Joel Schumacher killed Batman, at least in the movies, and at least for the better part of a decade. In 2003 the Caped Crusader was still in limbo six years after the theatrical debacle known as Batman and Robin. (One word: Bat-nipples.) Enter Christopher Nolan.
Batman Begins would hit theaters two years later followed up by the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight in 2008 featuring the Oscar-winning performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Four years later Nolan releases the third, and final, movie of his Bat-trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, which brings the story of Nolan’s version of Batman full circle.
The final installment doesn’t work as well as The Dark Knight, nor does it offer us a villain as compelling as Ledger’s Joker. The flaws in Nolan’s version of the character introduced in Batman Begins are also further heightened. We get one scene of a retired Batman doing a minimal bit of detective work – the first seen in any of Nolan’s films (and no, I’m not counting that absurd bullet sequence from The Dark Knight which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever), and once again Batman relies on the help, intelligence and wisdom of others to give him the answers he needs to fulfill his destiny. Nolan’s Batman is never the smartest man in the room.
Eight years have passed since the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and the last recorded siting of Batman in Gotham City. True to his word, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) allowed the Dark Knight to take the rap for Two-Face’s mistakes and allowed everyone to believe Batman was responsible for Dent’s death.
Not only has Batman disappeared from Gotham, but so has Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has become a pale shadow of his former self and turned into a Howard Hughes’ style shut-in, limping around the dark corners of Wayne Manor, rumored about but never seen. Although missing both Batman and Bruce, Gotham has prospered in their absence. Thanks to aggressive legislation which went into effect following Dent’s death Gotham has (nearly) cured itself from the plague of corruption which had held a death grip on the city for decades.
As the movie opens a series of events bring both Wayne and Batman back into the public eye beginning with a beguiling cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) making off with Martha Wayne’s pearls, the shooting of Jim Gordon, the dire straights of Wayne Enterprises following another lengthy public disappearance from Bruce Wayne and the scrapping of a billion dollar free energy project, and the arrival of a new super-villain in town – Bane (Tom Hardy).
Nolan set out not to make a sequel this time around but a final movie in a trilogy that wraps up themes and plot lines the previous two Bat-films focused on. The story is a mixture of The Dark Knight Returns (seeing an older Batman come out of retirement after a near-decade-long absence), Knightfall (the famous first meeting between Bane and Batman and the “breaking of the bat” storyline), and Batman: Legacy (the arrival of Bane in Gotham working for the League of Assassins).
Frank Miller is a huge influence on the film as the story not only lifts two lines directly from The Dark Knight Returns but is quite similar in themes to Miller’s famous Daredevil story arc – “Born Again” (in fact it’s so similar in themes about a hero deconstructed and “rising” back in to prominence we don’t really ever need to see this Daredevil movie get made).
I’d compare Rises to the flawed, but still very good, Batman Begins or this year’s reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man. This movie doesn’t fall completely off the table in the final act as Nolan’s first Bat-flick did, but three films in it seems the director still hasn’t learned how to properly end a Batman film. Rises is also the messiest and less cohesive of all three movies partly due to the need to wrap up the overall story and introduce storylines of several new characters such as Police Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Roland Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), Catwoman, Bane, and for some inexplicable reason Holly Robinson (Juno Temple).
Nolan does a fairly good job with incorporating clips from the first two movies with one or two new scenes to tie the three films together. However, as is often the case with a director trying to end a series on a high note while at the same time providing special moments for longtime fans of the character, the film gets a little too cute for its own good. This leads to some extremely groan worthy moments and winks to the fans in the film’s unsubtle and prolonged epilogue which could have been severally truncated and still delivered the same message.
There are several plot twists and turns over the stories which I won’t ruin or explain here other than to see each is foreshadowed and none are the least bit surprising to anyone who knows the comic history of the characters chosen for this film (even if Nolan puts his own spin on them – one of which fails spectacularly). That’s not to say the plot doesn’t make sense (although we get the same time jumps that skip over huge chunks of story we saw in the two previous movies) or are (mostly) well executed.
The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a perfect film but it terms of the type of Batman movies Nolan set out to make it works well as a final chapter even if the final message about how good Batman was for Gotham and Bruce Wayne is murkier than it should be. The fight sequences, especially those between Bane and Batman, are terrific, and if we don’t get much Tumbler action this time around(at least not with Batman at the wheel) we get tons of great shots of the Batpod and Batman’s very cool new toy “The Bat.”
Hardy is certainly physically imposing and, when you can understand him, Bane looms large over the movie, but doesn’t over-power it as the Joker and (to a lesser extent Two-Face) did in The Dark Knight. And although I still think it’s bad casting, Hathaway is better than I expected as the woman who is never referred to as Catwoman. Gordon-Levitt’s character is an interesting addition (even if his story detracts a bit from the main plot), and I enjoyed and would have liked to have seen Cotillard given more to do as Wayne’s main love interest this time around.
The Dark Knight Rises isn’t The Dark Knight or The Avengers. However, it’s a fair bit better than third entries of other comic book movie franchises (Superman III, Spider-Man 3, Batman Forever). It’s a good, if at times problematic, film that continues to play on themes Nolan set out in Batman Begins. Is it the best ending we could have hope for? No, but then again we aren’t forced to watch an emo version of our beloved character strut around like a complete jackass.