The third film in a trilogy is always the most difficult. A director has to sustain the audience’s interest in the characters, maintain an appropriate level of suspense, and bring the story line to a satisfying conclusion. That being said, does Christopher Nolan’s last film in the Batman Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, accomplish those tasks? The answer is yes -- mostly. Don’t get me wrong -- my purpose is not to diss Christopher Nolan in any way. I’m a huge fan of his. He had me at Memento. I’m just acknowledging the difficulty of bringing a legend to a close.
My first impulse after seeing the film was to watch The Dark Knight again, which is exactly what I did. My opinion that it’s the best film in the trilogy hasn’t changed. However, in that film, Nolan had the extraordinary opportunity of presenting us with the most brilliantly-acted, complex villain ever -- The Joker, portrayed by the late Heath Ledger. The Joker did not perish in The Dark Knight, but out of respect to Heath Ledger’s memory, the character is not even mentioned in The Dark Knight Rises. As I watched RISES, it seemed that Ledger’s ghost was hovering around the edges of my consciousness, whispering “Don’t compare. It was the performance of my lifetime!” But I find it impossible not to compare a little bit.
RISES, introduces a new villain, Bane, portrayed by Tom Hardy. Bane is a sledgehammer -- nothing subtle about him! Hardy does the best he can with a character whose face is largely obscured by a mask that also amplifies and distorts his voice. Therein lies one of my problems with the film. I could only hear about half of what Bane said. I’ll admit that the press screening was in the oldest theater in Denver that probably doesn’t have the best sound system since it usually shows indies and art house fare. In fact, I plan to pony up my $10 to see RISES, again in a better venue. But since that’s not going to happen prior to this review, I’m forced to go with what I saw and heard in this screening. Bane wasn’t the only character I had trouble understanding. At times, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) was unintelligible. At one point, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) finds himself in a deep pit of a dungeon where fellow prisoners explain a little about Bane’s background. I was only able to catch parts of that dialogue. And, believe me, I was listening.
At the end of The Dark Knight, Gordon tells his son that Batman is “a silent guardian, a watchful protector. The Dark Knight.” Batman/Bruce Wayne rides off into the darkness with a resolute look on his face to take his licks as a wanted man after assuming the blame for the death of crusading D. A. Harvey Dent. In contrast with that stern resolution, we find a broken Bruce Wayne at the beginning of RISES. He’s a limping, moping recluse who’s let everything go -- including his business empire. It’s now 8 years later, so it seems like a very long period of mourning for the loss of his love and his alter ego. It takes the theft of his mother’s pearls by new character Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to jar him back into action. Selina is never referred to as “Catwoman”, but she is a cat burgler and a very experienced jewel thief who intrigues Bruce Wayne. As the story progresses, she is alternately his adversary and his ally. As she says, “I’m adaptable.” Wayne is also fascinated by Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy, self-made woman who’s the only one interested in Wayne Industries’ fusion reactor as the answer to sustainable power. Hamm -- two lovely ladies -- who will Bruce Wayne choose? By the way, I’ll not be revealing any important plot points in this review. I will say this, though. Anne Hathaway is excellent as Selina, but I just wasn’t feeling Cotillard as Miranda. I just didn’t sense the necessary energy in her performance.
Bane wreaks havoc on Gotham when he establishes himself and his minions in the sewers of the city, setting off numerous explosions and causing parts of the city to literally implode. His goal seems to be that the “aristocracy” of the city implode along with it. The story alludes liberally to Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities as Bane turns the half-destroyed Gotham over to the “people”. His own little Reign of Terror ensues, complete with kangaroo courts condemning one wealthy unfortunate after another to death. There’s a brief flash of Bane sitting at the back of the spectators, and I would swear that he was knitting! I’m afraid that the Tale of Two Cities analogies may be lost on the American public, even though lines from the novel are actually quoted at one point in the film.
The most welcome addition to the cast is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a young beat cop who gets a “battlefield promotion” to detective by Commissioner Gordon. Blake and Bruce Wayne turn out to have an undiscovered connection. Gordon-Levitt proves once again that’s he’s one of the best young American actors. He’s quite a strong screen presence. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman , returning as Alfred and Lucius Fox, give the film focus as the voices of reason.
If I had to choose one adjective to describe Christopher Nolan’s work, it would be “intense”. The Dark Knight Rises is no exception. There are enough hair-raising stunts and double crossings to keep you on the edge of your seat. Fans will be satisfied with the conclusion. - JoAnne Hyde
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES -- starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard -- hits theaters on JULY 20, 2012!