Tom Hardy (left) and Christian Bale in "The Dark Knight Rises"
The Dark Knight Rises
All the world's Gotham City in Christopher Nolan's ambitious Batman trilogy, which comes to an emphatic conclusion with "The Dark Knight Rises."
The screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan takes inspiration from "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Metropolis" (not Clark Kent's, Fritz Lang's) in depicting the levels of society: the 99 percent versus the 1 percent, the skyscrapers down to the sewers. The leitmotif of Nolan's well-orchestrated Batman saga is how a society, and indeed an individual, responds to a fall. In "The Dark Knight Rises," Gotham becomes subject to cleansing fires -- even a mushroom cloud -- in hopeful anticipation of a phoenix-like rise to civilized order over underworld chaos.
Nolan's third act begins with a lie, still being told eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight." As far as the people know, the vigilante known as The Batman is responsible for the murders committed by Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent, a crusader who went criminally insane. Most see an unequivocal win in the subsequent "Dent Act": Crime rates have dropped precipitously. But police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is having a hard time living with himself, especially when pressed by the idealistic and suspicious young officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Trading integrity for criminal convictions seemed like a greater-good short-term bargain, but the long-term consequences loom large.
Batman has receded into billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), now a limping recluse joked about in Howard Hughes terms. How the mighty have fallen. The listless Wayne shows little interest in the good works of the Wayne Foundation or the forward-looking clean-energy project touted by Wayne Enterprises executive board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). Despite the efforts of loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), the romantically crushed Wayne resists getting "back into the swing of things."
Pressing the point are two characters plucked from the pages of Batman comics. Fearsome terrorist Bane (a piercingly intense Tom Hardy) was trained, like Batman, by Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and amongst his League of Shadows. Cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, credibly sly and sassy) -- also known, though not here, as Catwoman -- wants a "clean slate" in an Internet age when information is immortal (as Ra's al Ghul significantly notes, "There are many forms of immortality"). Aided by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Batman's "Q," Wayne suits up once more as Gotham's most important symbol, this time taking the wheel of a flying Batmobile dubbed "The Bat."
The Cecil B. DeMille scale of the film delivers a whole lotta movie, with cast-of-thousands spectacle and giant-sized action that says "epic" almost as much as "blockbuster." Almost half the film was shot in eye-popping IMAX that's entirely worth the premium price, and when it comes to the seeming oxymoron of blockbuster cinema, Nolan proves again to be uncommonly smart. The Nolans consider the issues of the day (there's a big Occupy Gotham theme, with a twist); explore the role of legendary heroes (from Robin Hood to Batman and Robin) in galvanizing the public; and labor mightily to ensure that how their Batman ends dovetails with 2005's "Batman Begins."
Rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, sensuality and language. 2 hours, 45 minutes.
- Peter Canavese