Just a tad over 4 years ago in late June of 2008, I walked out of a Los Angeles press screening of THE DARK KNIGHT and said, “There’s no WAY Christopher Nolan can ever top THAT!”
As a result of being totally blown away by the greatness of TDK, I wondered if Mr. Nolan would walk away from the Batman film franchise. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed him one bit despite being personally disappointed.
Flash forward to early July 2012. I'm again in Los Angeles for an early screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Obvioulsy, Mr. Nolan did indeed return for another Batman film. Guess, what? Not only did he return, he also did what many -- including yours truly -- thought couldn’t be done: He topped TDK.
RISES is the best comic book film ever. It's a great film regardless of genre. "The Dark Knight Trilogy" as a whole is a masterpiece.
So much for that “Third Movie Curse!”
For Chris Nolan and co. -- whom I often call “Team Nolan” -- THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl and then retiring. As this is the director’s final Batman film, it’s a quite fitting analogy.
In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, it’s been 8 years since Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) last wore the cape and cowl as The Batman. After taking the blame for murders committed by Harvey Dent/Two Face, he retreated to the rebuilt Wayne Manor and became a virtual recluse. Psychologically scarred, he blames himself for what happened to not only Harvey Dent, but the person he thought was the love of his life, Rachel Dawes. Now, he mills around the restored family mansion disheveled, wearing pajamas and walking with the aid of a cane. Sure, he took a lot of abuse on the streets of Gotham as The Batman, but I’m of the opinion that the cane is also a metaphor for Bruce’s state of mind.
The bottom line: Bruce is simply existing. Or as Alfred (Michael Caine) tells him, he’s alive but not living.
Then two things occur that cause Bruce to cease his self-imposed exile…
1) A thief and grifter named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and 2) An evil terrorist with band of mercenaries known as Bane (Tom Hardy).
Though Selina is a criminal, she injects a little life into the lifeless Bruce because, well, he thinks she’s fun.
On the other hand, Bane is NOT fun. He’s a very, Very, VERY bad man who comes to Gotham for one reason and one reason only: Destroy the city.
Combined, Selina and Bane create a perfect storm that leads Bruce to suit up once again. Batman’s Back Baby! But his he really?
As far as comic book inspiration is concerned, RISES draws a bit from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, NO MAN’S LAND and KNIGHTFALL. Don’t read too much into that, OK? This is not an adaptation of those stories. Rather, think of RISES as being “influenced by” these Batman comics just as there was a bit of THE LONG HALLOWEEN in TDK and smidgen of YEAR ONE in BATMAN BEGINS. And speaking of BEGINS…
There’s A LOT of it in RISES, no doubt about it. When they told us that the story was going to come full circle back to that first Nolan Batman film, they weren’t blowing smoke. In fact, I’d say that one must watch BEGINS before seeing RISES. There’s not that much TDK in RISES to be honest, though the events of that film can definitely be felt in this final installment. I’d actually suggest seeing both of the previous films prior to viewing RISES as all three together make up one story.
Christian Bale as The Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
In RISES, Christian Bale gives his best performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman -- with an emphasis on Bruce Wayne. While we all love it when Batman’s kicking ass on the big screen, it’s Bruce Wayne in this trilogy that we really care about and we can thank Mr. Bale for that. He was great.
Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine also return to Gotham for a third time as Bruce’s mentors/partners/father-figures Lucius Fox and Alfred Pennyworth respectively. Caine as Alfred give a particularly touching performance this time around.
Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Jim Gordon is more than solid yet again. In RISES, it’s clear that the lie concocted by Batman and Gordon at the end of TDK is not only affecting Bruce Wayne. Gordon has paid a heavy price as well and he’s nearing his breaking point.
In addition to the aforementioned Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway, newcomers to the ensemble cast include Marion Cotillard as Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Officer John Blake and Mathew Modine as Deputy Commissioner Foley. Alfred hopes that the lovely Ms. Tate might become a lover interest for Bruce, Officer Blake is a good cop that inspires Gordon, and Foley sort of serves as “the regular guy” who gets caught up in this whole mess.
Tom Hardy as Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
As far as the film’s two main “villains,” both Hathaway as Selina (she’s never called “Catwoman,” ever) and Hardy as Bane particularly shine. Sure, Selina’s supposed to be a bad guy, but like her comic book counterpart, she’s really not. Yeah, she steals from people (Bruce Wane included), but she does that in a sort of “Robin Hood” kind of way. As she tells Blake while being questioned, “A girl’s gotta eat.” When it comes to Bane however, there’s NOTHING good about this guy at all. He’s one evil MF’er. Period. This is the first Batman villain that will be truly hated. The fact that Hardy made Bane such a bad SOB with his mouth completely covered with a mask the entire film makes his performance that much more impressive. When he’s onscreen, pay close attention to his eyes and body language, trust me.
Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Like Nolan’s 2 previous Batman films, RISES plays like a drama disguised as an action flick -- and there's plenty of both. RISES has several huge action set-pieces over the course of the film. The first one comes as soon as the film opens (the aerial piece that introduces the audience to Bane) and show up regularly in between the drama right ‘til the very end. And DO they look GOOD in IMAX! Since more of RISES was filmed in IMAX than its predecessor, do your best to see it in that format as it’s the best way to view the film.
I’m not going to lie to you all. I cried at the end of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Hat’s off to director Christopher Nolan -- and EVERYONE else involved too -- for creating such a moving experience. It’s epic, emotional and, well, just GREAT.
What's the best part of RISES? The finale. Everything falls into place in classic "Aha!" Nolan style. Overall, I can’t think of a better way to conclude this particular take on Bruce Wayne’s cinematic story.
Batman fans, hold your heads high and walk around with your sticking out as far as you can stick 'em out!
Good luck to whomever Warner Bros. taps to reboot Batman on film a few years down the line as the bar has been raised HIGH. But you know what, this is a GOOD thing. - Bill "Jett" Ramey