Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins successfully rebooted the Batman movie franchise, attracting a new generation of Caped Crusader fans to the big screen. While the Dark Knight’s detective skills were modestly glossed over, Nolan reminded us that Gotham City – Batman and Bruce Wayne’s hometown, was a gritty cesspool of crime and corruption. This tone had been lost when Joel Schumacher took over the directorial mantle from Tim Burton in the 90s.
Nolan’s second film, The Dark Knight, gave us arguably the best Batman movie of all time. Heath Ledger gave us a Joker that was to be feared, rivaling Christian Bale’s “swear to me” Batman. Viewers forgot they were watching a comic book adapted film, and became engrossed in one of the best crime thrillers of the decade. Nolan’s final Bat movie, The Dark Knight Rises, is less crime thriller and more action-adventure. The terrorist plot doesn’t pack the same punch as the second film, but the final forty minutes will leave you overwhelmingly satisfied with the franchise as a whole.
The Dark Knight gave us one of the best opening sequences of all time. The intensity of watching several Jokers rob a bank, while killing each other before the real Joker showed up, was an inspired and suspenseful feat of cinematic storytelling. Going into the third and final movie, it was easy to expect the same. Government agents are attempting to extradite Bane (Tom Hardy) for crimes against humanity. The trailers spoiled a lot with regard to the airplane scene and Bane’s inevitable escape. Bane’s airplane escape is more on the fantastical side of wild spy and terrorist film. The beauty of the Joker’s opening was in its simplicity. Utilizing the more mundane and landlocked act of a bank robbery did more to set the tone for movie two than the aerial confusion that takes place in The Dark Knight Rises. You get the feeling that the writers were trying to do too much – too soon.
The final movie takes place approximately eight years after Harvey Dent, aka Two Face, was pronounced dead. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) utilized his death to galvanize the police force and help institute new laws with tougher penalties on criminals. Gotham’s streets have been cleaned up and Bruce Wayne has become a hermit without any villains to fight. Wayne has also effectively diminished all the cartilage in his knees. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays John Blake, an officer during the Gotham peace, who looks up to Gordon.
The Dark Knight Rises functions primarily as a fight between good and evil. It’s Batman and his allies versus Bane and his army. The film wants to have a psychological component, but it doesn’t come to fruition. Most of the time, we’re focused on Batman’s new gadgets. There are low-level EMPs, transforming batcycles and a wicked-powerful prototype batwing. Also the use of time jumps throughout the movie take away from the momentum. Between the first half of the movie and the climax there are several time jumps that will leave you questioning why certain things are the way they are and how come certain things aren’t happening.
Bane as a villain definitely lives up to the role of Batman’s greatest physical threat. However, a lot is lost in the use of the mask. In an interview, Nolan mentioned Hardy’s brilliance in communicating a lot with just his eyes. Because I had heard this interview, I was fixated on the eyes throughout the film. Hardy delivers an excellent performance with the mask on. However, the mask’s limiting factors hurt the viewer from feeling the full threat of Bane’s words. You’ll see his eyes, hear his words, and then wish he didn’t have the mask on so you could see everything that was going on his face.
Anne Hathaway does a great job as Catwoman. We don’t get any origin story and we don’t need one. Hathaway is able to switch between timid girl and the domineering Catwoman in a blink of the eye. She pulls off sexy and deadly to perfection. The story does a fantastic job of integrating the subtle attraction between Batman and Catwoman without making it a major romantic plot thread.
Flashbacks to the first two films are peppered throughout the movie, without being overbearing. It eases the story along and helps everything to come full circle. By the last half hour, you will be fully invested in the movie, despite some of the earlier lulls. The final payoff is great, making this movie franchise one of the most well-rounded trilogies yet.
Special accolades should be given to Michael Caine as Alfred. Although he only has a few scenes in the movie, each one scene is delivered to perfection. It’s also great to see Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. As Fox, Freeman always has a way of giving Bruce Wayne a knowing look that is always resonant.
By the way, this film gives us another “swear to me” / “where are the drugs” moment, where Bale does his angry Batman voice – so be prepared.