic past, that he becomes just as compelling to watch as the more colorful characters in here. He proves to be an invaluable ally to Batman as the story progresses, and the way the film pays this character off at the end is brilliant.
But enough about the side characters, let’s get to the villain of this picture, Bane. If the Joker was evil incarnate, then Bane is his bigger, meaner, less playful older brother (in actuality, while not related to The Joker, Bane does have ties to a past Bat-Villain that I won‘t reveal). Taking one look at Hardy in this role, I thought to myself, “Batman would have to be fucking crazy not to be afraid of this guy!” And right I was, especially after their bone crunching first encounter, one of the best cinematic fist fights you’ll ever see, that leaves Batman in a state of… discomfort, to phrase it mildly. This isn’t the grunting, retard Bane from that Joel Schumacher abortion, this is a monster who is as smart as he is powerful, and who is just as scary when he speaks as he is when he’s cracking skulls and snapping necks. And for the record, I understood him just fine whenever he spoke.
Long and short of it, Bane is a great villain. But what about The Joker? What happened to that guy? Well, if you’re hoping the movie is going to tell you, you’re in for a disappointment, because it doesn’t. That’s why I think it was a very smart move on Nolan’s part to set the film so long after the events in the last one, so he wouldn’t have to explain The Joker’s fate. It’s at a point in time when The Joker is nothing more than a bad memory for Gotham. He has long since been neutralized, and the city has moved on. Still, I wonder what this film would’ve been had Heath Ledger not tragically passed away, as The Dark Knight was clearly just the beginning for that character.
But that’s enough pontificating on what might have been, let’s look at The Dark Knight Rises for what it is, a rousing conclusion to a truly epic trilogy that rivals The Lord of the Rings in its ambition and The Godfather in its complexity. In fact, I prefer it to those trilogies (well, okay, not The Godfather Trilogy), and I prefer it to the original Star Wars trilogy. I know I might eat crow for saying that, but fuck it, my review, my opinion. If you only go to the theaters once this summer, go to see The Dark Knight Rises. If you only go to the theaters twice this summer, go to see The Dark Knight Rises again! I know I’m sounding like a groveling fan boy, but it is that kind of incredible. I believed in Christopher Nolan, and he delivered.