When you've already made the most criticially acclaimed and popular Super Hero film of the 2000s (THE DARK KNIGHT), it's got to be a little hard to create a followup that comes off as anything but an also-ran. Thankfully, director Christopher Nolan seems infallible. While THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is not as intriguing as predecessor, it is certainly entertaining and, even at nearly three hours, never boring. It also brings the trilogy to an end in ways that even make BATMAN BEGINS, my least favorite of the three, come more into focus. Set eight years after the events of THE DARK KNIGHT, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES features a peaceful and nearly crime-free Gotham City and a Bruce Wayne hiding away in his mansion, not only reluctant to ever put on the Bat Suit again but even go out in public as Bruce Wayne. Circumstances for both Gotham City and Bruce Wayne change as when that purely evil ball of sunshine Bane comes to town, looking to destroy Gotham from both within and without. Add to the mix beautiful cat burglar (whom is never called "Catwoman") Selina Kyle willing to sell out both Batman and Bruce Wayne for her own selfish reasons, and you've got a formula for a really good bad time in ol' Gotham City.
The film builds on events from BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT but, unlike some of the HARRY POTTER films, does not depend on a fan's previous knowledge of those events in order to understand most of what is going on. For fans of the series, a couple of welcome and familiar faces pop up in the second half of the film, but I will not spoil the surprises. Heath Ledger, so great as The Joker in the second film, is obviously not one of the familiar faces, and The Joker's fate is not mentioned at all, perhaps for the better, considering Ledger's fate in real life.
The usual cast members return: Michael Caine as Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Wayne's gadget guy, and Gary "I've Never Been Bad in Anything, Even Lost in Space" Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Officer Blake (later Detective Blake), a young hothead on the police force who, let's say, knows something about Bruce Wayne only a few others know. Again, without spoiling any twists and turns, of which there are tons in this film, I guessed Detective Blake's ultimate fate within the first of the films three-hours.
Christian Bale is back, of course, as Bruce Wayne - slash - Batman, and he is as good as ever. Perhaps even better, since he has toned down the growly voice he normally uses when he is playing Batman. The story forces Bruce/Batman to make some tough personal decisions and suffer a few unsettling embarrassments and defeats before he gets his act together, making the character more interesting than usual.
One reason I didn't care that much for the first film was that Scarecrow, played by the brilliant Cillian Murphy, seemed like a lightweight that Batman should have polished off in five minutes, which, in effect, he did. Heath Ledger set a new standard for movie villains with his take on The Joker in the second film, and Tom Hardy, as Bane, does not rise to that level. The character is simply too one-dimensional, an undefeatable foe who, despite the background info we are given about him, is nowhere near as intriguing as The Joker, about whom we were told nothing. However, putting on twenty pounds for the part and creating an eerie, theatrical voice - one not unlike Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery - Hardy does a splendid job anyway as the seemingly invincible villain who was literally born in prison. Good as he is, it sometimes feels as if Hardy is wasted in the role, since he can do nothing with his face under the mask. Hardy is an amazing actor (see the movie BRONSON for proff of this), and Bane is a fun character to watch, but I never had that "What the HELL is up with this guy?" moment as happened with Heath Ledger's Joker every five minutes.
I'm not knocking her talents as an actress, but I had my doubts about the casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). My image of her in THE PRINCESS DIARIES clouded my judgment, and I am happy to say her performance is one of the highlights of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. As written, Selina Kyle is never a supervillain with a cat fetish as in the 1966 television series, or a wronged woman gone slightly insane as in Tim Burton's best Batman film, BATMAN RETURNS. Here, she is simply a burglar, pickpocket and a trader of stolen objects, and her cat outfit is just one of her costumes. Hathaway won't make longtime Catwoman fans forget Julie Newmar or Michelle Pfeiffer, but if Newmar was the iconic Catwoman of the 1960s and Pfieffer the icon of the eighties, Hathaway, on the strength of her fun, smart and sexy performance will surely be the Catwoman of this decade.
The cast, along with the non-stop action scenes and the superior special effects, make up for some pretty gaping plot holes and leaps of logical faith. For one example - early in the film, Bane and his gang storm the Gotham City Stock Exchange and, holding everybody there hostage, make a series of mysterious trades. It is an event covered widely by the news, and yet, the next day, when Bruce Wayne's fortune is wiped out, everybody blames Wayne for making dumb trades, as if the previous days events had not occurred at all. Another example - Batman and Bruce Wayne are gone for eight years and then the second Wayne returns, so does Batman, and nobody puts two and two together? The citizens of Gotham are almost as stupid as the citizens of Metropolis. (Having rewatched THE DARK KNIGHT after this film, I noticed some illogical things too, but I guess the better the movie, the more time you need to see silliness underneath).
Still, I'm not one to fault an action-adventure movie on iffy plot points if the rest of the film's elements keep me solidly entertained, so I won't harp on these things. Traditionally, the third film of a movie trilogy is either bad, unnecessary or at best the one which seems to signify the series is clearly running out of steam. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is an exception. It may not top THE DARK KNIGHT, but it almost equals it, and does show that they could probably squeeze one or two more good films out of the same basic elements. Considering events I haven't mentioned toward the end of the film, it seems likely they will try, even if Nolan and Bale aren't on board. - JB
IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR GOOD MOVIE QUOTES
"When Gotham is in ashes.... then you have my permission to die."Super Heroes The Secret Vortex