Saving the best for last: The Dark Knight Rises is Batman triumpant

by Mark Burger

Christopher Nolan’s triumphant Batman trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion in The Dark Knight Rises , one of the best films of the season (and the year), and a compelling finale that stands on its own considerable merits while also being directly tied in to the events of Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight

(2008). It’s not so much a sequel to those films as a continuation, one that reaches its pinnacle here.

It’s impossible to underestimate the contribution that Nolan has brought to his Batman trilogy. This is a world of his own creation, and as faithful to the Batman mythos as Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), yet it’s distinctive and dynamic in its own way. (Joel Schumacher’s two Batman films of the mid-’90s tended to be wedded to visual style more than anything else.)

The new film takes place eight years since the events of the last one, with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale again) having essentially become a recluse in the style of Howard Hughes. Batman has hung up the cape and the cowl, having borne the brunt — and the blame — for what transpired the last time around, in a bit of truth-distortion that comes back to haunt him and, indeed, the entire population of Gotham City.

Nolan has retained much of the creative talent of the earlier films, including cinematographer Wally Pfister, composer Hans Zimmer and editor Lee Smith, as well as cast members Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman and Lucius Fox, and Michael Caine as the Wayne’s faithful retainer Alfred, the ever-present voice of compassion and reason.

Some series newcomers have apparently come directly from Nolan’s sci-fi blowout Inception (2010) without passing go, among them Joseph Gordon-Levitt as heroic cop John Blake, Marion Cotillard as potential love interest Miranda Tate and Tom Hardy as the terrorist behemoth Bane, whose relentless assault on Gotham City prompts Wayne to resume his crimefighting ways.

Anne Hathaway, giving Michelle Pfeiffer a run for her money in the Catwoman sweepstakes, plays seductive jewel thief Selina Kyle, although the character is never referred to as Catwoman. In addition, Batman is frequently referred to by his original comicbook moniker, “the Batman.” No matter, for the costume which Hathaway wears so well offers no doubt as to whom this character is supposed to be.

Also on hand are Matthew Modine, Tom Conti, Ben Mendelsohn, Desmond Harrington, Juno Temple, Will Estes, Daniel Sunjata, Nestor Carbonell (reprising his role as Gotham’s mayor), William Devane (briefly glimpsed as the US President) and, in a delightful nod to the earlier films, Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson.

Bane’s systematically dismantling of Gotham City’s social and economic structures, which are unexpectedly and inventive reflective of contemporary society in Nolan and brother Jonathan’s ambitious screenplay, is matched only by his systematic dismantling of Batman himself. Bane doesn’t want money. He doesn’t want power. He wants only to destroy, from top to bottom. He cannot be reasoned with. He takes what he wants and destroys those who oppose him, as well as those whose usefulness to him has ended. Once Batman’s out of the way, there is nothing to prevent him from blowing the burg to hell — which is precisely what he has in mind.

It was a wise move not to attempt to emulate Heath Ledger’s Joker as the principal antagonist here. The Joker was crafty and crazy, whereas Bane is a brute, a thug. He’s a genuine physical threat to Batman. Indeed, there’s a palpable peril to all of the characters — including its hero. Bane wears a mask of his own, and his distorted voice sounds sometimes sounds Russian and sometimes sounds British (which Hardy is), but his intentions are fairly obvious and hardly need explaining.

Unlike many superhero movies, where it’s something of a foregone conclusion that the hero will live to fight another day (and in another sequel), there’s genuine suspense in The Dark Knight Rises — and it’s not a certainty that its characters will live to see and fight another day. It’s a battle to the death. The stakes are that high. Nolan has gone on record to say that this will be his last Batman film. If so it’s one to remember and never to forget.

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