Christopher Nolan doesn’t half-ass things. Unlike a lot of summer-movie directors, he knows how to deliver a true spectacle. His dedication to telling a complete story about one of pop culture’s most beloved superheroes is remarkable. This determination pays off in The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to his Batman trilogy and one of the most massive, large-scale films of the last few years. Thankfully, avoiding the trend of many third films, The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying, fitting finale to the best version of the Caped Crusader’s legend.
Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight; Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse and Batman’s disappeared after taking the fall for killing Harvey Dent, but Gotham thrives to the point that politicians dub the environment as “peacetime.” Things change when two mysterious people rise to prominence: a sly female thief named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a masked mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy). The latter is more menacing and has destructive ideas in store for the people of Gotham as well as for Batman. As for the rest…well, you’re better off discovering his plans in the theater, as Nolan (who co-wrote the film with his brother, Jonathan, and shares a story credit with David S. Goyer) has more than a few surprises up his sleeve.
Nolan’s belief in emphasizing the story’s epic scope is succeeds best if you watch The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX. Because over an hour of the movie was shot with IMAX cameras, seeing it on a seven-story-high screen is the definition of “immersive.” Equally impressive, and frequently jaw-dropping, is the insistence on avoiding CGI effects whenever possible. There are a couple of times where CGI was used (or appears that way), but this is one of the rare big-budget blockbusters where all the money is clearly up on the screen.
There’s no shortage of action in the film, and no shortage of characters—in fact, one of the few problems with The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s too epic, too big for its own good. Unlike The Dark Knight, the best film in the trilogy by a hair and possibly Nolan’s best film, The Dark Knight Rises manages to feel very full in its 165 minutes while feeling a bit long. The film probably would’ve turned out as well by being 10 or 15 minutes shorter, and yet the story arcs are so detailed that it’s hard to see how Nolan and editor Lee Smith (whose work is typically exemplary) could’ve trimmed the film. In spite of being so long, the script never feels like it’s underserving the actors or characters.
Bale dons the cape and cowl one more time, and manages to convey Bruce Wayne’s struggle both in and out of the Batsuit. Bale’s characteristically excellent in a role that requires him to be more subtle and less grandstanding than his character’s nemeses; though Batman’s not as memorable as Bane or the Joker, the series wouldn’t work without Bale’s performance. As the brutish Bane, Hardy is the film’s sole and extremely convincing source of fright. As we’re only able to see his eyes and hear his muffled and oddly jaunty voice, Bane’s shrouded origins—and his ability to amass followers—only enhance how legitimately scary he is. His immense strength being too much of a match for anyone, let alone Batman, is a chilling thought.
Hathaway is a welcome addition, full of sardonic wit, intelligence, and tough fighting moves. Better still, Hathaway and Bale have a simmering, playful chemistry in their scenes, and it’s never close to campy. She and Marion Cotillard, playing a friendly Wayne Enterprises board member, are solid improvements over the previous lead female, Rachel Dawes. Another key addition is John Blake, a good-hearted Gotham police officer played ably by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who continues his hopefully successful bid to be the next big movie star here. Finally, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine return as Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Alfred Pennyworth, respectively; each elder statesman is a sight for sore eyes, and each one gets great material to work with, especially Caine. Alfred, as realized by Nolan and Caine, is the wounded, beating heart of the series, full of emotional power.
Nolan’s work as director has evolved throughout the series; in Batman Begins, he was unsure of how to best shoot action scenes, with an overreliance on quick cuts. By now, perhaps because he’s working more with IMAX cameras, which aren’t as easy to move around, or because he’s more confident, the action soars. However, the movie—replete with setpieces without feeling like a delivery method for mindless explosions—never reaches the memorable heights of the truck-flip sequence in The Dark Knight, though it does top the sheer level of action in the other films. The other technical elements—from Wally Pfister’s cinematography to Hans Zimmer’s booming score—are as flawless as anyone would hope.
That The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite reach the perfection of The Dark Knight would be a very bitter pill to swallow if this new film wasn’t so entertaining, so compelling, so intense, and so ambitious. Christopher Nolan had a daunting task before him when he kickstarted the Batman franchise after its ignominious late-1990s entries. With The Dark Knight Rises, a film that may be his magnum opus simply for its epic reach, he’s completed that challenge in style. Sticking the landing in a trilogy is, for anyone not named Peter Jackson or employed by Pixar, a problem, but one Nolan avoids. He, his cast, and his crew have delivered a superhero trilogy for the ages.