Quick hit: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), worn down and in seclusion, meets new adversaries, Bane (Tom Hardy) and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), as Gotham City faces a major threat. The Dark Knight Rises is a greatly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy and it builds on the complexity of the last installment, The Dark Knight, while featuring exemplary performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine.
Dread. You feel it immediately in The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's follow-up to 2008's richly praised The Dark Knight.
Though Gotham City has been blessed with a steep drop-off in crime, it's all based on a lie – the martyrdom of turncoat District Attorney Harvey Dent and the demonization of Batman. There's a sense that the chickens are about to come home to roost.
That happens principally in the form of Bane, a massively muscled monster with an anarchic agenda who has set his sights on Bruce Wayne's Gotham.
And Wayne, damaged body and soul by the burden of being Batman, has gone to ground; as is typical, the thing that draws him out is an incident that tangentially involves one of his beloved parents, whose murder set him on the path to becoming the caped crusader.
Themes – and some characters – raised in Batman Begins, the first films in Nolan's Batman trilogy, are nicely acknowledged here, but the director has a greater vision that touches on some of the most troubling and controversial subjects of our time, without dwelling on them or veering into the preachy.
Terrorism. Income inequality. Nuclear annihilation. And courageously on Nolans's part, nods to two of the most disturbing images to come out of 9/11 and the Iraq War.
His broad scope, however, does not stop the director from giving his actors nice moments, especially Michael Caine. Despite the size of his part, Caine brings real emotion to his few scenes as Alfred, more a guardian than a butler to Bruce Wayne. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake is set up as the moral center of The Dark Knight Rises and the actor has no trouble with the burden. And if you think of Blake in one particular way during the film you will be rewarded in the closing moments.
Throughout the series, Bale seems to have made the choice to blend into the background both as Wayne and Batman, leaving the big acting to his supporting cast, most famously to the late Heath Ledger as the Joker.
Anne Hathaway gets the best lines this time around as Selina Kyle, whose sensual slinking evokes her character's feline nature without her being explicitly called Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer, however, brought more to the role in 1992's Batman Returns. Selina's cynicism and me-first nature also act as a nice counterpoint to the hope and outsized generosity put on display by Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate.
Duality, of course, is key to the trilogy. Wayne, shaped by a monstrous act, chooses to prevent others from suffering the same fate. He is continually confronted by victims who opt for villainy instead.
To track that properly it wouldn't hurt to give Batman Begins and The Dark Knight a quick once-over before tackling The Dark Knight Rises. Many filmmakers drop plot threads just within one movie yet Nolan pulls the strings together from his other two films and offers a true conclusion here.
Why anyone would take on a superhero film after what Nolan has achieved in the form is a mystery: He has given fanboys the futuristic gadgetry and clanging action they crave, while adding several layers for more discerning viewers to chew upon.
If anything, one can criticize the length of The Dark Knight Rises – at 2 hours, 45 minutes, there is a lag in the middle, before Bane lays siege to Gotham City – and Bane's enunciation. The rumors were true. At times it is very hard to understand Tom Hardy, though the actor must and does communicate a great deal though his hulking physicality.
Nolan and Bale have said they are done with Batman. Seeing a film set up yet more sequels can leave viewers feeling cheated. That's not the case here; as Nolan hands off the franchise, he has nicely – and thankfully, organically – set up a new beginning.
Watch Dark Knight at one of these local theaters starting Friday:
GROSSMONT CENTER 10, 5500 Grossmont Center Dr., La Mesa.
EDWARDS RANCHO SAN DIEGO 15, 2951 Jamacha Road, El Cajon.
REGAL PARKWAY PLAZA STADIUM 18 & IMAX, 405 Parkway Plaza, El Cajon.