It’s difficult to say good-bye to a great franchise, whether it’s Harry casting his last spell, the Millennium Falcon finally defeating the Death Star or Frodo sharing one final smile with Sam. “The Dark Knight Rises” marks the end of a near-perfect trilogy. What could have been one of the best film legacies is now marred by one very painful and tragic memory.
Let’s start from perhaps the most important aspect: director Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors who legitimized the superhero film. “Batman Begins” was an enjoyable film, but he reached new aesthetic heights with “The Dark Knight”, that wondrous feat of dark poetry coupled with political relevance. Robbed of a Best Picture nomination and win (let’s be honest, “Slumdog Millionaire” was an enjoyable film but nowhere near the quality or lasting caliber of “The Dark Knight”), “The Dark Knight” was even cited as one of the reasons for the Academy’s decision to nominate 10 instead of five films for the ceremony’s most prominent award. With “Rises”, the Batman saga comes to an epic (and when I say epic, I mean they almost completely brought Gotham City — skyscrapers and all — to tell this story) conclusion, at least for Nolan at the helm, that’s both wildly satisfying and eerily frustrating. At a near three-hour running time, it’s too long and far too short, but never dull, even if the storyline bites off quite a bit more than any film can chew.
Eight years after Gotham City’s “White Knight” District Attorney Harvey Dent died attempting to murder Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) child, Gotham has become a national beacon of hope, thanks to the Harvey Dent Act, which gave the city “teeth” in its fight against crime, putting away more than 1,000 criminals. Too bad it’s all based on a lie: Dent died a hero and the Batman (Christian Bale) is responsible. The truth weighs heavy on Gordon, but there’s hardly time to wallow in self pity as a new evil rises from the underworld ready to finish the job the League of Shadows — that rather lofty philosophical ninja club led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) that trained Bruce to become Gotham’s vigilante — attempted back in “Batman Begins”. Leading the charge is an unsightly masked man named Bane (Tom Hardy) whose sheer size can emasculate any nemesis, even the Caped Crusader in all his well-caped glory.
Unfortunately, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse over the past near decade, wasting away in his mansion, forced to use a walking cane because even though justice and order are immortal, he’s but one frail man. But his body’s weakened condition is only one challenge; getting him out of the house is the initial problem. Fortunately, rookie cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) somehow knows exactly who Bruce is, urging him to come out of retirement lest the city fall to another foe.
Sure, the impending doom coaxes him out into the world again, but let’s not forget the two potential romantic interests who cross his often womanless path: Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), a cat thief who seems to just want out of her thieving ways, and philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). In place of Bruce’s former love, Rachel, these woman do more than merely compete for the world’s most interesting playboy, they fight and sneak in an affectionate moment between the desolation.
Few films have such a grandiose goal as “Rises”, but the film never crumbles under the weight of its many subplots or deserved delusions of grandeur. Much like “The Dark Knight”, “Rises” features an ensemble cast of cops and villains, but they’re so prevalent here that Batman/Bruce Wayne is sometimes absent for noticeable periods of time.
Still, we have plenty of familiarity here: Alfred (Michael Caine) worries about Bruce’s safety and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) gets Batman all the James Bondesque gadgets. As for the new villain, Hardy is sensational as Bane, if difficult to understand with that breathing apparatus. No, he doesn’t top Heath Ledger’s Joker, but that isn’t the point of this equally theatrical intruder. In many ways, he’s the Joker’s opposite, attempting to destroy Gotham to bring about order rather than a lust for anarchy, but he does so through the loyalty of his men and a strategic plan.
While Hardy’s Bane is memorable, Hathaway as the black-leathered Catwoman (though she’s never actually called that in the film) steals the show much like the many jewels she enjoys lifting off Gotham’s rich elite. As an antagonist character with split loyalties, she’s complex and doesn’t need any favors in a fight scene, while she brings much-needed moments of comic relief.
Nolan brought his “Dark Knight” saga to a fitting end, but (and I believe I speak for many fans out there), it just doesn’t feel like enough. Towards the end, we’re shrouded in a mystery of “what’s next” rather than complete closure, which is fantastic…but only if the series continues in some way (which there has been some discussion of even if Nolan isn’t at the lead). As a trilogy, “The Dark Knight” films feel complete, sensational and grand, and “The Dark Knight Rises” has everything it needs, from Batman’s greatest low moment to his most expensive transportation vehicles, to make our favorite superhero go out in style, even if “The Dark Knight” remains an all-around better film.
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