There's hype, and then there's The Dark Knight Rises. I anticipate numerous films over the course of any given year, more than most people I'm sure. But in terms of widespread anticipation from movie buffs to casual fans, you'd be hard-pressed to think of any film rivaling The Dark Knight Rises.
When Batman Begins opened in 2005, I'm not sure anyone could have anticipated what director Christopher Nolan had in store for us in terms of scope and quality. After all, Batman Begins opened to a box office number under $50 million, which is nothing to scoff at but is insignificant by today's standards for a film of this nature. Nolan was already a talented, promising filmmaker prior to entering Gotham City with films like Memento and Insomnia (which are still two of if not his two best films), but in the years since he has become one of the strongest big-budget studio directors around.
Nolan has developed an intense and dedicated fan base made up of people who will stop at nothing to defend his work, often blindly (Rotten Tomatoes had to disable commenting on reviews this week because of threats). But fanboy stupidity aside, Nolan's trilogy has largely changed the way we view superhero films. He proved their ability to transcend their genre status.
Plot wise, The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the ending of The Dark Knight, with Batman exiled, Bruce Wayne a recluse, and Gotham peaceful under the auspices of the Harvey Dent Act. We are helped along by a handful of infrequent flashbacks to the previous two films, and although it isn't entirely necessary to re-watch those prior to seeing this, a refresher certainly wouldn't hurt.
In my best efforts to keep this as spoiler free as possible, I won't go any further into the actual plot. Those that have seen Begins and Dark Knight know where we're headed, and those that haven't likely don't care (and apparently have been living under a rock).
I will say that in terms of the narrative, there is a lot going on here, perhaps a bit too much. It is a bit convoluted at times as Nolan speeds us toward the finale, although I fully expect multiple viewings to be more rewarding as the overall puzzle fits together more clearly.
The screenplay, written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, clips along at a pace that makes the near three hour runtime fly by. There is hardly a moment that isn't engaging. It also admirably balances an enormous cast.
While some characters inevitably take a backseat to others, and some aren't as developed as they could have been (some of this results from trying to preserve some worthy, albeit at times predictable twists later on), each is given the opportunity to leave their mark.
I would always like to see more of Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, who have consistently provided the calming voices amongst the chaos, and that hasn't changed. Caine, in limited screen time, is award worthy, giving us some of the most emotional sequences of the trilogy.
Putting the positives aside for a moment, the script isn't perfect. As I already said, it's a bit hard to follow at times, and becomes even more so as you try to piece together everything from the rest of the series. There are also a couple pieces to the story that temporally appear more than a bit off.
There are a couple of tongue-in-cheek appeasements to hardcore fans that, while crowd pleasing, are a bit cheesy. And while the look, tone, and feel of Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister's visually impressive Gotham City remain as bleak and gritty as ever, a bit of the narrative realism is sacrificed to give audiences the much desired grandiose finale. This type of conclusion was expected and inevitable.
Bale might give his best performance of the series in TDKR, and the ever-present themes of personal pain and identity, regret, and redemption that have remained in his Bruce Wayne/Batman are in full force here. He even encounters childhood fears going all the way back to the opening moments of Begins.
These are also themes that many of the characters throughout rises have to battle as well, from Caine's Alfred, to Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon, to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Officer Blake. Thematically, Rises follows in the footsteps of its predecessors to connect far better than most comic-inspired films do.
Another newcomer Anne Hathaway provides the series with its most charismatic female yet, and Tom Hardy, who has become a fantastic actor in his own right, does his best with an inherently limited Bane. As the lead villain, Hardy's Bane is as physically menacing as any, but he lacks the mental and psychological aspects that made Heath Ledger's Joker so effective.
Much of this comes form the fact that Hardy's face is covered by that clunky mask for the entire film, removing most of his ability to act through expression, although he does what he can with his eyes. Oh, and he also sounds more than a bit like Sean Connery.
For me, the positives outweigh the negatives by a wide margin. Perhaps I'm being more forgiving because this is the conclusion to what I consider one of the strongest trilogies in recent memory (falling short of The Lord of the Rings, but even coming close is no small task). Maybe taken as a whole it's easier to forgive the missteps. Whether that's right or wrong, I don't know.
What I do know is that The Dark Knight Rises is the conclusion that most people were waiting for. While I personally wish the final moments had been slightly different, I'm not sure how many people will ultimately share those sentiments. Is it as good as The Dark Knight? No. As good as Batman Begins? Probably. Does it live up to the expectations? It comes damn close.