The best thing about Christopher Nolan’s Batman films is that for comic book films they aren’t very “comic book-ish” which is why they work so well and appeal and transcend across all audiences.
Instead they’re really serious, weighted films with the solemnity of Shakespearian dramas. Bruce Wayne, and his alter ego Batman, are singularly tortured and lonely souls. They’re filled with angst and suffering, tormented by tragedy and demons from the past. They live in the shadows carrying the sorrows and the weight of the world on their shoulders.
But the villains as well are not simple cartoon villains, but just as tormented and psychologically damaged as Batman himself. They’re opposites struggling for superiority in their quest to become whole.
Those ideas are still very much evident in The Dark Knight Rises which, if it doesn’t quite equals The Dark Knight (for a few reasons I’ll explain soon) it does come very close and one can argue that the Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the best film trilogy ever.
Wanting to go out with a bang, Nolen gives DKR a bigness of scale and scope. With its epic length (clocking in at 165 minutes), spectacular action set pieces as well as using the IMAX film format for some 40% of the film. Nolan wants to make the film an almost overwhelming experience, something that will linger with you long after you’ve left the theater.
Like all of his films DKR is a film full of complexities where nothing ever simple or direct. Characters and their motivations are never clear cut or easy to understand. Nolan instead prefers to challenge you to work things out for yourself.
Plot wise the film starts off 8 years after the Dark Knight. Gotham City is in relative peace and Wayne as become a Howard Hughes-type, semi crippled reclusive Batman is a thing of the past and still wanted by the police after taking the blame for the murder of Harvey Dent in the previous film. At side is the still loyal butler Alfred (a tremendous performance by Michael Caine) who serves as Batman’s as well as the films moral conscience
Of course, things don’t stay quiet for long and Batman is forced to return with the appearance of the grotesque Bane (Tom Hardy) who’s in league with one of Wayne’s business rivals to ruin him. Naturally this partnership for Bane is simply a means to an end, since he has other bigger and much sinister plans in store.
Nolan’s script, which he wrote with his brother, perhaps take on too much for the first 50 minutes with a ton of exposition and little plot details, a tad too much philosophizing while introducing new characters such as Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kale, a cat burglar, Marion Cotillard who plays Miranda Tate and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a young cop who feels he owes a debt to Wayne which leads to a great payoff
As a result the first part of the film has a somewhat scattered feel, lurching from one set piece to another without a smooth narrative structure. But Nolan cleverly ties in everything throughout the rest of the film and plot eventually becoming full circle to Batman Begins. Even when a last minute, and somewhat preposterous, plot twist is revealed in the final climax Nolan gives it at the end a true tragic dimension. Even Morgan Freeman’s Lusicus Fox and Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon are more involved this time around with Gordon actually becoming an action hero himself in a pivotal sequence.
Where’s the film falls short is with the villain Bane, who while quite impressively acted by Hardy mainly with his hulking physicality and his eyes since most of his face is obscured by his breathing mask, he’s still no match for Heath Ledger’s still memorable turn as the Joker. But then who wouldn’t be?
More unfortunately are the two female characters in the film, Catwoman and Tate, neither of whom is really developed as full dimensional characters. Though she does get involved in the action and fight a few baddies in her skin tight Catwoman suit, Hathaway, for the most part, remains on the periphery of the story and in fact is never even called Catwoman once in the entire film.
The same fate also befalls on Cotillard’s Tate whose occasional presence practically brings the film’s momentum to the halt since Nolan doesn’t know exactly what to do with her. It’s not until practically the last 20 minutes of the film does she come into her own and become an essential part of the story. Something that even Catwoman never really does.
But Dark Knight Rises is nevertheless a stunning achievement and further solidifies Christopher Nolan’s status as, without question, one of the best filmmakers working today in cinema.