To say that the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s (“Inception”) Batman trilogy goes out with a bang would be misleading. Yes, things go boom. Yes, Hans Zimmer’s score — more frenetic than ever — borders on manic, reaching deafening levels. But it’s at its quietest when “The Dark Knight Rises” truly astounds. It’s in whispered monologues that the characters make their most indelible, potent utterances. “A storm is coming,” Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle purrs.

The Dark Knight Rises

At Quality 16 and Rave
Warner Bros.

Before that storm arrives, we’re shown a post-Batman Gotham. Organized crime is down, and the caped crusader once hailed the city’s hero has been made the enemy, blamed for the death of the man Gotham remembers as their white knight. Eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, “The Fighter”) has taken to the shadows to nurse his physical and metaphysical wounds, as his batsuit gathers dust. But Kyle awakens Mr. Wayne to the gathering storm. A calculating, cool catburglar, she poses somewhat of a threat, but is nothing stacked up against the behemoth Bane (Tom Hardy, “Warrior”). Despite ever-loyal manservant Alfred Pennyworth’s (Michael Caine, “Inception”) deepest pleas, Batman gets back in the game.

There’s nothing sleek or intricate about Batman and Bane’s encounters. They brawl with brutish, bone-crunching ferocity. Hardy’s sheer immensity is astounding, and Nolan’s liberal interpretation of the character makes for one hell of a movie villain. While Heath Ledger’s wonderfully twisted Joker was an agent of chaos, Bane is something entirely different. He’s pure evil, a terrorist dead set on unleashing America’s worst nightmare upon itself.

Visually, “Rises” is the lightest of Nolan’s installments, adorned with cinematographer Wally Pfister’s (“Inception”) glaring, clean light. Tonally, it surpasses dark and approaches cataclysmic. Never before has a movie of this magnitude inflicted so much pain upon its hero, and Bale delivers a haunting performance as a decaying man and ticking timebomb.

Moments of lightness are brought by Hathaway’s knockout performance. She transforms — almost unrecognizably so — into the dual-natured Kyle, and plays off Bale with conviction. “Rises” offers the most detailed and poignant real-life manifestation of the character, and Hathaway manages to be sexy, manipulative, tongue-in-cheek, all while kicking ass in her razor-blade heels that are anything but kitten.

Also new to the crew is cop-turned-detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50”), whose innocence offers a stark contrast to the more morally gray of Gotham. Marion Cotillard (“Public Enemies”) accomplishes impressive depth with very little screentime as Wayne Enterprises’ wealthy and mysterious board member Miranda Tate.

Like the wounded Wayne, the film’s familiar faces are hurting more than ever. Alfred is disillusioned with Batman’s madcap self-destruction, and Caine’s more emotional scenes are heartbreaking. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”) continues to whip up the Applied Sciences gizmos, but he too is noticeably worn by the agony seeping through Gotham’s streets. Gary Oldman (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) returns as Commissioner Gordon, who is just as tormented as the man in the mask, but lacks the luxuries of an alternate identity to protect the ones he loves (not to mention a fortune and a secret lair). He’s a tangible hero, one that Gotham truly deserves, and Oldman once again churns out a heavy performance.

With this trilogy and “Inception,” Nolan has proven himself a maestro of creating vivid worlds. In “Rises,” the universe is so visceral — full of characters with very real, political motives — that it’s easy to forget that this is still a comic book tale. “Realistic” is different than “believable,” and while “Rises” might not necessarily be the former, it has the latter on lock. Gotham isn’t just breathtakingly immersive — it’s a character as developed and tumultuous as Batman.

Before “Rises,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” worked well as standalone pieces, as they were rhythmically and thematically quite different. But now that we have all of the pieces, it’s clear that this is one story being told in three movements. “Begins” is steeped in themes of family and fear and gradually crescendos, giving way for the raucous energy of “The Dark Knight,” Nolan’s exploration of anarchy. “Rises” is the final tragic act, overridden with themes of justice and all-out war. No element weaves the three parts together better than Bale’s evolving, enduring performance, which brings specificity and vitality to a role that has been rehashed countless times.

Response to the film will undoubtedly be divided. Clocking in at nearly three hours and offering a mostly dire depiction of the human condition, moviegoers looking for a fun flick are sure to find its emotional weight taxing. But death and destruction have long hovered over this trilogy and its universe, and the weight of its monolithic conclusion should come to no surprise.

Nolan insists his knight will not rise again, but that’s OK: The Batman legend has reached its unsurpassable peak.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.