Written by: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard and Morgan Freeman
It's been four years since The Dark Knight set a new standard for both summer blockbusters and comic book adaptations. It's also been four years since the late Heath Ledger created one of the cinema's most fascinating and unpredictable villains.
British director Christopher Nolan took a risk back in 2005 when he decided to reboot a tired franchise that had essentially been reduced to a box office joke. He set out to erase all mental images of "Bat nipples" (see: George Clooney) and Two-Face's purple bubblegum features (see: Tommy Lee Jones). He succeeded, with the release of Batman Begins, followed by the monstrous success of 2008's The Dark Knight. Now, with the third and final chapter of his series, Nolan sets out to appease his rabid fans and conclude his critically acclaimed trilogy on a high note. He mostly succeeds.
Set eight years after the events in the sequel, The Dark Knight Rises begins with a plea from an injured Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) for Batman to return to his former heroic self. Since the conclusion of the last film, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) has become a bordering-on-Howard-Hughes recluse, prowling the grounds of Wayne Manor, with only his loyal butler, Alfred (Michael Caine), for company. After having sacrificed his reputation so that attorney-turned-sociopath Harvey Dent could remain a symbol of hope to the people of Gotham, the Bat Suit was put into retirement to collect dust. That is, until a hulking mass of anarchist muscle by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives and poses a threat to the city. Throw in a costumed jewel thief (Anne Hathaway), an earnest young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a potential love interest (Marion Cotillard) for our Caped Crusader and you've got a jam-packed plot with a large handful of characters and storylines to keep straight.
Clocking in at two hours and 45 minutes in length, the first half of the film suggests a conclusion that could potentially rise above the previous two instalments. Rises gets off to a dark and ambitious start, featuring commentary on the class system and offering glimpses of the urban terrorism that is to come at the hands of Bane. (With its distinct parallels to the recent Occupy Wall Street movement, the film presents some muddled politics, yet never delves too deeply into any sociopolitical themes).
However, as the film unfolds it becomes harder to ignore some of the more glaring plot holes (which I won't divulge here, lest I spoil the movie for someone). These goofs often detract from the action on the screen, resulting in more than a few scenes that will leave you scratching your head.
As is to be expected with such a solid ensemble cast, each of the actors leave a strong impact in their respective roles.The always-reliable Christian Bale and Michael Caine both give moving performances, specifically in pivotal scenes their characters share together. Bale's Bruce Wayne is left jaded and broken-hearted. Even after eight years he hasn't recovered from his guilt over the death of Harvey Dent and the havoc wreaked by the Joker -- which ultimately led to the death of the love of his life. Rises features less Batman sequences and more quieter moments of a reflective Bruce, a wise decision in a film that focuses more on redemption and the ability to overcome personal tragedy.
As the only two women to appear in Rises, Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard do their best with what little they are given. Hathaway opts for a more subdued Catwoman, wisely moving away from the traditional purring kitten performances of the many actresses who came before her, dating back to the 1960s. In the underwritten role of Miranda Tate, a member of the Wayne Enterprises executive board, Cotillard is lovely in a small part. She still manages to leave an impact even though her character is one of Rises weakest links.
Then there is Tom Hardy, a captivating actor who has bulked up for roles in the past -- most recently in 2011's Warrior but also in his explosive career-making turn in the little-seen 2008 British flick Bronson. However, it's his role as Bane that will likely put Hardy on the map. He manages to convey wrath, hatred and, ultimately, love, while buried beneath a claw-like contraption clamped over the majority of his face. His performance temporarily makes you forget Bane's murky motivations. Some may gripe that the mask robs Bane of a personality, but I think we can all agree that Bane -- a coldly calculating, machine-like terrorist -- was never going to have the same vivid insanity as the Joker.
In the end, The Dark Knight Rises tries to do too much and the second half of the film drags as a result. It's a well-executed spectacle that never quite rises to the level of The Dark Knight. It's overly plotted, with a bloated running time and chock-full of half-realized ideas. Despite this, it's still a mostly satisfying and entertaining conclusion to what has ultimately been a wildly successful model on which future comic book adaptations can model themselves after.
FINAL GRADE: B-