This review originally appeared in shorter form on KSNT-NBC, KTKA-ABC, and KTMJ-FOX, Kansas First News.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan brings his game-changing tenure on the Batman trilogy to a close with the epic 2-hour and 45-minute The Dark Knight Rises. After eight years of exile, Batman is lured back into action by Bane (Tom Hardy), a hulking beast of a man who wants to finish what Bruce Wayne’s mentor Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) started in Batman Begins—the societal and literal destruction of Gotham City.
The Dark Knight Rises suffers its biggest problem early on. After a bravura opening action sequence in the air, the story is bogged down by tons of exposition recapping the events from The Dark Knight and laying the foundation for the current story. Here’s the catch: The screenplay is so densely plotted and thematically rich that this setup is needed.
Once the engine is cranked into high gear, Nolan takes scary real-world issues—the gap between classes, fear-mongering tactics, and absolutism—to their terrifying physical realization in The Dark Knight Rises.
By tapping into these current fears, Nolan also blurs the line between good and evil. There are moments where audiences may find themselves cheering for monstous bad guy Bane the same way they secretly egged on the clever anarchy of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar Selina Kyle is way better realized than she had any right to be and provides a much-needed sense of humor to the film, and Tom Hardy’s alternately menacing and campy take on Bane is gutsy and inspired.
I’m going out on a limb here: I actually think the movie might work well as a dark comedy on subsequent viewings. I certainly laughed at all kinds of “wrong” moments, mostly because of Hardy’s outrageous accent.
Superhero movies usually involve a personal journey and a battle to save a city from destruction. There are lots of similarities between The Dark Knight Rises and other superhero films (even the final act by Batman in its finale is eerily reminiscent of The Avengers), but the difference here is that Batman isn’t just fighting for the survival of Gotham’s residents, he’s fighting for their souls.
It’s the very fabric of society at stake, and Nolan’s script (co-screenplay credit to his brother Jonathan Nolan and co-story credit to David S. Goyer) throws barbs at both the left and the right, arguing perhaps that any extreme sway to either side is dangerous. Even Gary Oldman‘s principled Commissioner Gordon has compromised his ideals, which may be one of the chief reasons officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) steps up to take his upstanding mantle.
If the current issues tickle the intellect while the plot and action keep us busy, then its Michael Caine who provides the heart of the movie. Wayne’s loyal butler and longtime friend of the family Alfred has a couple moments that bring all of his past actions into focus and is genuinely heartbreaking.
After The Dark Knight and Inception, Nolan proved himself to be the master of mature, thought-provoking blockbusters. The Dark Knight Rises continues that tradition and wraps up all of the loose ends from the previous Batman films in a satisfying way while providing the audience with visceral thrills and some serious issues to chew on.