I was fortunate enough to see The Dark Knight Rises just hours before the senseless tragedy in Colorado, but it seems a little frivolous to even try to sit down a critique the movie only days afterward. I want to send my thoughts and prayers to those who have been affected by this violent act.
Eight years have passed (in movie time) since the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham City is crime free thanks to the Batman (although he and Commissioner Gordon decided to give the late Harvey Dent all the credit so as not to smear his name), but a new menace has come to town in the form of Bane, a muscle-bound mask-wearing thug bent on reducing the city to ashes and giving the 99% what they deserve. What's a retired superhero to do, especially when the man inside the costume is himself a broken down husk living the life of a recluse inside his gigantic mansion? When Bane and his men manage to acquire a copy of Bruce Wayne's fingerprints (courtesy of cat burglar Selina Kyle) and wipe out his fortune on a bad investment and then set off a series of bombs beneath Gotham City that cuts them off from the rest of the world, Wayne has no choice but to don the cape and cowl yet again.
The Dark Knight Rises is Christopher Nolan's epic conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy that started with Batman Begins back in 2005. The new film actually closes out the story introduced in that film, virtually ignoring the events of The Dark Knight (Nolan preferred not to have any references to The Joker out of respect for the late Heath Ledger), so a refresher view of that film may be in order before tackling the new one. The introduction of the villain Bane, played by Tom Hardy (unrecognizable under his mask, with his face only being seen once in a fleeting flashback), brings us back to the first film in the trilogy because his reason for coming to Gotham is to finish what Wayne's mentor-turned-bad guy Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson) started – get rid of the corruption and return the city to the people. Bane wants to steal a device created by Wayne Industries that was intended to produce free, unlimited, green energy, but of course it's a device that can also be turned into a bomb with a little tinkering (which is why the device was never publicly revealed). The question is: How does Bane even know about this device? He's obviously got someone on the inside of the corporation helping him, but who?
We're also introduced to Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), the sexy cat burglar (never referred to as Catwoman) who is tied in to Bane's plan, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), the partner on the green energy project who lost a lot of money when it was tabled, but becomes Wayne's ally after the failed takeover of Wayne Industries. It's up to her and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to keep the city safe once they discover what Bane is up to. And there's also John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the idealistic young police officer who learns what really happened to Harvey Dent and the sacrifice the Batman made to save the city. But with all of these characters either trying to save or destroy the city, not everything is as it seems and there is one major plot twist in the third act of the movie that completely changes everything you thought you knew was going on (and anyone familiar with Batman lore probably already knows the big twist and the true identity of one of the characters).
So with all of this action, not to mention the psychological aspects of Bruce Wayne and Batman, is the movie all its been expected to be? I say yes, even with its various problems. I've seen plenty of griping from the hardcore Bat-fans about the plot,the ending, and inconsistencies … and the fact that for a Batman movie, there is actually very little Batman (or Bruce Wayne for that matter). Yeah, it is odd to conclude a story with the title character barely there, but does that make it a terrible movie? Not at all. I was engrossed by the story and shocked by the reveal of the villain's true identity (no, I don't follow the comics or graphic novels), and Nolan's staging of the action is masterful, especially when you know that most of it was done on set and not with CGI effects.
Are there problems with the storytelling? Definitely. Sometimes it doesn't make a lick of sense and the twist pretty much undoes everything you believed up to that point. Yes, there is a shocking lack of Batman, and the movie actually gives Bane the bulk of the screen time. But none of that mattered to me. The only thing that really bugged me was Bane's ridiculous voice. When the first trailer hit, everyone complained that you couldn't understand a word he said through the mask. Apparently that's been fixed, but now it's just too clear and … bizarre. He sounds like Christopher Plummer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country! It's very odd to see this huge, muscular guy talk like a 70-year-old Englishman (and in the graphic novel, Bane is actually from South America!). The voice was off-putting, and anyone could have been under that mask (which reminded me of the Tusken Raiders of Star Wars). The pluses, though, outweigh the negatives. Despite the original scoffing, Anne Hathaway was excellent as Selina Kyle. She was sexy, alluring, and could really kick ass. Plus she brought the film most of its lighter moments when things were starting to get a little too dark and depressing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was also an excellent choice for Blake. He was totally believable in some pretty unbelievable situations, and he gets a nice character arc that runs through to the end of the movie. And I have to give props to Michael Caine, returning as Alfred. He has a terrific scene with Bale as Alfred has had enough of Wayne dressing up as the Batman that left me in tears.
Overall, The Dark Knight Rises may not be a perfect film, and it certainly can never live up to the extremely high expectations some people had placed on it before it opened, but it was still an epic (nearly three hours) film with some terrific performances that fittingly brought to a close Christopher Nolan's version of the Batman story. And that is certainly the key thing to remember – this is Christopher Nolan's vision of the Batman story. He says he's done with it now, but the ending suggests the story could continue. I'm certain it will in one way or another, but for now, this version of the Batman saga is done and it's been a great ride.