With Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.) 165 minutes.
Move over “Avengers.” This is how you do a superhero movie. With THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale create an epic capstone to their Batman trilogy. While it runs close to three hours, you won’t be checking your watch.
The reason these Batman films have been outstanding is that for all their thrills and action, they are first and foremost about character. When the story opens, it’s been eight years since the events of the last film and crime has been cleaned up in Gotham City thanks to the Dent Law, named for the district attorney-turned-crazed killer. As far the public knows, however, Harvey Dent was a hero and the man taking the blame for his death is none other than the Batman, who hasn’t been seen since.
Meanwhile Bruce Wayne (Bale) has turned into a recluse, who rejects entreaties from his loyal butler and friend Alfred (Michael Caine) to move on with his life. What finally shocks him out of his lethargy is a complicated plot to take over Wayne Industries. He’s asked Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to run things, but it doesn’t quite work out as he expected. One needn’t pay too much attention to the details, because all the people being manipulated are doing so for the benefit of Bane (Tom Hardy), an unstoppable force of evil who plans to “liberate” Gotham City.
The film is a collection of broken characters who, like Wayne, have to decide how – or if – they will take control of their lives. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), has been covering up the truth about Dent and is about to be pushed aside by the more ambitious deputy commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine). Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is a thief who uses sex as a weapon and wants to erase her past. Police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to see justice done but is increasingly frustrated by the politics and maneuvering in the department.
Wayne’s problem is that he’s lost a reason for living. He was unable to rescue the woman he loved (as recounted in “The Dark Knight”) and isn’t really needed to fight crime any more. In fact his reappearance at the Batman leads Foley to make his capture a top priority. So Wayne needs not only to fight back but to figure out why he’s fighting back. The script carefully strips away everything that he has used to define his life, and only then does he understand what he has to do.
The actors never condescend to the material. There’s a wry quip here or there, as when both Alfred and Fox (Morgan Freeman) – the keeper of the Wayne Industries arsenal – try to prod Wayne out of his funk, but the material is played straight. Everyone is at the top of their game, from veterans like Caine to younger actors like Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt, both of whom take the complex characters they are handed and run with it. While Bale, as the Batman, and Hardy, as Bane, will deservedly get much of the attention, don’t overlook Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, who has tried to do the right thing and, like Wayne, is filled with regret. The difference is that Gordon keeps on going.
This is exciting, dramatic and intelligent filmmaking. “The Avengers” was a lot of fun, but it was an amusement park ride. “The Dark Knight Rises” is a great movie. Nolan’s Batman trilogy represents the high water mark for costumed hero sagas and one not likely to be matched anytime soon.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.