There are few films that can be declared events but The Dark Knight Rises is one of them. Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has transcended its source material and become a cultural touchstone for the movie going public. It is the culmination of everything that Christopher Nolan and his cast and crew have worked towards since they began this journey in 2005 with Batman Begins. It is also a film that has such astounding expectations behind it that it seems completely unlikely that it would be able to adequately fulfill them. But it does.
Taking place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Rises sees Gotham City relatively peaceful and without organized crime. But Gotham has become complacent and a terrible storm is looming, intent on destroying everything Batman sacrificed himself for. And in that storm, Gotham will need its Dark Knight once again.
The Dark Knight Rises draws inspiration from the comic book story arcs Knightfall and No Man’s Land but make no mistake about it, this is Nolan’s vision for the character and it takes place in the more grounded universe delivered in his first two films. Nolan also pulls threads from the previous two films in the series intertwining everything together with mastery to which few trilogies can lay claim. But for as strongly developed as the story is the success of the trilogy has ultimately lied with the characters.
Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman has succeeded in both humanizing Wayne and making Batman into a symbol of justice, yet at the same time never seeming utterly ridiculous that a grown man, a billionaire no less, is running around in a cape and cowl fighting crime. This is a testament to Nolan’s grounded vision of the universe that has allowed for the characters to feel real. The Dark Knight Rises continues this tradition and Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy) both bring humanity to their performances that make their characters believable.
Hardy shines as the villain Bane, delivering a ferociously brutal performance. But his star ultimately falls short of the highs that Liam Neeson or Heath Ledger brought to the table. It is not necessarily Hardy’s fault but rather the direction the script takes the character, which fails to provide Bane with a satisfying end in favor of an elegant twist tying back to Batman Begins. As a fan of Batman comics I was satisfied with the trade off but others will feel betrayed and let down but those are the risks one takes with plot twists.
Potentially more enraging to some viewers though will be the overly melodramatic conclusion and the extended epilogue that approaches Return of the King levels with its false endings. The climactic conclusion does come across a tad bit cheesy and the epilogue nicely wraps everything up but I am not sure there was a better way to end the trilogy. And Nolan does deliver a definitive end as he has promised. Like it or not he has finished his tale.
Where Nolan’s Batman trilogy will stand in the history of film will be debated for years to come. It is easy to sit here at the start of the last film’s run, still riding the emotional wave that the film produces and declare the trilogy an unequivocal masterpiece but I refuse to do that. I personally need more time. The series has its flaws, and this final entry has a few more than its predecessors but right now the only thing anyone needs to know about The Dark Knight Rises is that it is an unflinchingly entertaining film that delivers on the promise Nolan made with Batman Begins.