The Dark Knight Rises has some noticeable flaws. Its ambitious attempt to follow four different characters is unwieldy in the early going, as each thread is started. A big plot twist at the end should be evident to any reasonably suspicious spectator long before it is revealed. With the clock ticking down toward disaster near the movie’s end, too many people make time-consuming speeches. Some of the plot holes are huge. The ending will probably spark considerable debate, including about its plausibility.
And still I delighted in the thing. Aside from many characters’ inability to seek cover when shot at, the action sequences are often exhilarating. Once it has its stories in place, the film rolls so well — and offers so many marvelous-looking scenes — that the plot problems are not quite as evident as they will be in retrospect. Christian Bale is in excellent form, as is Anne Hathaway as sexy, slinky Selina Kyle, the thief better known in Batman lore as Catwoman.
And I am fan both of Batman and of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the character. This is the movie I have most looked forward to this summer, and I was not disappointed. As much as I recognized its shortcomings intellectually, The Dark Knight Rises gripped me emotionally.
The Dark Knight Rises draws not only on the events of The Dark Knight but is even more rooted in the first film in Nolan’s trilogy, Batman Begins. (In fact, it’s a good idea to revisit that movie before seeing the latest one.)
The issues of great power and great responsibility arise again. How to bring hope to people — a note struck in Batman Begins — appears here, too. But the biggest question that has faced Bruce Wayne in all three of the films is how to reconcile both his public and private selves. Indeed, at the end of Batman Begins, one character wonders what will become of Bruce when the world no longer needs Batman — and that is what has happened as The Dark Knight Rises begins.
It is eight years after the end of The Dark Knight. Batman, accepting the role of villain so that Harvey “Two Face” Dent can remain Gotham City’s hero, has long been in hiding. And Gotham does not need him, since a law named for Dent has led to the incarceration of the city’s worst criminals; police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) may now be as superfluous as his friend Batman.
Bruce Wayne, meanwhile, is a recluse, shattered physically and emotionally, and reeling from the failure of a noble business experiment. But the world he has abandoned is not as peaceful as it appears on the surface. Not only are there pockets of poverty, villainy is afoot — in the relatively mild form of Kyle, stealing from people who can afford it, and soon in the massed army led by the horrifying Bane (Tom Hardy), a masked and ruthless beast whose target is the entirety of Gotham City.
Where Hardy is an excellent actor (see him in Warrior, for example), Bane is a somewhat wan villain in the wake of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker, and there are times when Bane’s schemes are Joker-like, as if carried over from a third film planned before Ledger’s untimely death. At best, Bane recalls a warning Gordon made in Batman Begins, that an escalated fight against crime would just lead to villains escalating; Bane’s actions are on a very grand scale.
Then there is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young police officer who becomes a crucial figure in the turmoil that overtakes Gotham; his path — along with those of Bane, Kyle and Bruce/Batman — fuels the movie’s contemplation of people’s obligations to society. Nor is that all the movie has to deal with; another newcomer, entrepreneur Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), is present along with such returners as Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). You begin to see why the movie runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes, not counting the closing credits.
And, again, there are times when it seems to be trying to do too much. That Nolan, looking back at the magnificence of The Dark Knight, has felt the need to escalate everything for The Dark Knight Rises.
And I cannot say that this is as good a movie as its immediate predecessor. But, for all its flaws, I was drawn into it, stayed with it and found myself very much moved as it drove toward its conclusion. Not only do I want to see The Dark Knight Rises again, I look forward to a long afternoon and evening with it, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Nolan has completed both an epic adventure and an emotional saga, and I am more than happy with its end.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Twitter (@rheldenfels) and Facebook. He can be contacted at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.