The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Dir. Christopher Nolan
4 out of 5
The perpetually gloomy Gotham City is missing its champion in The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It’s been eight years anyone last saw Batman or, for that matter, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who’s taken to living in Howard Hughes-like seclusion after the death of crusading attorney Harvey Dent. Then again, sweeping legislation passed in the wake of Dent’s passing has nearly eradicated all serious crime from Gotham. The only criminals left are the ones who are too good to be caught – like cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), whose theft of Wayne’s fingerprints are the first ripple in a nefarious plot to destabilize the city and send it careening back into chaos. Meanwhile, the masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) has quietly built an army of the disenfranchised in Gotham’s sewers. He baits Batman into returning and quickly overwhelms him, then isolates the city by threatening to detonate a nuclear device should anyone try to invade or escape.
It’s fitting that a series obsessed with the consequences of unchecked corruption and the eroding sense of social responsibility would up the ante so generously in its final installment. You don’t need to look far for a sign-of-the-times subtext in the first steps of Bane’s master plan, which resembles an anarchic perversion of the Occupy movement in the way it forcibly levels the playing field on behalf of the 99 percent. Even Wayne Enterprises is not immune, leading to some fantastic scenes that harken back to the training sequences in Batman Begins. A broke and battered Bruce Wayne is imprisoned at the bottom of an insurmountable pit while his newest allies—angel investor Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and young police detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—join forces with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and try their best to maintain a semblance of order within the lawless Gotham city-state. Wayne’s eventual resurrection as Batman is as affecting as superhero films get, pitching it as a quintessential expression of bravery and sacrifice.
Nolan turns the page from The Dark Knight’s bleak tale of moral equivocation to the determined quest for goodness in a world without grace and chances upon a Batman film with surprisingly old-fashioned values. Thieves have hearts of gold. Cops protect orphaned children. Threatening men wear masks and hang out in subterranean lairs. (Hey, wait a minute!) Nolan’s films have typically invited the audience to question Batman’s tortured sense of justice—to see the shades of gray in a man who would use his superior resources and intellect to impose his will upon millions of people. Yet despite being the longest film in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t spend much time addressing these complexities. There are just too many characters and plots to juggle (which Nolan accomplishes with skill), and its brawny setpieces are more impressive for their sheer size than their depth or deftness. Still, you can’t blame the director for brightening the series’ funereal tone during his victory lap. After setting a new standard for smart summer blockbusters, his straightforward depiction of heroism conquering fear is the satisfying conclusion that this saga deserves.