The Dark Knight Rises picks up exactly eight years after the events of The Dark Knight as a Batman-less Gotham City celebrates the anniversary of the Dent Act, founded upon the heroism of the late district attorney Harvey Dent a.k.a. Two-Face. It’s an act that has placed hundreds of criminals behind bars and virtually eliminated all organized crime.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been a recluse for years now, with devoted butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) being one of his few forms of human contact, even as the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor hosts major events in Dent’s honor. But, when a masked mad man known as Bane sets his sights on Gotham and develops underground ties with John Daggett, an employee of the nearly profit-less Wayne Enterprises, the former billionaire is forced to bring the caped crusader out of retirement.
He once again enlists the help of chairman Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to construct newer tools for Batman’s use. He also chooses Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) as the new CEO of Wayne Enterprises and calls upon cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to help him halt Bane’s plans to turn the product of Wayne Enterprises’ clean energy project into an atom bomb, which would destroy Gotham City.
Much skepticism has surrounded Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman. Like Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Lee Meriwether, and Michelle Pfeiffer before her, Hathaway makes the role her own, while retaining the character's captivating aspects. She doesn’t over-act the part, choosing instead to have a sometimes calm, but consistently smooth line delivery with just enough playfulness to keep the character fun and quietly sexy. There are no random “meows” or any sultry purring and as a compulsive cat burglar who only gets violent and rough when necessary, she is likely the most accurate film demonstration of the Catwoman character ever. As the anti-hero to Batman’s hero, she is virtually flawless and the pair's juxtaposition is superbly played.
Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises associate turned President, looks her most beautiful here. The thirty-six year old actress is a refreshing, strong female lead and an ideal potential love interest for the very love-battered Bruce Wayne.
Tom Hardy’s Bane is a far cry from the virtual cartoon version of the character in Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. He’s appropriately repugnant and has an evil stoicism, with enough, strong eye-acting to keep his character from being a paper-thin villain. Following Ledger’s historic portrayal of The Joker, Hardy creates a memorable villain that is unlike The Joker in every way and just as absorbing, with plenty of malevolence to make him into someone we wouldn’t want to meet in an alley, anywhere, even in the daytime.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as rookie detective John Blake is the series’ best new lead. He’s a distinctly written character and is sharply acted by Gordon-Levitt, with an awesome ability to convey Blake’s continuous, deep admiration for Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego, Batman, as though he were a ten-year old boy poring over his favorite hero’s comic book adventures.
Having seen the film three times, it can safely be stated that The Dark Knight Rises’ director Christopher Nolan is the most consistently detailed and skilled storyteller working today. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he also knows to surround himself with people as talented as he, in order to produce something as wonderful as The Dark Knight Rises. The amount of calculation that has gone into making the film becomes more obvious each time it’s watched. The twists and turns of this massive tale are deftly executed with the glowing goal to tell an impressive story and do so powerfully and intelligently.
It seems almost standard practice now that the third part of any movies series be noticeably inferior to its predecessors. But, all involved with The Dark Knight Rises seem to only have intentions to deliver anything but the expected, fall from grace. In terms of quality, The Dark Knight Rises doesn't overtake The Dark Knight; no Batman film probably ever will. It's more on par with Batman Begins. Of course, The Dark Knight is not without its defects and neither is The Dark Knight Rises, yet Knight's particular depiction of lifelong foes, The Joker and The Batman, is almost too special and too intense to be outshined.
The Dark Knight Rises is still a beautifully sculpted, tightly woven, epic finale to what has been the rawest and most realistic interpretation of a comic book character ever committed to film. Nolan and company have capped off their Batman trilogy with the sense of burgeoning hope and the greatness it births, feelings only hinted at in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but which finally and fully, show face in The Dark Knight Rises.
Alfred and Bruce Wayne’s decades-long and seemingly ironclad relationship builds to its emotional apex here and is the most complex of the film. Bale’s and Caine’s scenes together are delicately written to the point that you can’t help feeling a bit melancholy that this is the last time we’ll see these actors portraying these people on-screen, together. The characters' genuine love for each other and the heavy history they share is obvious in every frame. Their characters’ connection speaks to a greater note on these films though. Nolan’s Batman stories are about far more than just a man wearing a mask and a cape. It's about believing in something superior to what is and forcefully striving to make it reality, no matter how small or large the sacrifices. Nolan's Batman films have a special relationship with their audience too. They tell us their own tales, while simultaneously telling us a bit about ourselves, concepts we barely acknowledged before and are forced to give our attention now.
These Batman movies may not have the most feel-good interpretation of the character, but they are definitely the ones with the biggest and best articulated ideas, whose grand profundity will endure for years to come and form a legacy all their own.