Reel Reviews | The Dark Knight Rises

Eight years after sacrificing himself to give Gotham the hero it deserved, Batman must now overcome his own self doubts and a formidable new foe to redeem himself and the city he loves in The Dark Knight Rises.

Since the fateful night of former D.A. Harvey Dent’s death, those closest to the situation are living in agony. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldham) is in anguish because he is forced to live a lie to protect Gotham’s White Knight while Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has settled into a reclusive state, barely seen in public. While he once sported a cape and a cowl, these days Wayne’s specialty is a cane and a scowl as his body is battered and weather-beaten from too many crime fighting encounters. His spirit is broken and he appears older than his years.

Life in Gotham is relatively peaceful and serene, but there is a storm coming and his name is Bane (Tom Hardy). His mid-air introduction is daring, bold and spectacular, setting his master plan to destroy Gotham in motion. Where the Joker (Heath Ledger) was Batman’s mental foil, the imposing Bane is all about smothering physicality, overpowering any and all that cross his path.

While Bane is setting his sinister strategy in motion, Wayne hovers in the shadows away from the world, living in anonymity. During a fundraiser at Wayne Manor, he encounters the cat-burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who gets his attention by swiping his beloved mother’s prized pearl necklace. Quickly disabling the hobbling former hero, she gets away, but the world’s greatest detective is on her scent, employing his trusted friend, Alfred (Michael Caine) to research the limber thief.

Not everyone has lost faith in the Batman and many clamor for his return. Among those is Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt), who thinks that there is something amiss about the death of Dent. He is thrust into action when Gordon is captured by Bane’s cronies in an underground raid, is shot and is rescued by Blake. Soon, he challenges Wayne to don his batsuit and return to Gotham again, sharing how he once learned to hide his anger like a mask, hinting that Wayne should do the same.

But there are concerns from his closest confidant, Alfred, that the Dark Knight can rise to the occasion one more time. He warns Wayne that not only is Bane a survivor from a former hellhole, the Pit, he is also a disciple of his former mentor, Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) who excommunicated the violent strongman years earlier from the League of Shadows. Despite an impassioned plea from Alfred, in one of the film’s most emotional scenes, Wayne’s love for Gotham overcomes his reason and he indeed returns to save his city.

While Batman is concentrating on stopping the latest threat, he discovers too late that his family’s company is also under siege. He turns to his old friend, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and philanthropist and board member, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to safeguard Wayne Industries in his absence. The Caped Crusader also forms an uneasy alliance with Catwoman (Hathaway) to find Bane in exchange for a piece of technology promising her a clean slate.

Anyone who has watched this trilogy knows that nothing comes easy for our hero, and this film is not an exception. This pairing proves disastrous for Batman, plunging him into darkness and putting Gotham on the brink of annihilation. With the clock rapidly ticking on the city’s extinction and all hope seemingly lost, can the Dark Knight muster the will, determination and the courage to stand up to Bane one last time?

This muscular screenplay, co-written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan based on a story from David Goyer, presents a dilemma that is 180 degrees from Batman’s challenge in The Dark Knight. While the Joker pushed his mental fortitude to the brink, this film is all about physical challenges – overcoming his own or dealing with Bane’s obvious bodily superiority. Despite all of his technology and gadgets, Nolan understands at his core that Batman is still – a man; one who has aged and has deep psychological issues whether coming to grips with the loss of his former love, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) or the assault on his beloved city.

While Marvel Comics has been celebrated for its recent success, Nolan deserves the lion’s share of credit for changing the game with this historic trilogy that was the first to show that by using award-winning actors AND a modern approach which normalized the comic setting and concentrating on storytelling, that these films could be successful.

Nolan’s ensemble deserves a lot of credit for bringing his vision to light. Bale, who has been unfairly maligned, plays the Knight with a reserved, detached persona that audiences misunderstood but perfectly balanced with his always more charismatic co-stars/foils. The one theme that runs throughout each film is the sacrifices he makes for Gotham in each film, whether opposing Ghul in Batman Begins, sacrificing himself in The Dark Knight and overcoming considerable odds in this latest.

Much like Nolan re-imagined the Joker, Hathaway’s updated Catwoman persona is not as sexy as Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns but is solid, nonetheless. Hardy also shines as the film’s primary antagonist, whose combination of brains and brawn provide the ultimate challenge. Playing the emotionally tortured Commissioner Gordon, Oldham is film’s consciousness and is once again brilliant. But the film’s standout is Caine, who provides the emotional center of the story and only wants the best for Bruce. It is his close fatherly relationship and belief in Wayne that helps him reach the potential that Alfred knows is there.

While questions of which is better between the last two films of the franchise will persist, audiences should look at them as superb companion pieces that tell one amazing story that changed the comic superhero genre. If Nolan added an “eight years later” card between the films, it would seamlessly play as one extended story. For someone who has stated that this would be his final Batman film, Nolan leaves a lot of bread crumbs that would allow for the story to continue. The Batman trilogy is the best trio of films since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings’ franchise and Nolan has left the Batman brand in superb shape while setting the bar ridiculously high for the impending reboot. The Dark Knight Rises is a rousing towering cinematic achievement of storytelling that shows that it is HARD to keep a good hero down!

Grade A+