The Dark Knight Rises * * * *

Genre: Action

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on characters written by Bob Kane

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Running Length: 165 minutes

Synopsis: It’s been eight years since the events that unfolded in The Dark Knight, and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a shadow of his former self, broken both physically and emotionally, casting himself into self-seclusion. An encounter with the sexy cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) jolts him out of his stupor, and with a new villain Bane (Tom Hardy) in Gotham City threatening the city’s survival, Bruce has to decide whether to become the caped crusader again. He is aided by his trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), his right-hand man at Wayne Enterprises, and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). Several other characters also enter the fray, including police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as well as Wayne Enterprises board member and potential love interest of Bruce Wayne, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

Review: All good things have to come to an end, and after 7 long years, the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing Batman trilogy has finally arrived. The Dark Knight is a very tough act to follow, and whilst The Dark Knight Rises does not manage to reach the same heights that its predecessor attained, the film is about as good a sendoff to the series as one would hope to get.  

Let’s get the downsides out of the way first: there’s a slight sense of overreach when it comes to The Dark Knight Rises, as though there really isn’t enough time (even in a movie that runs close to 3 hours long) to cover every aspect of the complex narrative web that Christopher and his brother Jonathan have weaved. There are just a touch too many characters involved in the proceedings, to the point where it does seem that some of these characters have been given short shrift – even Batman himself doesn’t take centerstage all that often, despite this being a movie that ostensibly revolves around him.

Yet, these are merely minor quibbles in the grander scheme of things, and The Dark Knight Rises satisfies in ways that few superhero movies can hope to do. Things are never simple in Nolan’s cinematic universes, and in the realm of his Dark Knight, the characters carry far greater emotional weight than one would expect for a superhero movie, and the universally excellent performances (except perhaps for a blander than usual Marion Cotillard) help to give multi-dimensionality. Combined, this means much greater audience investment into the outcomes of these characters, which is never a bad thing.

The Dark Knight Rises also focuses on something that is usually left by the wayside for a superhero movie – it reminds us that beneath the mask, Batman is a normal human being. From the walking stick that Bruce Wayne now depends on, to Alfred’s questioning his intentions for returning as Batman, the caped crusader’s physical vulnerability is underscored repeatedly.

Christian Bale continues to give a superlative performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman, and despite the significant female presence in the movie (Anne Hathaway is particularly memorable as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, although it’s very different from Michelle Pfeiffer’s campy Catwoman), the best emotional sequences arise from interactions between Wayne and his butler Alfred. Christian Bale and Michael Caine will quite possibly be the best iterations of these two characters ever, much like how the late Heath Ledger has completely overshadowed any other actor that have been (or will become) the Joker. Tom Hardy’s Bane is menacing and yet charismatic, though his performance is somewhat hampered by the large mask that he wears. An additional caveat: the distortion of Bane’s voice does makes some of his dialogue almost unintelligible.

The Dark Knight Rises is equally accomplished on the technical front. This is an incredibly good looking film, benefiting from Wally Pfister’s excellent cinematography and Nolan’s masterful framing of shots. Over an hour of footage has been shot on IMAX film, and the movie is best appreciated on an IMAX screen. Nolan is known for avoiding CGI whenever possible, and there’s an organic feel to the movie (which is entirely shot on film as well) which is hard to find in any action movie these days. Hans Zimmer’s score also forms an integral part of the movie, punctuating the action sequences with percussion heavy cues, but also judiciously using silence and dialing back on the pomposity whenever needed.

Without giving anything away, let’s just say that Nolan has given as much closure to his trilogy as possible, but has still left the door slightly open for the studio’s benefit. The denouement of The Dark Knight Rises isn’t as ambiguous as Inception, but this is without a doubt a “thinking man’s superhero movie”, requiring a consistent engagement of the mind. It’s a change of pace from most summer action films, but the film remains thrilling and engrossing throughout, despite its extended running time.

Both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight have largely missed out on Oscar action, barring Heath Ledger’s posthumous Supporting Actor win. Hopefully the Academy will belatedly recognize the greatness of this genre-bending trilogy, and we’ll see a more representative list of nominations for what is undoubtedly the best superhero movie to be released this year.

Rating: * * * * (out of four stars)

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