The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

I’m not sure if that was the intention, but that mask made me realize that Tom Hardy has beautiful eyes.

Gotham City is threatened by a terrorist named Bane, so Batman must come out of retirement.

[DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM]
The plot is a gargantuan machine that takes a while to kick into gear, but it feels epic instead of unwieldy. The movie is engrossing from start to finish, and ends on an unexpectedly moving note. Roger Ebert complained that it isn’t much fun, but that isn’t what Christopher Nolan was going for here. Each film in his Batman trilogy is darker and heavier than the last. Things get almost unbearably grim about half-way into this installment. Even though lighter moments are in even shorter supply than usual here, Nolan makes sure to provide some. In this case most of them come via the cat burglar Selina Kyle, whom Anne Hathaway portrays with an edgy sense of fun.

In all of his big-budget extravaganzas, Nolan aims to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants to thrill you with big-scale spectacle, but he tries to keep his stories and characters as grounded as possible. He mostly succeeds. It’s possible to enjoy Batman’s cool vehicles and also have an emotional stake in the story. In fact, Nolan has done a better job in this film of making the viewer feel the plight of the ordinary citizens of Gotham City. This is due in part to the character of police officer Blake, who along with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, bringing his character to life with the same subtlety he used in the other two films), serves as a link between the movie’s larger-than-life figures and its more relatable characters. Another improvement is that the characters don’t announce the film’s themes the way they did in the previous ones.

Maybe there is something to Ebert’s complaint, though. I enjoyed the movie’s depth, but by the time it was over, I left the theatre feeling pummeled. The movie raises issues that reflect the times, such as the gap between the rich and the poor, but it’s questionable whether the film does enough with these themes to justify their presence. Also, the introduction late in the film of villain Talia Al Ghul dampens the proceedings a bit because the filmmakers fail to make her very interesting.

While it can’t quite measure up to the previous installments, The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy conclusion to the trilogy. Actually, Bruce Wayne has a much more dynamic arc in this film than he did in The Dark Knight – and Christian Bale makes sure you can feel everything his character goes through, physically and emotionally. Bane is a suitably intimidating villain, thanks not only to Tom Hardy’s physical transformation but also his use of forceful body language. The quirky voice he adopts here pays off, adding colour to an otherwise very serious-minded character.

While Nolan makes the characters his own, he likes to give nods to the comic book iconography that spawned them. He has Bane break Batman’s back and free the inmates like he does in the comics, and he teases us by revealing that Blake’s real first name is Robin. The filmmakers manage to make Blake’s positioning as Batman’s heir feel right instead of rote.

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