Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters this week, closing out his dark and brooding reboot of the Batman theatrical franchise. Nolan’s films have given the character time to breathe, with each successive installment getting longer than the one before it, and TDKR is no different, clocking in at two hours and forty-five minutes. But by the time the credits roll, you don’t feel like any of those minutes were in excess. Nolan has taken the perfect amount of time to let this story simmer and develop, and the end result is a film that shuts the door in a satisfying way on the Nolan/Bale trilogy, even if the premise of the film is a bit of an imbroglio.
In The Dark Knight Returns, it has been eight years since the death of Harvey Dent, and Batman has vanished from Gotham City. A so-called Dent Act has been ushered in, providing swift conviction and justice for committed crimes, and leaving the streets relatively crime free. When a congresswoman calls to report that her husband didn’t come home the night before, one of the policemen remarks “That’s a job for the police?” It’s a been a solid run, and Gotham City is prospering. What isn’t prospering is Wayne Enterprises, and with Bruce Wayne himself living the life of a hermit, complete in Howard Hughes mode with a cane, long hair and a beard, that spiral looks to continue.
Of course, events are set in motion that set out to change this, but it isn’t a case of Wayne simply slipping the batsuit on once again and fighting crime. This is an older, frailer Bruce Wayne, and a visit to a doctor confirms that the cartilage in his knees and shoulders is shot; it’s clear that the years of crime-fighting and subsequent non-action have taken its toll on his frame. In a nod to the comic books, he develops a knee brace with servomotors that alleviates his need for a cane, and he takes up the mantle once again, taking on new foes in the process.
Anne Hathaway does an admirable job throughout the film as Selina Kyle, and she thankfully isn’t referred to as Catwoman at all, nor is there an extreme cat fixation about her. Her night-vision goggles do flip back on her head in a way resembling cat ears, and Bruce Wayne calls her a cat burglar at one point, but Nolan avoids temptation and doesn’t hit you over the head with cat, Cat, CAT in the storyline. On the flipside of the Cat-coin lies Bane, another villain adapted from the comic books, although without the signature Venom serum that provided his augmented strength. Tom Hardy’s Bane is a solid wall of bone and muscle (recalling his title character from Bronson) who isn’t just a lunkhead with biceps. This Bane is eloquent, intelligent, and calculating.
The plot that unfolds around Gotham City involves complicated economics, the control of Wayne Enterprises, new technology, and some surprise players. Central to fighting this is police commissioner James Gordon, who has been struggling with whether or not to reveal the truth about Batman to the general public; he knows he need to be revered as a hero and not blamed for Dent’s death. Although when Gordon is wounded in an attack by Bane, deputy commissioner Peter Foley (Matthew Modine) tries to fill his shoes, but doesn’t believe in the Bane legend. Rookie beat cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is promoted by Gordon to special duty as a detective, and Gordon uses him as his eyes and ears as he recovers.
This sprawling story takes the nearly three hours of the film to unfold, during which Batman is reduced to levels below a mere mortal man, and must bring himself back up again. There are plenty of familiar faces in the script, along with a couple of surprises and twists, and Bale again outdoes himself as the brooding Batman, and the introspective Wayne. Lucius Fox provides new toys and tech, one of which is pivotal in the film’s climax, and the story ends on a note of hope, although it’s not what you might expect. Things come full circle here, and everything dovetails together nicely in the conclusion to a trilogy.
Nolan has given weight to the one character in all of comic book creation that could actually be a reality. Although Tony Stark’s Iron Man is also a self-made hero, Bruce Wayne’s Batman doesn’t use impossible tech to ply his trade. If you strip away the Batmobile, Bat-cycle, Bat-Plane, and every Bat-A-Thing, you’re still left with a man who uses his fists to get things done. He’s human, and this film presents him as the barest-bones version of the character that we’ve ever seen on film. Where The Avengers is a comic book come to life on the screen, The Dark Knight Rises and by extension Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, represents the words, thoughts, and details between the panels of a well-written graphic novel. Highly recommended, and especially in IMAX if you get the chance.