A quick shout-out to jaded film types who think they have seen it all: think again.
Then go and see The Dark Knight Rises. Now you have seen it all. As you were, then.
Christopher Nolan changed everything when his Batman Begins brought to life the Batman I’d always dreamed of — no, actually, that’s not entirely correct, because the truth is that the Batman films I dreamed of were nowhere close to as good as what Nolan created. But what he created was the Batman I had been waiting for all my life, even though I didn’t know precisely what it was I was waiting for. Batman Begins made me feel, “This is Batman, this is what Batman was always meant to be, what he has for 65 years been journeying toward, and now he’s made whole at last.” So it was a shock when, in 2008, magic happened and Batman got even better on film. The superhero in cinema was redefined, the simple notion of “comic book genre” rendered obsolete, by The Dark Knight. It was a crime thriller, a police and gangster drama set in a world we could recognize as very close to our own, and in which the main character happened to wear a Batman costume. After seeing it, I had the feeling that “my” Batman, the one I’d been waiting for, was now fully formed, and I admit I didn’t know if it would be possible for any future Batman films to live up to what The Dark Knight delivered.
So it is that I walked into the theater to see The Dark Knight Rises with very mixed emotions. This was the end of an era, the final act in the story of “my” Batman. The character whom I’d known and loved as a child, who saved me on many occasions from sadness and let my imagination grow to escape the confines of a small world, had come to be embodied fully in this live-action incarnation that was everything I could hope for in a Batman film series… but now it was all going to be over in less than three hours’ time. I’d never again experience the anticipation of this Batman returning, of walking into a theater with this excitement for a new Nolan Batman movie. Something that had been with me as long as I could remember had come to life in front of my eyes as an adult, and now it was going to go away forever. As much as I was excited and ready to see this film, then, I was also a little sad and overwhelmed by the mixed feelings involved.
I also had some fear that it might just be impossible for any Batman film to have the same impact as The Dark Knight, including but not limited to the obviously amazing and performance delivered by the late Heath Ledger. He was mesmerizing, he was surprising and beautiful, he was perfect. It’s a performance that helped define The Dark Knight, and it came to represent just how transcendent the film and the franchise had become. Without that — no, in the shadow of that — could any sequel hope to compare? Might it try too hard, push too far, and come up short?
The Dark Knight Rises does try hard, it does push far, but it doesn’t come up short. Oh, no, it is not content to merely be a worthy sequel, nor is it even content to be just a fitting third chapter in a great trilogy. It is not, I tell you, even content to dare to match the quality and brilliance of The Dark Knight. This newest film tries harder, pushes farther, and comes up with the finest Batman film of all time, the greatest superhero or comic book adaptation of all time, and the best film of the year.
As for the rest of us - especially those who appreciate an action blockbuster with brains and brilliance to accompany the brawn - The Dark Knight Rises is a genuine wonder to behold.
To complete his astonishingly ambitious Batman trilogy, filmmaker Christopher Nolan swings for the fences as if his life and your faith in major motion pictures depends on it. Not only does Nolan, as they say, hit the ball right out of the park, he smacks the thing right out of this world. As the stunning crescendo that ends The Dark Knight Rises reaches its absolute apex, your jaw will have already bought a one-way ticket to the floor.
Where to start in nailing how The Dark Knight Rises scores such a triumphant result?
An amazing screenplay is as good a place as any. With so much to remind us of, and yet, so much fresh ground to cover, the complex plotting of the tale is almost impossible to summarise.
It is eight years since the tumult that closed The Dark Knight. With both Batman and his alter ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, living in self-imposed exile, it will take a major catastrophe to bring them back where they belong. It is only when Gotham City - looking more like downtown New York than ever before - comes under threat from nuclear-armed terrorists that the Caped Crusader elects to resume active service. This only scrapes the surface of the immensely involving tale in the offing here. The bad guys are led by a metal-muzzled menace named Bane, a supremely confident anarchist who is not in the business of making veiled threats. Indeed, by the halfway point of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane and his army of followers have sealed off Gotham from the rest of the world. In a matter of weeks, a reactor they have stolen from Bruce Wayne's collapsed business will reach critical meltdown, killing everyone within a 10km radius of its core.
Performances in The Dark Knight Rises are first-class, considering the daunting scale of the production in which they take place. Christian Bale has been an anchoring presence across the Nolan trilogy, steadily working on keeping "The Batman" (as he has been formally known in Gotham throughout the series) both accessibly vulnerable and toweringly formidable in the eyes of the viewer. Bale is challenged to take the role to a whole new level in the closing act, and responds as an actor of his fine calibre should. The breakout display on the performance front is undoubtedly the incredible work of Tom Hardy as the hulking master of chaos, Bane. The job of this character is to provoke fear and fascination in equal parts.In spite of being trapped behind an ungainly mask - and speaking in a voice that some might call "Sean Connery does Darth Vader" - Hardy controls the force and fury to be unleashed by Bane with a masterful hand.
Dig deeper down the cast list and you still find plenty of gold. Michael Caine as Alfred carries a clutch of genuinely emotional scenes with a veteran's aplomb. Gary Old man has reduced duties this time around as Commissioner Gordon, but gives great value when the chips are down.If there is a polarising performance, it might be that of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (the nominal Cat woman of the piece, though the name is never purred out loud). Hathaway is asked by Nolan to exude a wisecracking brashness which is pretty much the only light relief to be found in this very heavy movie. I thought she got away with a very tricky job.
Visually, The Dark Knight Rises is an epic spectacle that completely arrests the senses, but never overwhelms them. The list of standout scenes is long, and beyond debate. To quote but one example, the dramatic minutes where Bane unveils his nuke to the survivors of a bomb blast at a packed football stadium are never to be forgotten. I could go on and on. Let's just say that the special effects and the intricate action sequences they service in The Dark Knight Rises combine to take mainstream film making to a whole new level. The highest compliment that can be paid to this extraordinary work is that it simultaneously meets, raises and defies all expectations.
The Dark Knight Rises is probably the first sure-thing nominee for Best Picture, and could earn Nolan his first Best Director nod from the Academy as well. It’ll surely rack up plenty of other nominations as well, including for cinematography, score, visual effects, and editing. And as noted earlier, it deserves at least one nomination for acting, for Mr. Bale.
Christopher Nolan gave us a definitive Batman on film, and he has now given us the definitive end to the Batman legend. While I still have that mix of feelings about the end of this film saga I’ve so loved, I have no mixed feelings about how great a film this is or its status as the best Batman film of all time. And whatever sadness I feel as we leave the era of Christopher Nolan’s Batman behind, that sadness cannot match the endless gratitude and immense joy I’ve felt watching this franchise, a franchise that delivered at long last on the promises made to me in my childhood many decades ago.