“The Dark Knight Rises,” the final movie in Christopher Nolan’s great resurrection of Batman’s movie career, inevitably won’t be all things to all people. The album is, however, a sweeping, intimate, fitting and surprisingly hopeful goodbye for this current incarnation of the Dark Knight. The story takes time for both social reflection and highly personal issues, addresses the nature of heroism, and made me bawl like a baby more than once.
But in a good way.
Though eight years of story-time has passed since “The Dark Knight,” the opening of the current movie immediately springboards from the end of the last one.
Commissioner Gordon, played by an always-excellent Gary Oldman, has been cleaning up the city based on the lie he and Batman let stand about Harvey Dent’s death. Bruce Wayne has been a shut-in for the last eight years, and Christian Bale’s portrayal of the character’s physical and emotional hermitage is heartbreakingly tragic. It’s also the perfect setup for the rest of the movie. Michael Caine does some of his best emotional work of the series as Alfred, the butler who is essentially the only family Bruce Wayne has.
There are also plenty of new players. Tom Hardy is utterly unrecognizable as Bane, and Anne Hathaway has just the right amount of purr and claws as Selena Kyle. The best performance, however, is by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays a Gotham City police officer named John Blake. He’s a what-if mirror for Bruce, same in soul but different in approach, and his beautifully measured bravery is a high point throughout the entire film.
There’s nothing here to approach Heath Ledger’s Joker in the second film, but I actually think that’s a good thing for the movie as a whole. While Heath Ledger’s Joker was a great performance, I feel that it threw off the entire balance of the second film and made it his movie instead of Batman’s. It became a meditation on darkness instead of an actual story, a direction that “The Dark Knight Rises” corrects.
Of course, there’s still plenty of darkness. Anyone who’s been watching the news over the last several years will have some deeply uncomfortable moments, and it doesn’t shirk on the less-than-pleasant aspects of human nature. There’s also plenty of heroism, including a touching bit from Matthew Modine as a police officer.
If there’s a major flaw in the film, it’s that someone who hasn’t seen the previous two movies will probably miss a lot of the best stuff. Nolan is careful with wrapping up storylines and emotional arcs, and someone who only sees the end will probably feel like they’re reading only the last third of a book.
But, as someone who’s been here for the whole story, I was more than happy with the final pages. It might not have been quite that blazing burst of light, but it was a beautiful goodbye.