By Jarrod Jones. “When the chips are down, these ‘civilized people’? They’ll eat each other.” That ominous assurance from the viciously scarred Joker (Heath Ledger) becomes something of a prognostication for Gotham City in The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in what is now (somewhat pretentiously) referred to as The Dark Knight Trilogy. While the Clown Prince of Crime is nowhere to be found in this installment, the ramifications of The Joker’s finely orchestrated chaos still resonates throughout the film.
Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight, and time has allowed the city to prosper to the point of decadence. The men that put an end to the war on organized crime in Gotham — Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), and the Batman (Christian Bale) — have both suffered dire consequences in their conspiracy to cover up the crimes of their former ally, District Attorney Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart). Gordon gives speeches lamenting their fallen White Knight while bitterly holding back the truth, and Batman has hung up his cape for a life of isolation within the hollow corridors of Wayne Manor.
Time has been the most cruel to Wayne, who finally allows his body to succumb to the years of abuse he endured as a creature of the night. While the two men accept that their own wars are at an end, a back door is left wide open for an army led by a masked mercenary known only as Bane (Tom Hardy) to infiltrate Gotham City, allowing them the time with which to hatch a master plan that will bring the city to its knees.
Gordon’s legacy is partially responsible for Bane’s ascension: the Gotham City Police Department (represented by Matthew Modine’s indolent Deputy Commissioner) has grown soft, though its dramatic wanting of resources — which could easily be supplied by Wayne Enterprises’ tech-guru Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) — rests on the shoulders of Bruce Wayne, who seems unwilling to share the contents of his vast armory. “One man’s tool is another man’s weapon,” he huffily protests.
Bruce is afraid of WayneTech falling into the wrong hands, a fear that keeps a sustainable energy program from the world, which irks a Wayne stockholder/potential love interest (played by a comely but distant Marion Cotillard). Of course, Bruce has his reasons: whenever Wayne Enterprises innovates, there always seems to be a legion of scientists chomping at the bit to turn their endeavors into weapons of mass destruction. We’ve seen it before — Wayne Enterprises all but gift-wrapped Liam Neeson’s ace in the hole in Batman Begins — so it’s no surprise that the bashful billionaire has become gunshy.
Christopher Nolan spends the better part of the first 40 minutes of Rises getting all of these plates spinning. Thrown into the mix is an antagonistic cat burglar with her eyes on the Wayne family pearls (Anne Hathaway) and a plucky young crimefighter with a tragic past and “sidekick” practically written on his forehead (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). If all this sounds super-ambitious (not to mention crowded) after the showstopper that was 2008’s The Dark Knight… well… it is. Those who hope that Rises could outdo its predecessor would be well advised to luxuriate in the film’s spectacle.
Context is also key, especially when we acknowledge that Rises is more of a direct sequel to Batman Begins than The Dark Knight, at least thematically. (The comic book-y superheroics applied in Begins and neglected in The Dark Knight is inflated considerably in Rises.)
Nolan is visibly at home in this world, more so than in Begins (where his struggle between stark realism and blockbuster silliness conflicted). Alongside Christian Bale, who plays Wayne/Batman with a Bogart-esque world-weariness, the filmmaker embraces the film’s intended purpose: a finale. Yet Rises has so much more to offer.
In fact it has too much to offer, and there is much that suffers for it: Tom Hardy’s Bane is more than a formidable opponent for Bale’s Batman — their introductory face-off is a bone-crunching affair that induces just as much angst as it does winces — but he weaves in and out of the film like some aloof phantasm in order to make room for the widening narrative. His booming vocals echo longer than his presence, but when he’s onscreen, Tom Hardy crushes. And though the film requires very little of her, Anne Hathaway acquits herself beautifully in the role of Selina Kyle (the name “Catwoman” is maddeningly absent from the screenplay).
If any director other than Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento) were at the helm of this 250 million dollar epic, the film would implode under its own weight. Everything here is bigger: the action sequences are shot more confidently than ever before, the story is enormous and labyrinthine, and the gut punches hit more directly (though they’re not necessarily more devastating). Under its own swelling heft, The Dark Knight Rises still succeeds in providing a satisfactory cap to Nolan’s legend of The Batman. It’s astounding, confounding, monumentally poetic… Downright superheroic.
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, and Charles Roven.
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan.
Story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer.
Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Morgan Freeman.
Rated PG-13 for grown-ass adult themes and some brutal bone crunching.
7.5 out of 10