Let’s just go ahead and answer everyone’s question right up front. Is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight? No it is not. But that in no way is a negative judgment against Christopher Nolan’s last Batman adventure. Not a lot could top The Dark Knight. It was a force of nature four years ago and still is today upon repeated viewings, so if you go into the theater expecting a better movie you may leave a little disappointed. What you will get is a long, ambitious epic that puts a perfect cap on Nolan’s Bat trilogy.
It has been eight long years since Harvey Dent went a bit on the crazy side and tried to kill Jim Gordon’s family while Batman took the fall for the fallout so that the city could hold up Dent as their savior and use his death to pass an act that has cleaned up the city. With major crime effectively under control Bruce Wayne has retired from being the Caped Crusader to become a recluse who nurses his battle wounds and lives in regret over the death of his love, Rachel Dawes.
But like with any hero Bruce cannot escape his need (or want) for Gotham to have the Batman again. When he is robbed by a lovely cat burglar named Selina Kyle, played very capably by the scene chewing Anne Hathaway, he begins to slowly come out of his shell eventually getting back into the cape and cowl despite his butler Alfred’s insistence that he should stay away.
As happenstance would have it, the return of Batman comes about at the same time a new big bad known as Bane is setting his master plan in motion to take over Gotham and complete Ra’s Al Ghul’s vision. Bane is viciously played by Tom Hardy who is not as scene stealing as Heath Ledger’s Joker but is much more of a physical threat to Batman. This is one thing that helped the movie immensely. While Batman Begins had Ra’s and Scarecrow and The Dark Knight has the Clown Prince of Crime, none really seemed like Batman’s physical superior. That is not the case here. Bane is a physical specimen and much more dangerously is just as smart as he is strong. If you are read up on Bane’s history in the Bat universe then you know basically what is coming about halfway through the movie but the event is still powerful and brutal.
I really had no problem understanding Hardy’s unique voice during the movie. With stories floating around since last December about his performance being lost in the muffled voice behind the mask I had a few concerns going in but it looks like Nolan did heed advice and clear up Bane’s dialogue which is great because Hardy’s nuanced performance adds so much to the story. It’s not just the voice (which yes does sound like Goldfinger) but the emotions he is able to convey with his eyes and body motions that complete the character.
Now don’t get me wrong the movie is not without flaws. But most of them are so small that they don’t merit mentioning but one that I do want to mention is Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon. He has plenty to do in this movie but after having him be such an integral part of The Dark Knight he does seem to get lost in the shuffle of the massive story and the number of characters that are given screen time. Oldman is still wonderful in his scenes but Gordon had much more of a meaningful role in The Dark Knight.
Everyone else on the roster has brought their A-game as you would expect. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake does not seem like a thrown in character. Much of the first half of the movie is from his perspective yet it feels completely at home in the Nolan Bat-verse. Morgan Freeman is his usual witty self and Michael Caine puts an exclamation point on the statement that he his the best version of Alfred ever, comics or film. Seriously, dude had me tearing up in two scenes. In a Batman movie.
This is a big, robust movie that is like most of Nolan’s work. It gets so big with so much at stake that you feel that it may collapse on itself but in the hands of a great director it transcends just being another Batman story and speaks on many levels including political unrest, the loss of hope and how anyone can become more than a man.
Where The Dark Knight felt as a stand alone movie this feels like a companion piece to Batman Begins while also bridging every character from all three films. It succeeds in bringing to a close the greatest super hero trilogy ever and avoids the pitfalls of most third films (see Godfather, Spider-Man) by giving a true emotional payoff for the characters that we have been investing ourselves in since the summer of 2005.
When I look back I would probably say that The Avengers is still the greatest comic book movie ever made but The Dark Knight Rises may be the better movie.