The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2012) – A new menace threatens to destroy long-standing peace in Gotham, necessitating the return of its silent protector.
Every great magic trick comprises three acts, the third its hardest. Though weaker than its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises brings the trilogy to a fitting and satisfying conclusion.
Following the critical failure of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Darren Aronofsky’s Year One sounded like a promising fresh slate. If only the project had not fallen through. For years, the Gotham hero seemed destined to recede far beyond the depth of his Batcave.
Then it finally began, a little over seven years ago. Director Christopher Nolan shifts the superhero genre into the different direction it deserves. His darker take finds its place in the gritty corners of our real world. Veering away from the hero-versus-villain model, Batman Begins stems from a little-seen story of how Bruce Wayne came to don the cape.
We watch his ideals form, grounded by his traumatic childhood, vengeance-fuelled determination and the people who made him the man that he is. As writer David S. Goyer puts it, the delve into the vigilante’s origins gets the audience “to care about Bruce Wayne and not even care or not if he’s in the costume”.
Scraping the usual comic approach, the updated version of the tale features more conceivable villains, pit against pragmatic heroism. As the story progresses, we come to realise that unlike other Batman movies we have seen. The hero here does not always manage to resolve all situations or save every single victim. Such risks pay off by eliminating all that is predictable, keeping the tension taut.
Part of that intensity is due to the perfect casting. With the potentially campy feel of sewing up a Bat costume, a heavyweight actor like Christian Bale in the leading role plays to necessary credibility.
Nolan has also made careful narrative plans. In the first chapter, we watch Bruce Wayne train as a member of the League of Shadows. But soon Ra’s al Ghul reveals his true corrupted intention that lays in stark opposition to Wayne’s belief for justice. The comic adaptation show its first allusion to political parallels, renewing the battle in a new context.
Scarecrow is a perfect thematic starting point. The bringer of fear challenges the caped crusader to rise above his past fears. Radiating charming allure yet lunacy in his eyes, Cillian Murphy perfectly embodies the intelligent psychotic as Dr. Jonathan Crane. With or without the mask, his eyes and intonation is a source of genuine fright from a man who had nothing to lose.
The Dark Knight then raises the bar with great awe. The late Heath Ledger follows up with his impeccable performance as the Joker. For a role so iconic and often replicated, the initial news of his casting invited a great deal of skepticism. Cynics were soon silenced as he became the endlessly quoted, indelible voice and face of the anarchic leader in the menacing clown pack.
Armed with the strongest script in the trilogy, his tremendous presence makes for one of the best villains ever put to screen. Be it the brief magic trick or the harrowing choice he forces upon Batman, every line chills and every scene imprints with flawless cadence and palpable peril.
In the Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy has a tough job at hand. It is a good move that he does not attempt to better his predecessors. Instead he crafts an entirely credible performance anew, great and intimidating in its own right. The modern terrorist is less idealistic, but he is just as formidable and destructive. A strong-built Bane puts Batman in real danger of having his bones broken and life taken.
The true villain in focus however, is the enemy within. Eight years later, Gotham has turned against their silent protector. Father figure Alfred delivers a poignant, heart-rending reminder that Bruce Wayne is – unlike so many superheroes we have seen – only human.
His own memories still haunts at the back of his mind as the tortured man under the cape is unable to move on, bound by his self-imposed obligations towards his city. As the last instalment in the trilogy, it only made sense to shift the focus from the villains back onto Batman himself. He deals with loss in the beginning, he sacrifices in the fall, and now he searches for the final closure in order to rise again.
Not without help, of course. Enter Selina Kyle, as the Bat and the Cat entangle in a chance alliance. Hathaway brings sensual beauty to the leather-clad Catwoman, yet retains an air of power and independence. Their difference in methods and motivation is underscored with interesting moral ambiguity, which seldom occurs in the clear-cut divides of good and evil in the genre.
It is an extensive cast of familiar faces like Commissioner Gordon, joined by new ones Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate and detective John Blake. The assembled characters, all backed by strong actors, does not go to waste. Nolan achieves a brilliant feat as his treatment ensures every one of them receive even attention.
Even though the content is rich, it is nowhere near taxing. Three hours stay thoroughly compelling and intense. The pulsing soundtrack by Hans Zimmer helps to build a thrilling atmosphere for the grand action sequences. They are unmatched in scale and spectacular in IMAX. The sport stadium mayhem against the backdrop of the haunting anthem makes an especially impactful impression.
The splendor of the action never neglects to tell the very human story of Bruce Wayne. Whether this tops either of the prior movies does not really matter at all. The Dark Knight Rises serves as an absolutely satisfying finale to an epic trilogy of our hero’s journey through fear, chaos and pain. And so the legend ends, completing a brilliant, enduring superhero trilogy that is to be definitive for years to come.