It’s been eight years since the events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse & hung up the Bat Suit after taking the fall for Harvey Dent’s killings, Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) has kept the truth about Dent’s actions a secret as he willingly jailed hundreds of criminals under the hypocritical “Dent Act” and Gotham itself has been enjoying a nice period for peace. However, this peace is soon suddenly interrupted by the entrance of the masked Bane (Tom Hardy), an intelligent thug with enormous strength who sets his sights on using his cult of thugs upon Gotham for a multitude of possible reasons. Seeing this as a fit time to return to his days of masked vigilantism, Bruce sets his sights on bringing Bane to justice, all while having a very complicated relationship with local cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway).
Let’s cut to brass tacks; The Dark Knight was one hell of an act to follow. It built up the stakes so damn high, won the respect of the average audiences & critics alike and had one of thee most iconic villain portrayals in recent history. We all know it, the cast & crew all knew it, everyone knows it. Director/co-writer Christopher Nolan clearly knew that the scope of the film had to expand, making this finale to the series a grand one and he sure does deliver. The film is noticeably longer than either of its predecessors, clocking in at whopping two hours and forty five minutes. Now, while the grandiose feel of the whole thing isn’t unwarranted or undeserved, there are a few patches where the film feels a bit long, most of these scenes being the ones without either Bruce Wayne or Batman.. No major pacing issues here, but this doesn’t go along as briskly as the nearly as dense The Dark Knight. Still, during that nearly three hour running time, there’s no real boring patch to be found.
In terms of character, Rises manages to complete all of the arcs for characters, from the existing ones to the newcomers. The main focus is obviously Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, whose journey from self-exile from the rest of society to returning to the cape & cowl is detailed in a triumphant but difficult fashion. The way he is degraded throughout the movie in nearly every single fashion possible is heart-wrenching to watch after seeing what he went through in the previous films, making his return to the suit all the more emotionally powerful and thematically engaging. The villains of the piece are just as engaging to watch, whether it’s the surprisingly expressive (for having a mask covering 75% of his face) Tom Hardy as Bane to the seductively mysterious Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. Both never quite match up to the heights of a villain like The Joker, but they’re not meant to. Joker’s ploy and gimmick in Dark Knight was just spreading pure chaos in order to show Gotham’s true colors, while Bane focuses more on using class warfare and cultish techniques in order to get people riled up for his own purposes and Catwoman searches for her own escape from the life she’s lead. The other usual suspects of the Nolan Batman-verse such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman & Morgan Freeman are given their fare do along with a host of new faces like Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, and Matthew Modine.
Now, when it comes to the overall story and thematic levels of Rises, Nolan made sure to give his series a seriously dense storyline. The levity here is few and far between, going from brooding set piece to enthralling story element at large speeds. There’s the redemption arcs for both Wayne and Gotham itself, the development of its main villain characters, the terrorist plot that drives the entire second half of the film and so on combined with themes of class overhaul, the need for symbols to inspire others and whether the truth is more important than having faith in the abilities of the anonymous. This is where Rises may lose some, given that it’s exploring so many storylines at once, which does lead to some undeniable plot holes here and there. Yet, somehow or another, Nolan managed to deliver. He set up all these dominos in Batman Begins, kept showcasing how elegantly the patterns fell in The Dark Knight and finished it all spectacularly by the end of Rises. Story elements aside, the action in this film shows just how far the director has come from the awkward editing of the fights in Begins, with every punch and kick feeling more and more brutal, mostly due to the unforgettable cinematography by Wally Pfister and the engagingly brutish fight choreography.
So, does it hit the heights of 2008’s box office smash that set the country ablaze? Not quite, but that shouldn’t be expected of it. The two films are quite different, much in the same way Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are different. The serve different purposes, with Knight setting up the depths to which the symbol of Batman could be plunged and Rises bringing that symbol up from the ashes to cement its place in history. And on that level, Rises does the job and then some. Now, don’t worry about the Jedi comparison; there ain’t no Ewoks here. Then again, Bane could have himself a cuddly side…