Here’s a twist: the more you enjoyed The Dark Knight, the less you might feel the same about The Dark Knight Rises. This third entry in Christopher Nolan’s genre-defining series largely dispenses with its predecessors' dense plot, cheeky violence and scene-stealing villain for greater depth on all fronts. This time the characters don’t just blather about fear, chaos and the like – they experience it head on.
It also relies so closely on the plot points of Batman Begins, it makes the Joker’s antics feel like a layover. Certainly, the late evil clown couldn’t have imagined a plan like Bane’s (Tom Hardy): to revert Gotham City into a state of civil war, then promptly turn it to a smoking crater. The Joker arrived without a past, Bane is shaped by his own. He’s a man with a plan, a backstory. He has reasons to do what he does.
He’s a masked terrorist with the elocution of an Oxford professor, come to finish the job Rah’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) couldn’t: Break Bruce Wayne in body, mind and spirit. If The Dark Knight Rises has a driving purpose, it’s digging into the human layers behind even our most beloved heroes and villains. Batman is, after all, a mortal man.
He definitely goes through the most incredible physical and mental trial of any cinematic superhero. This ongoing punishment sidelines the Dark Knight for a noticeable length of screen time, during which Nolan rolls through a good half-dozen character arcs. The most interesting certainly belong to Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) — a thief / proto-Catwoman with ambiguous loyalties, and John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) — a young cop and realistic kind of hero.
Hardy does the best he can as Bane. Character design limits how much he can do with his face – affixed with a gas-supplying mask Bane’s strong presence is achieved mostly with eyebrows. It’s a testament to Nolan’s vision that this strange, hulking creation is just one of many important secondary characters.
All those characters are given due. Given 15 more minutes and $75 million more this time around, Nolan pours his surplus into story and performance quality, drawing a few great ones. The action is there (Nolan definitely has a thing for urban destruction) but he’s moved beyond action for action’s sake.
The Dark Knight was dominated by Heath Ledger. He set a standard few productions could match and I don’t think Nolan and his team have really tried. Instead, they’ve revealed a three-chapter arc that twists and turns around the accidental focal point of their work. Hope you like surprises.
Director: Christopher Nolan
164 minutes, Warner Bros.