Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan; directed by Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros. Pictures Rated PG-13
By Ed Symkus
How important is it to have seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before checking out what Christopher Nolan has done to cap off his trilogy? I won’t say that it’s essential, but if you’re familiar with those two films, there’s no doubt that you’ll enjoy the superb new one – easily the best of the series – on many more levels than viewers who aren’t.
For those of you who haven’t seen them and won’t get to them in time, know these SPOILERS: In Batman Begins, young Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered by a gunman who tries to take his mom’s pearls. The first person to offer comfort to the distraught lad is Sgt. Gordon (Gary Oldman). In The Dark Knight, good guy District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) goes insane, turns bad, and is killed. Batman takes the fall for the person who really did it.
Both are vastly entertaining, expertly crafted films from a man who has a cinematic vision as well as the wherewithal to pull it off. I have only two minor complaints about them. The first suffers from a couple too many bad guys doing too much badness. The “problem” with the sequel is confounding. Heath Ledger gave such a terrific performance as the maniacal Joker, he stole away from everything else in the film. The first one ended with a kind of slightly comic cliff hanger. The second ended with a feeling of doom and gloom.
The Dark Knight Rises ends, not only on a note of complete satisfaction, but also one of pure exhilaration. It’s a conclusion that comes swooshing off the screen in a half-hour blast of adrenaline that’s made up of constant furious action and revelation upon revelation about certain characters.
But first it concerns itself with a boatload of storytelling.
Picking up eight years after the last one ended, we’re initially bombarded by a wild, James Bondian opening sequence way up in the sky, where we meet the arch criminal Bane (Tom Hardy); are told of the relative peace that’s found its way to Gotham City since Harvey Dent removed the criminal element from the streets; and are then brought up to speed on the Batman-Bruce Wayne situation.
Batman vanished eight years ago, and now a bruised and battered Bruce, grasping a cane, hobbles around Wayne Manor, hiding out from the public like Howard Hughes, refusing to go out or let anyone but his trusted butler Alfred (Michael Caine) in.
Nolan’s Gotham City is an odd place. It sure looks like New York … no, wait, it looks like Pittsburgh … no … it looks like a lot of places, with some familiar landmarks, along with buildings that just don’t exist. But there’s an interesting reality brought to the whole affair when the script adds in a contemporary political edge – a question of what happens to one-percenters such as Bruce Wayne when they start having money problems.
But first, meet Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who, for the record, is never referred to as Catwoman, but is, indeed, a cat burglar (who looks really good in tight black leather). The character wants something from Bruce Wayne. The actress manages to be sly and funny and down-to-earth and very convincing in her fight scenes, some of which are done in high stilettos.
Then it’s time to learn more about Bane – a large, powerful, intelligent, evil mercenary, whose face is mostly covered by a much scarier mask than the one Batman wears. He’s not just malevolent, he’s also a rabble-rousing speechmaker. And he talks of reducing Gotham to ashes.
Due to the violence that’s visited upon the city, shown in furious action sequences with lots of bullets, and explosions that resemble a sort of ballet, Bruce is convinced that the evil that was once buried is rising again. It’s time to get back in shape and put on the Bat suit. As often happens in comic book-based movies, we also get a science fiction element. This one concerns a fusion project that’s supposed to create free energy for Gotham. But things, as they will, go very wrong.
In an understated reference to Batman Begins, in which Batman says to Sgt. Gordon, “A storm is coming,” Selina Kyle nuzzles up to Bruce Wayne in this one and says, “A storm is coming.” Another reference involves the theft of those pearls from the first film.
There are also a few character cameos from the earlier entries, some portrayed by the same actors, some only shown in photos. But there’s no mention of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. Nolan recently addressed that in an interview, saying, “I decided that that would be inappropriate. I felt that someone who was a friend and a colleague had suffered a terrible tragedy, and to try and reduce that to a plot point in a fictional universe felt wrong to me.”
Nolan is a class act, and he’s made a great, epic film, a terrific conclusion to the trilogy. Yes, it’s long, clocking in at 2 hours, 45 minutes. But it absolutely flies by. I’ve already seen it twice, and am planning another return trip, big and loud, in IMAX, where it belongs.