You know, Christopher Nolan swears that he had not set out to make a trilogy when he made Batman Begins, but after watching The Dark Knight Rises it is very difficult to imagine that the three scripts were not written together as one story arc. This film ties together all the loose threads from the entire series in such a seamless, well thought out way, that it certainly SEEMS like they had to know where they were going when they started out. Oh well, I guess it is just a testament to the film making genius at work here that fashioned such a perfect ending.
And it IS a perfect ending. Everyone's story line: Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Lucious Fox, The League of Shadows, Harvey Dent, the new characters, Batman, and (most surprisingly) Bruce Wayne all come full circle in a way that was wholly satisfying to both the film snob in me and the comic book geek who collected thousands of Batman starring issues throughout the 80's and 90's. I saw Bane break the Batman's back. I had The Dark Knight series. I've read all the comics that these movies were roughly based on, and I've never seen stories adapted in a way that so successfully retained all the flavor of the source material, but still told a story entirely unique unto itself.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have one of the finest ensemble casts ever assembled: Oscar winners Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Marion Cotillard; Oscar nominees Anne Hathawaye, Liam Neeson, and Gary Oldman, plus rising young stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy.
Poor Tom Hardy. Everyone wants to compare his Bane to Heath Ledger's Joker, and it is true that Bane is not nearly as compelling of a villain as the world's craziest clown, but it's like this: When Bat-fans ask each other who their favorite Bat-Villian is, the Joker never counts as an answer, because it would always be everyone's answer. He is the most fascinating comic book bad guy ever. I think Hardy does an excellent job of making Bane more interesting than he has ever really been before. Besides, if Tom Hardy can dive so deeply into a character like Bane that I no longer find him the least bit attractive on screen, then he is one hell of an actor.
Of the returning supporting cast, Gary Oldman is certainly given the most to do, and his Commissioner Gordon remains the live action version that is closest to the man I knew from the comics. Caine is somewhat sidelined as Alfred, but still has a few really good scenes that do expand our understanding of the character a bit. Freeman is given very little to do as Fox, but is as charming a screen presence as ever. Cameos by Neeson and Murphy are delightful and help to complete the sense of continuity throughout the three films.
I can't say a whole lot about Cotillard or Gordon-Levitt without entering spoiler country, but they are both commendable in their roles.
Best of the newbies definitely goes to Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, who is almost like a second moral center for the film from a different perspective. It is not easy to take on one of the most famous and beloved anti-heroes of all time and make it decidedly your own, but she did. Rumor has it that Nolan would be willing to produce (though not direct) a Catwoman movie starring Hathaway, and I'm all for it. Between this film and Les Mis., this talented young actress may just be having her best year yet.
In the end, though, it is good that no villain dominated the story the way that the Joker did last time around, because this film is first and foremost about Bale's Batman and Bruce Wayne. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but we get the most intricate view of the man's psyche ever put to large or small screen: his motivation, determination, frustration, and humanity, Beyond the gadgets and the money, these are the things that truly define the Bruce Wayne/Batman persona, and Bale gives us the best interpretation of them that we've ever seen.
Of course, in a Nolan movie, it is not just about the script and the acting, but the total package presented. The most notable presences in the crew are Oscar winners Wally Pfister on cinematography and Hans Zimmer on score, both of whom are frequent Nolan collaborators. The entire production is first rate though, and should find widespread accolades in the craft categories this year, even if the film's subject matter leaves it ignored by the Academy for above the line consideration.
All in all, The Dark Knight Rises transcends everything we've ever seen in a super hero movie, even in The Dark Knight. However, this is largely true of every genre that Nolan chooses to tackle. Memento, The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Inception....with every film he makes this director redefines the intelligent blockbuster, the thinking man's genre movie. The Academy may be slow to recognize his genius, but he has expanded what films like this can be in a way we haven't seen since the Spielberg films of the 70's and early 80's. Here at The Movie Frog, we only hope that he continues far into the 21rst century. The Dark Knight Rises is easily my favorite film released so far in 2012. Now in theatres. 5 of 5*