The immediate thought that came to mind after the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises: Has there ever been a trilogy that has reinvented its genre in such a way? Has there ever been three movies so complementary of each other and so well executed that it has become the new standard bearer by leaps and bounds? Not recently.
To be sure, several franchises have begun and rebooted to critical acclaim (X-Men and Spiderman, to name a couple), but all have universally lost their momentum by the third installment. Batman is the new standard in comic book adaptations, and it may never be topped.
Set eight years after The Dark Knight, we see the ramifications of the character’s choices in the first two movies. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, driven by his pain and inability to escape the memory of Rachel Dawes. He has distanced himself from confidants Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine).
Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has had to carry on the false legacy of Harvey Dent, and it has taken a tremendous toll on him. Gotham has entered peace time, without the need for Batman. Men who were soldiers in war have been replaced by suits who are more concerned with looking good rather than being good.
That all changes when Bane (Tom Hardy) and Selina Kyle, or as she’s known to most, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) enter. Fortunately, Batman has help from John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an astute beat cop who represents the hope that has been sapped from Gordon and Wayne over the years.
Bane proves to be a worthy adversary, though clearly not nearly on the same level as Heath Leger’s Joker. It’s an unobtainable standard, which is the problem with setting such a high bar. Bane is more physical with his violence, though he is driven more by loyalty than Joker’s desire for rampant chaos. Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman nearly steals the show. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect that to happen, given how Maggie Gyllenhaal and, especially, Katie Holmes, nearly ruined the two prior movies. There is an easy chemistry between Batman and Catwoman, yet Hathaway maintains the necessary mystery. If not for Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises would be stolen solely by Gordon-Levitt. I only wished that Nolan could’ve spent more time delving into his background.
That’s actually something I said to myself throughout the movie. Even though The Dark Knight Rises ran more than 2 1/2 hours, Nolan could’ve easily added another hour to it, and I wouldn’t have minded. In fact, I’m hoping that there is a director’s cut that comes out that explores more of the exposition in the first half of the movie. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that too many characters are developed in the first half of the movie only to be cast aside to the action-packed conclusion. The exposition is clumsy at times, and it would’ve been better to either cut some storylines, or flesh them out completely. Regardless, all is forgiven in a thoroughly entertaining second half.
What has separated Batman from many other movies of its kind is that the action isn’t mindless and doesn’t depend on CGI or 3D. All the Batmans have been introspective in nature, and this is no different. What will man do when pushed to the brink? Will he revert to a savage or is he more refined and evolved? This was highlighted in The Dark Knight with Joker and is explored again. Nolan pushes the envelope with the darkness of this movie. There are few of the trademark Batman quips; it’s all about business.
Batman Begins asked the question of what would drive Bruce Wayne to become a vigilante. The Dark Knight asked what the reaction to Wayne’s choices would be. The Dark Knight Rises asks the question of how long Wayne can endure the guilt and suffering. As it relates to Batman, there are no major questions left to ask, a huge compliment to Nolan.
If I had to rank the three movies, The Dark Knight Rises would be the third of the group. But it is a close third to Batman Begins, and a satisfying conclusion to one of the best trilogies in movie history.