With Batman Begins Christopher Nolan ushered in a darker, grittier superhero movie. The kind of superhero movie that was focused more on telling a story about living, breathing characters rather than geeking out about costumes, gadgets, or villains. Yes, Nolan’s Batman films have had all those things, but he’s kept them understated. They’re simply a means to telling a story, instead of its main facilitators. The Dark Knight Rises is Nolan’s last Batman movie (so he says) and it follows along those same lines. It’s gritty and gloomy, like its predecessors, but it has a story to tell and a wide swath of interesting characters to populate it.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a shut-in. People insinuate that he’s turned into a modern day Howard Hughes by making jokes about him peeing in mason jars as he holds up in a shutoff section of his mansion. Wayne is still battling the demons he left over from The Dark Knight. Batman is still wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent. Meanwhile, a new evil is planning to take Gotham by storm. This new nemesis is Bane (Tom Hardy), a monstrous man who may be even too much for Batman to handle.
Where Nolan succeeds is when he’s able to tell a superhero story, with all the necessary elements – villain rising to power, initial fall of the hero, redemption, and so on – but makes them seem originally constructed. There are sequences and plot twists in this film that, frankly, would be found cheesy or clichéd in most any other superhero film. Yet, the way Nolan’s screenplay is laid out here, the way he pieces the action together with the character-centric scenes, provides for a unique viewing experience.
The beginning of the movie feels a little crowded. Too many new characters being introduced and not enough time to get to know them. Among them are Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), an expert cat burglar who takes an interest in Bruce Wayne; John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a rookie police officer who is sure that Batman isn’t the right fall-guy for what happened to Harvey Dent; Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a rich scientist who is interested in new technology being produced by Wayne Enterprises; and of course Bane (Hardy) who seems like an indestructible force.
The Dark Knight is so memorable because of Heath Ledger’s brutal depiction of The Joker. Does Hardy’s Bane reach those heights, in a way, yes. It isn’t as great of a performance – his entire face is covered the entire movie. Instead it’s the aura of Bane that is scary. The Joker was a nihilist, Bane is a pragmatist. The Joker wanted chaos, Bane wants stern military-like rule. He’s a man driven by ideals that all military dictators are driven by. He’s just as scary since he’s able to convince others to die for his cause. And his cause is a frightening one.
At two hours and forty-five minutes the movie does seem a tad long, but it does build to one heart-pounding conclusion. A series of climactic events that are well worth the price of admission. The film isn’t without its faults though. There seem to be one too many right-time-right-place scenes, coupled with a sense of linear time that is fuzzy at best. However, those complaints matter little in the grand scheme of Nolan’s farewell to Batman. He’s capped the franchise off with a very well put together send-off. Fans, both rabid and casual, will likely be pleased with the outcome.