A review: 'Knight' vision
Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 9:53 p.m.
Seven years ago, Christopher Nolan set about to reshape the story of Batman with “Batman Begins” and kicked off a pop culture tsunami. In 2008, he followed up on that initial promise with “The Dark Knight,” hailed in many quarters as one of the greatest comic book stories ever committed to film. And now we have “The Dark Knight Rises,” all but guaranteed to pummel the box office in the same manner as the brooding hero beats up bad guys.
‘The Dark Knight Rises'
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
The real question, then, is this: Will the conclusion to Nolan's Batman saga prove worthy in the long run to stand alongside its acclaimed predecessors?
The answer? Yes. “The Dark Knight Rises” continues the franchise's tradition of offering compelling entertainment as well as sober reflection on serious themes (most of which track back to the introspection on heroism of “Batman Begins” more than the amateur sociology of “Dark Knight”). As for whether it's better or worse than the preceding entries, diehard fans can hash that out for themselves.
As the curtain opens on this third chapter, all appears well in Gotham City. Eight years have passed since Batman took the fall for the crimes committed by Harvey Dent. Consequently, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has put away the Batman costume, content to let Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) deal with Gotham's crime problem while he is tended to at home by his faithful butler, Alfred (Michael Caine).
But while Gotham may appear to be safe, an intricate conspiracy is being woven around Wayne and the city itself. A prologue featuring some impressive mid-air acrobatics and pyrotechnics introduces the terrorist mastermind Bane (Tom Hardy), and the involvement of master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) seems to extend beyond simply making off with some of Bruce Wayne's jewelry. Saying anything more would spoil the pleasure of watching the noose tighten around Batman and his allies.
As a world-weary, much-scarred Bruce Wayne, Bale puts in an admirable performance; the anguish Wayne carries is evident in his slumped form, a weight that drags him down both physically and spiritually. Bale spends much more time out of costume this time around than in previous installments, allowing more of Wayne's inner state of mind to come through.
Wayne is definitely not the only tortured soul in this movie, however. As Alfred, Michael Caine does the Michael Caine bit he's often done before. But he's so good at it, you don't mind seeing it again. Watching Alfred struggle to reconcile his devotion to Wayne with his distaste for what Wayne puts himself through as Batman is heartbreaking to watch. Similarly, Gary Oldman convincingly captures the turmoil in Gordon's conscience; by condemning Batman and holding up Harvey Dent as a model of justice, Gordon has perpetuated a monstrous lie in the name of the greater good.
Batman's adversaries aren't quite as complex as his allies, though they are compelling characters in their own right. As Selina Kyle — clearly meant to be Catwoman, though she's never directly referred to as such — Hathaway credibly portrays a criminal with ambiguous motives and loyalties. Also, it must be said, she holds her own and then some when it comes to throwing down with armed toughs. As for Bane, Tom Hardy somehow manages to overcome the awkwardness of speaking through a voice filter to imbue his character with a hulking physical menace and a ruthless intelligence. Following in the shadow of Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning turn as The Joker is a tough draw for Hardy, but he pulls it off.
To compliment the character drama, “The Dark Knight Rises” features a full slate of pulse-pounding action sequences, from fist fights to hostage situations to the clash of two armies in the streets of Gotham. The camera work by longtime Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister (who worked with Nolan on the two previous Batman movies as well as on “Inception”) is superb. Perhaps more importantly, Lee Smith, also a member of Nolan's stable of regular collaborators, does an admirable job of editing the movie to maintain both narrative tension and continuity. As usual, however, all of this technical acumen is outshone by the music of the incomparable Hans Zimmer. Zimmer's bombastic orchestral score meshes perfectly with the mythic tone of the franchise. The first appearance of the familiar Batman musical cue will likely inspire fist-pumps in many theaters.
For all “The Dark Knight Rises” gets right, though, it does have a few missteps. As Miranda Tate, a Gotham socialite who is set up as both a romantic and business partner for Wayne, Marion Cotillard isn't given much to do until late in the movie, and even then her role feels shoehorned in. Similarly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is underutilized as a Gotham City beat cop working with Gordon to contain the chaos, though at least he gets a nice narrative payoff in the end.
These minor irritants don't spoil a tightly knit film, however. The movie features all of the excitement one expects in a summer blockbuster, but it's all in the service of a well-told, character-centric story. With this final entry, the Batman franchise has, like its hero, become legend.