Nowhere in the landscape of recent film history (or anywhere, for that matter) has there been such tremendous pressure on anyone, to do anything, as there was on Christopher Nolan to deliver in the final installment of his phenomenal Dark Knight trilogy. Coming off the heels of two stellar films (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), Nolan had no option but to knock it out of the park with the long-awaited final chapter, The Dark Knight Rises. In spite of this, Nolan seems to have stacked the plate even higher for himself, introducing four new dynamic characters and dealing with a terrifically complex six-odd-level plot structure, all while trying to follow up Heath Ledger’s now-legendary performance of the Joker in Dark Knight.
A titanic task, even for a skilled director like Nolan (Inception, Memento). The immensity of the plot is evident from the first thirty minutes, during which Nolan juggles the rise of an unstoppable and mysterious villain called Bane (Inception’s Tom Hardy) who wants to bring anarchistic havoc to peaceful Gotham, the snooping of a young orphaned cop (Inception’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt) into Bruce Wayne’s business, and the interest of a female investment tycoon (sigh … Inception’s Marion Cotillard) in Wayne’s struggling company. Amongst all this, actually finding Batman can be more challenging than one would think. He’s been in exile at his manor for years after taking the fall for Gotham’s guilty hero Harvey Dent at the end of the last film, and is only lured back out into society when a skilled cat-burglar (Anne Hathaway, as a seductive, playful, lithe Catwoman) nabs his mother’s pearls. Out in the world, Bruce Wayne finds Bane — and the chaos he brings — fast approaching to tear down Gotham’s sense of luxury and bliss.
See? All of that to deal with, plus some tremendous set pieces (inter-airplane kidnapping) to deal with. How could anyone, even Nolan, execute that perfectly? I’m sorry to say it, but the film gets off to a shaky start. The dialogue goes almost too quick to catch, and to fully grasp the film’s setup an intricate knowledge of both previous films is absolutely critical. Even having seen both multiple times, I had trouble catching up. But once Bane gets raring and blows up Gotham’s football stadium in an oft-televised and incredibly directed sequence, any stumbles on Nolan’s part are totally forgiven. The film is just so unbelievably good: the action is cathartic, the special effects impeccable. Each individual scene is a cinematographic masterpiece in and of itself.
A word on the acting, too: one would think that with all the aforementioned actors in the picture, plus the Old Guard of Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine around, it would be difficult for any one actor to shine. Au contraire: they all do. Christian Bale is as brooding, solemn, and morally compelled as he always has been and as Batman should be. Gordon-Levitt and Cotillard, to their credit, do a great job of establishing two deep and engaging characters, though they are not in league with the phenomenal Anne Hathaway, who often steals the stage as Catwoman. The Old Guard fulfill their duties too, and often the only one left in the dust is Tom Hardy, who despite the terrifying nature of his imposing character cannot quite seem to make as much of an impact as his screenmates.
As I said, each individual scene in the film, especially the latter half, is unbelievable, but the structure of the film itself can seem a little messy at times. There is just so much to do, and all of it so fascinating and well-directed, that at times in both the beginning and the climax of the film, Nolan seems less inspired by Batman’s sleekness and more by Bane’s sense of anarchy. There’s a certain brevity, a certain perfection of pacing, that made The Dark Knight an instant classic, and which Rises lacks. It just doesn’t flow quite as well. However, when one is caught up in the wild ride of seeing Batman’s plane dodge missiles or watching Gary Oldman chase a nuclear bomb across town, there is no one other than Nolan for the job. It all ends, too, with a stirring, joyful, and poetic ending which makes one thing sure. Even if Rises isn’t remembered as the best in the trilogy, it will be remembered as the explosive, star-studded capstone that helped make the series what it was always destined to be: a modern masterpiece. Score: 8/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor