With 2005’s Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan not only restored dignity to the Caped Crusader and wiped out the memories of Joel Schumacher’s day-glo efforts, he redefined what was possible in a superhero film. The 2008 sequel The Dark Knight only took things to another level, creating a smart, grown up and tragic crime story reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat.
Everything culminates with The Dark Knight Rises, one of the most anticipated films of all time and the epic conclusion of the grandest series of comic book movies ever to hit the big screen.
As much as the expectation from the previous films looms over this series-closer, the events of those films weigh heavily on the characters. Eight years after he takes the blame for the death of Harvey Dent, Batman has been retired and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a billionaire recluse, his body battered and broken from years of donning the cowl. Loyal butler Alfred implores Bruce to get back out into the world but it takes slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to lure him out of his self-imposed exile when she pulls a job at his mansion during a benefit dinner.
Never referred to as Catwoman, Selina Kyle is another triumph for Nolan, both in the way he grounds a potentially ridiculous character in the real world and also the unorthodox casting of Anne Hathaway. Mysterious, dangerous and sexy, she brings nuance and wit to the role that makes her far more than just a love interest or spiky antagonist.
Though Ms. Kyle gets Bruce’s attention, it’s hulking, masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy) and his plan to rally the poor of Gotham and overthrow the wealthy who forces the Batman out of retirement. Following up Heath Ledger’s instantly iconic, Oscar-winning turn as The Joker was never going to be easy but in choosing Bane, Nolan has gone in a completely different direction and it has paid off, thanks in no small part to Tom Hardy’s muscular performance. For the first time there is a villain who really poses a physical threat to Bats and though he may lack the charisma of The Joker, he makes up for it with brute force in a performance that, with his mouth covered by a mask, relies solely on body language.
When he and Batman meet, at two different points in the film, the results are brutal fist fights where every blow can be felt. No need for gadgetry or effects here, the meetings between these two are ground level beat downs that still manage to feel bigger in scale than any action set piece in the series.
As with the previous movies in the series, it’s the intimate moments that add the weight to the action scenes and The Dark Knight Rises is packed with those. The relationship between Bruce and Alfred has never been quite so warmly realised than it is here, mostly due to Michael Caine’s stellar performance, the best amongst a uniformly excellent ensemble that includes an earnest turn from Joseph Gordon Levitt as an honest Gotham City cop who shares a past with Bruce Wayne.
It was never going to be easy to top The Dark Knight, and most will say Nolan hasn’t, but The Dark Knight Rises is a comic book movie on a truly epic scale and a suitable close that takes the series full circle. We’re often asked to accept some clumsy plot holes in order to advance the story quicker and Hans Zimmer’s booming score makes it tricky to hear some dialogue but the film is so engaging and the characters so well rounded at this point that the negatives are easy to ignore and the positives easy to admire.