© 2012 Ray Wong
Writer-Director Christopher Nolan was determined to end his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, despite the films' tremendous profitability, popularity and prestige. That takes a lot of discipline, and it pays off.
Eight years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, where the Batman was blamed for the death of Harvey Dent, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still a recluse, still mourning the death of the love of his life, Rachel Dawes. Gotham City, however, seems to bask in its peace and glory, with organized crime almost nonexistent. Everything changes when a new terrorist, a hulking masked man named Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives with an army of underground thugs, determined to tear the city apart.
With the city in turmoil and the police, under the leadership of commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), unprepared and understaffed, Bruce Wayne decides that Batman must reemerge to protect the city and defeat Bane. For fear of his master's death, loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) urges Wayne to reconsider and reveals the truth about Rachel. The rift forces Alfred to depart, leaving Wayne all alone to fight Bane, whom Wayne later discovers was one of Ra's Al Ghul's (Liam Neeson) proteges, just like Wayne himself. Because of their similar training, Bane is a match for Wayne's skills and mind, but also is physically superior. For some reasons, Bane already knows that Wayne is Batman. Bane succeeds in wiping out Wayne's fortune and seriously hurting Batman and then keeping Wayne in a remote prison so Wayne can watch Gotham City being destroyed, bit by bit, until it is soon to be annihilated by a nuclear bomb.
But Wayne/Batman is not alone in his fight. Helping him is loyal employee Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), who continues to outfit Batman with the most technologically advanced weaponry. Besides Gordon, a rookie detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) also selflessly assists Wayne in any way -- it turns out that Blake has figured out Batman's identity. There is also Selina (Anne Hathaway), a burglar who has a way of getting Batman to Bane, and Miranda (Marion Cotillard), Wayne's business partner and love interest. Together, Bruce Wayne and his friends will try everything they've got to stop Bane from destroying Gotham and millions of innocent lives.
It's hard to believe Christian Bale (The Flowers of War) is only 38. His resume has been impressive and he clearly has established himself as one of the most versatile and intense actors of his generation. Reprising his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman should not be difficult for Bale, but he manages to bring more depth and soul into the character, taking us on an emotional journey which is rather rare for a superhero action movie.
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is of course great as Commissioner Gordon. Tom Hardy (Inception) is a formidable villain as Bane, even though most of the movie he is hidden behind a strange, crab-like mask and layers of winter clothes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50) plays a new character (but not unfamiliar to fans of the Batman universe) with great empathy and likability. Marion Cotillard (Inception) is rather good as Miranda, but the top female lead award goes to Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), who is quite sensational as Selina/Catwoman, who for once matches Bruce Wayne in smarts, wit, skills and sexuality.
Written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, the screenplay stays true to the themes and tone of the previous two movies. But the Nolan brothers take a step further and paint Gotham City with a much darker brushstroke. While Bane may not be as sensational and amazing as the Joker, he is every bit as sociopathic and terrorizing. The Nolan brothers tackle many serious themes from corruption to politics, from personal sacrifice to loyalty, just to name a few. Thus, at times, even at a runtime of almost 3 hours, the movie seems to rush. There are simply too many characters, relationships, plot elements and themes to cover. Often we're left with a breathless pace and somewhat a disorientation: "Say what? What just happened?"
I feel that this could have been better if split into two (like what they did with Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallow). They would have had more time to further develop the intricate relationships and personal arcs, slow down the breakneck pace, and give the audience something more substantial to chew on. As is, the movie is good in that it's exciting, with many amazing set pieces, actions, and great characters. It's just not deep enough because the filmmakers have run out of time.
Christopher Nolan's direction is superb, nonetheless, despite the sometimes-rushed pace. Nolan has chosen to limit CGI special effects, and instead relied quite a bit on old-fashioned movie magic. And the result is both exhilarating and exhausting at times. Some scenes are truly amazing (the opening sequence, for example, of the sequence at a football stadium). Some, however, seem overdone or understated, leaving me with an impression of unevenness. Still, there's no question that Nolan is at the top of his game, even though I can see some of his fatigue seeping through in this production. I'm sure it's a relief for him that he's done with this trilogy for good.
And what a good job. Surely, this is not the best of the trilogy (the second movie, as usually, is the best). But Nolan ends it with quite a bang. It's a solid conclusion to a great trilogy.
Stars: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine, Liam Neeson
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and sexuality
Running Time: 164 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 9
Production - 9
Total - 7.9 out of 10.0