“The Dark Knight Rises” Movie Review

     As the third and final film in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises” is easily comparable to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” in that it satisfies on every level.  Like the “LOTR” films, Nolan’s trilogy connects together in ways you couldn’t possibly see coming.  “The Dark Knight Rises” effectively uses important elements from the series previous two installments and then kicks the story into high gear, resolving the issues at hand.  Those issues for our protagonist, Bruce Wayne/Batman, couldn’t be more grave.  Never before have I seen on film a more nightmarish depiction of anarchy and terrorism than what is displayed in “TDKR”.  Clearly, Nolan is looking to touch on real world issues and has grounded the entire film in a grim and realistic reality.  No one who sees this film would question the possibility of these type of horrific acts actually occurring, since beginning with the attacks on September 11th, 2001, we have seen this type of event unfold right before our eyes.  Of course, this is a superhero film and the “Caped Crusader” is up to the task of stopping his latest adversary, kind of.

     The film begins 8 years after the events which played out in “The Dark Knight”.  Batman was blamed for the death of Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent and thus, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone into seclusion and hasn’t been seen or heard from.  That is until Gotham is attacked by Bane (Tom Hardy), a ruthless masked terrorist who was trained himself by the “League of Shadows”, the group who also trained Bruce Wayne in the first film.  As Bane begins his plot of destruction, Bruce decides to go get a check up before he becomes Batman again.  Clearly, the events of the first two films took a significant toll on Bruce’s body, as he is told of numerous ailments including the fact he has no cartilage in his left knee.  With a few technological enhancements, he gives himself a clean bill of health and tracks down a famous cat burglar.

     Though she’s never referred to as “Cat Woman”, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) has already stolen Bruce Wayne’s finger prints while posing as a maid at Wayne Manor.  When the prints are used during a daring robbery by Bane of the Gotham Stock Exchange to steal all of Bruce Wayne’s assets, Batman first appears and realizes not only who is behind the robbery, but also that Selina is involved and can lead Batman to Bane.  Save to say, like Lex Luthor in “Superman”, Selina double crosses Batman.

     Bane goes on to trap Gotham’s entire police force under ground and bombs every bridge leading into Gotham, thus keeping the entire population from leaving.  He then literally makes everyone in Gotham switch their class, as the rich become the ones living on the streets and the thousands of prisoners he releases from prison become the people calling the shots.  With all in chaos, will the Dark Knight Rise?

     Nolan has put together one of the most grand spectacles I’ve seen in some time.  Like his outstanding film “Inception” in 2010, “TDKR” starts with a finely tuned narrative which guides the audience through the introduction of four brand new characters, giving each plenty of time to shine throughout.  If your curious as to why the running time clocks in at 165 minutes, it’s because of the time dedicated to some intense character development.  When it’s all said and done, you are thoroughly acquainted with Selina Kyle and Bane, as well as Bruce Wayne’s new love interest, Miranda Tate (Marion Cottilard) and Gotham detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  Each character has as important a function as Batman himself and play major roles in the conclusion of the story.  That Nolan was able to pull this off effectively is a testament to his writing ability, as well as his knack for correct pacing and editing.

     On the technical side, “TDKR” appears to have spent every penny of its reported $250 million budget on making the film look as spectacular as possible.  The CGI blends flawlessly with the physical sets, and the action sequences are heart pounding.  The ever present Hans Zimmer score which is comprised of both new pieces and cues from the previous installments adds an entirely new level of emotion.  All involved really out did themselves from beginning to end.  As always, the supporting performances by Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Michael Caine (Alfred), and Morgan Freeman (Fox) provide important elements to the story and supply important continuity from the events in “Batman Begins” to the present.

     “TDKR” is not without its flaws, but the high points of the story are done so well that some of the little things really don’t matter.  Anyone who sees Bane and hears him breath and talk will immediately think of Darth Vader so it’s tough to give the film originality points when it comes to the villain.  Tom Hardy’s performance is based solely on the physical nature of his character since we can’t see him talk behind the mask which covers all of his face with the exception of his eyes.  Because of this, the film may suffer a bit from not having something along the lines of the standard created by Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight”.  Hardy’s Bane is a menacing figure throughout, but one can’t help but to think he has a tremendous weakness that maybe Batman should’ve figured out earlier, but believe me, that is nit picking.

     The film is filled with surprises during the third act and your not likely to have a more exhilarating time at the movies this year than you will during the final 45 minutes.  The payoffs are so much better because Nolan takes the time to make you care about the principals involved.  You have the opportunity to form opinions about everyone before their time to succeed or fail actually comes and this is key.  It tells me Nolan didn’t prescribe to any of the traditional Hollywood formulas when conceiving this film, instead going with a clean slate and putting to film what would make sense.  I don’t see this type of filmmaking often and only a few directors are even capable of making a film of this caliber.  With “The Dark Knight Rises”, I believe Christopher Nolan (“Memento”, “Inception”, “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”) has now entered the realm of the top 3 to 5 directors working today and will likely by considered one of the best of all time. I would hope this film is remembered in meaningful categories come awards season. GRADE: A