During my childhood, one of my favorite spots on Maui was Compleat Comics in Kahului, which was where I met Batman, Groo the Wanderer and (my favorite) Howard the Duck for the first time. In 1989, when Tim Burton’s first Batman film opened, the store had a giant “Batman Headquarters” sign outside that was stolen, then returned (and no, The Joker was not held responsible). It was my first introduction to how intense Batman fans truly are.
Over the years, I’ve had heated arguments with Bat-fans over The Dark Knight, the mega-popular 2008 sequel that I wasn’t in love with. Take away Heath Ledger’s triumphantly disturbing performance and a few great action sequences, the story was cluttered, the editing messy and the running time endless. I had no such problems with The Dark Knight Rises, the wonderful, surprising and emotionally satisfying final film in the trilogy from writer/director Christopher Nolan.
After emerging from a Howard Hughes-like hiatus, Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale) forms a shaky alliance with a cold blooded cat burglar named Selina (Anne Hathaway) and takes on a monstrous terrorist named Bane (played by Tom Hardy). Early reports surfaced that audiences have had difficulty understanding Hardy’s villain, whose Mussolini build is matched by a voice sounding like Peter O’Toole talking into a chimney.
I couldn’t always understand every word Bane utters but it doesn’t take away from how vile and diabolical he is. Hardy creates a fascinating character and I found myself hating his guts.
Bale has more to do in this entry than the others and truly shines, while Hathaway is in her element playing something of a dual role, as Selina is always giving a performance hiding her true, scrappy self. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific in full action movie mode, Morgan Freeman has more to do this time than a brief cameo and Michael Caine is solid as ever playing Alfred the butler and has a scene that choked me up for hours after I saw the film.
Unlike the prior film, it’s briskly paced and has a focused narrative that spins a great, stirring tale of human survival and never wastes a single moment or opportunity to flesh out the characters. Even the complaints I had walking out of the theater didn’t seem to matter upon reflection. They include: like the middle sequel, Rises introduces its villain with an elaborate heist that is impressively staged but struck me as unnecessarily complicated and lacking sense.
While I respect Nolan’s decision to leave Ledger’s legacy alone, when considering what The Joker did in the previous film, it is strange that no one even mentions him once. Nolan’s dialog is as exposition-heavy as ever, but the clarity of his vision and brilliance of his storytelling is as strong as ever.
The third act offers real shocks and gotcha surprises, as well as a perfect final 30 minutes. The spectacle this film offers is as awesome as you’d hope, but I wasn’t expecting the teary-eyed elation this film left me with. The middle film left me feeling exhausted and depressed but I walked out of The Dark Knight Rises deeply moved and energized by what a thrilling experience it gives its fans.
Nolan addresses how the tremendous human need for survival drives us and can bring out our best in a post 9/11 world. Of the many recent films, fiction and otherwise, that portray America suffering and healing from the horrors of terrorism, this is one that offers startling hope and optimism… and it has a guy dressed like a bat.
The Dark Knight Rises
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rated PG 13 / 164 Min.