I suppose there are a number of us out there who would have watched Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight all over again, in anticipation of what Nolan had already declared would be his final outing in the Gotham City of his creation for the film universe, to bring it all full circle. And what an exhilarating ride, all 164 minutes of it from beginning to end, that makes it his longest film to date, bowing out in epic grandeur. The Dark Knight Rises may well be the best Batman feature film to date, and probably the best one out of comic pop culture, making the Marvel Universe's attempts look a bit childish, but that's another argument for another article.
Fanboys, you can rest assure that whatever clips you've seen, doesn't even scratch a third of the film, with a lot more in store and kept firmly under wraps. And the Nolan brothers together with David Goyer continued to tap upon the established Batman mythos for their final installment just as they did with the earlier two films, mix all of them up and provide for a real world treatment. You can probably rattle off influences and iconic elements from storylines such as Knightfall, Vengeance of Bane, No Man's Land, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Officer Down, and a key story arc involving Alfred, with things like The Lazarus Pit given new perspective as would other more fantastical elements in the comics that wouldn't be plausible in Nolan's established Bat universe. These stories provide a little bit of background, and helps in quickly providing context without the film having to dwell too much on them, without alienating non-comic book fans/readers who would do themselves a favour to read them after watching the film, since interest would be piqued.
In essence, the film begins 8 years from where we last left off, with the Dent Act passed to put most of Gotham's dangerous criminals behind bars at Blackgate (yet another comic book reference there). Clearly the Dark Knight is no longer needed, but without purpose, Bruce Wayne becomes a recluse, until Bane's arrival which spells the need for the Dark Knight to rise again. That's about all anyone can say without spoiling anything, but suffice to say the story is one that's expansive, utilizing key characters whom we've grown to love from the earlier movies, and finding room to accommodate a lot more, with Nolan favourites like Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt given supporting roles that are far, far from being decorative, one to continue the boardroom politicking and maneuvers seen in the first film, and the other to provide Gotham's Finest with a little bit more to do, which under Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon's watch, has turned into quite the responsive force to be reckoned with. And Gary Oldman too had to call upon his acting chops especially when the story arc links this back to The Dark Knight and having to shoulder the major lie the triumvirate had broken down into.
There are plenty of elements that made this film work, so I suppose we can tick them off one by one. For starters, the continuation on the focus of Bruce Wayne's story, which has made it all tick. This version of Bruce Wayne and Alfred become the familiar characters we're accustomed with since 2005, and the film invests heavily on the emotional bonding between the two, which deals back to the theme about fear that rears its ugly head again, and how a father figure cannot stand idly by to watch the one he brought up recklessly charge into battle after a long hiatus, and hoping for a life of normalcy with the mantle of the bat given up. Michael Caine may have a shorter screen time than before, but no less powerful.
When Sam Raimi had to put the popular and powerful Venom into Spider-man 3 pretty much against his wishes, we all knew how that turned out to be, effectively killing off the franchise until the decision to reboot it. There may be some similar fears with the introduction of a fairly contemporary villain in Bane, but the story gave him more purpose and meaning, and Tom Hardy was excellent par none in this role as the compete villain - with plenty of brawn, merciless, masterful, and with a plan any terrorist would be proud of. If the Scarecrow meant to induce fear, and the Joker to create chaos, Bane is carnage incarnate. Tom Hardy, even being the requisite mask, is fearful, and while the designs of his plan may dwarf the Joker's in complexity, it sure rivaled his in terms of delivery, and execution. Anyone in his path gets shoved aside with deadly consequences, and anyone alive is only because there is of further use. No hesitation, and no compromise. What more, you'd never see Batman get physically pummeled that severely by an enemy before, until now, with many fisticuffs showing just who is the master of hand to hand combat.
And Nolan continues with the introduction of a lot more villains big and small, behind a mask or otherwise, in his Bat films than anyone would credit him for, especially when having those whose lines are blurred, or corrupt to the core and hiding behind social status and fortune. This in turn provides for another arc that boils underneath the main narrative, where the rich and powerful continue to enjoy their successes at the expense of the have-nots, and the Occupy Movement in a way being a very real parallel to the proceedings on screen. While the mobsters were clearly at the top of the food chain in the earlier Nolan films, this one shifted focus to politicians and the elite community, with their fair share of scandals and corporate greed.
While Bane was to the point, Selina Kyle played by Anne Hathaway, is both sensual and a force to be reckoned with herself, being like how she's best portrayed, on the fence. There's a bit of Frank Miller's Year One in this one given the presence of Juno Temple's Holly, and the back to basics as a jewel thief, compared to the mousy secretary in Tim Burton's Batman Returns with Michelle Pfeiffer defining the role, and the garbage that was Halle Berry's. Anne Hathaway nailed this one with what would be a truly memorable outing, and as if a homage of sorts to Burton's second Batman film, that the repartee between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle at a party became one of the highlights here, as does her thievery and combat ability. She may lack her whip, but more than makes up for it with her steel stiletto heels, and the very sensual and sleekly designed feline moves that you'd wonder how they got delivered while wrapped under that skin tight suit.
Christian Bale dons the batsuit for the third time, more than any of his film predecessors, and continues the good work established in the first two films. Bruce Wayne gets stripped to the core, and put into a position which is fairly unfamiliar to him as the story goes along, where he has to push himself to the limits - which is in very hurried terms of 3 screen months - and a development that some may find fault with for its pacing, and attempts to tie it back in with the first film that the Wayne Legacy is more than what it defines Gotham City to be, touching in almost all avenues of the city, and Bruce Wayne's "ownership". Bale continues to command presence as the tragic hero who has to dig deep within, and is now forced to find allies, thus breathing life in many of the supporting characters in utilizing their various skill sets, rather than to go at it alone. And when he puts on that Batsuit for his first appearance in the film, goosebumps are set to rise, as we get just as excited as the Gothamites in welcoming his return.
This time round though the introduction of his toys is a little bit subtler, where you may miss what would be a small try out if you'd blink, before that same technology gets to play a much bigger role as the story progresses. And the big toy would be The Bat, of course, adorning the trailers and clips released so far, although the film would give you a closer look at it especially from underneath with that huge rotor, and being highly maneuverable. I didn't really quite fancy the Batpod from The Dark Knight, but The Dark Knight Rises made me change my mind about it, being used frequently and demonstrating why it's probably the de facto road vehicle of choice. The Batmobile is pretty much gone now, although the camo-designed ones we see Bane using, makes all Bat vehicle types grace the screen altogether in a single film.
And not only is the technology put on screen fictionally impressive, the technical aspects behind the scenes also worked wonders, chalking up serious mileage in having more than an hour's worth of footage shot on the IMAX format. Wally Pfister's cinematography continues to impress with that staying consistent to the gritty look and feel developed for all the Bat films to date, before his departure into a film director's role for his next project. Hans Zimmer also probably developed the best score for Nolan's Bat films, and I dare say without which this film would be less stellar, with the score playing a huge role in adding plenty of character and emotion to the film, lifting it up with excitement during the many set action pieces, with recognizable themes assigned to major players, heightening dangers, and providing a boost to the many feelings in this one heck of an action-adventure.
With how things developed at the end, and what I felt was initial horror of sorts with Batman out in broad daylight, secret identity being porous and all, this film ended in what would be the best way possible - with possibilities, and a twinkle of an eye, Inception style with a did it, or did it not. Twists, turns, surprises and sleight of hand, making it a clear favourite as one of the best this year. Do yourself a favour and watch it in the IMAX format, just as it was intended.
Because you have just got to believe in Christopher Nolan, and the kind of films he has so far delivered. Take a bow, bat-crew, for a trilogy that has now set the bar for any comic book film, and especially any other follow Batman movie, reboot or otherwise, to live up to.