With THE DARK KNIGHT, Christopher Nolan created one of the ultimate "tough acts to follow"--even if the untimely death of Heath Ledger hadn't generated the publicity it had, his performance as the Joker was one of the standouts of its decade (not to mention the superhero movie genre itself)--and nobody can have it back.
Thankfully, Nolan hadn't opened with the Joker--with BATMAN BEGINS, he started a most carefully-constructed and thoughtful trilogy in which character, motivation and consequences were even more important than the requisite action sequences (which, of course, he didn't fail to deliver, either)--there was far more to resolve in the final chapter than what ultimately became of the Joker, after all.
Much as I enjoyed the 80's--90's series initiated by Tim Burton, we all know it went to hell at the end, and one of the worst things about the pathetic BATMAN & ROBIN was its introduction of Bane as nothing but an inflated, monosyllabic steroid freak. As I haven't followed the actual Batman comics as much as I probably should have over the past few decades, my initial reaction to the presence of Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was "Bane? Really?" I should have known better--in Nolan's hands, Bane has character, presence, personality and plenty to say (although his respirator device occasionally made his dialogue a bit difficult to follow). He has crucial ties to Batman's own origin, and, oh yes, he can kick Batman's ass.
In all fairness, though, Batman has been deliberately out of action (and training) for quite a while, leading to rumors of Bruce Wayne living in the fashion of the reclusive, eccentric Howard Hughes. But there's far more to it than that--Bruce Wayne isn't the only one forced to live with the consequences of taking the rap for the crimes of Harvey Dent in the previous film--eight years later, and the toll is even worse for Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).
I won't get into specific plot twists and spoilers for you here, of course, but you get the sense early on that Nolan has every intention of living up to his promise that this installment will, indeed, be the conclusion of the saga--things go past the point of no return for more than one important character, it will suffice to say. And while it's quite true that there's surprisingly little BATMAN in this epic (2h, 45m) wrap-up, time spent with the characters we've grown to know over the years is especially well-spent here--it's great to see Gordon and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) back in action, and with all profound respect to Alan Napier and Michael Gough, Michael Caine is the greatest Alfred in the history of Alfreds.
In addition to Bane, the other newcomers to the story hold their own quite well--Joseph Gordon-Levett adds a touch of hope and genuine heroism to a situation that ultimately cries out for it, and Anne Hathaway is marvelously entertaining as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar with all the mental and physical skills it takes to play in this arena (please note that the name "Catwoman" is never actually invoked in the film proper). Her role in the film seems a mere sideline to Bane's elaborate plot, but it's her desire for instant, thoughtless gratification that makes all the difference. You might recall that everybody's favorite blowhard made the case for this film being "liberal propaganda" (sight unseen, naturally), because the name "Bane" was supposed to make you think of Mitt Romney, blah blah blah... but nobody who actually SEES the film is likely to make that mistake. Yes, Kyle claims that she represents the "99%" out to take back from the almighty "1%," but it turns out that deactivating and impoverishing a one-percenter like Bruce Wayne isn't exactly in the best interests of Gotham City (the reasons become more than clear as the story progresses).
On top of everything else, we get some most welcome surprise cameo appearances (there is NO extra scene at the end in case you were wondering).
Oh, action? Plenty of it--it's spectacular, suspenseful and it utilizes the most state-of-the-art advances in special effects. But you knew that already. Some will tell you that the first half of this film is dull and/or confusing as opposed to the ferocious second half. Not me. This story started with BATMAN BEGINS and even though certain supporting characters definitely managed to upstage certain others along the way, this rich, detailed and complete TRILOGY kept me completely absorbed throughout and will always rank as one of the finest achievements in its field. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a worthy conclusion to this legacy.
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