There is a sense of fatalism that pervades every scene of The Dark Knight Rises—Bruce Wayne is not only unafraid of death, he embraces it fully, and that grim worldview extends to the film as a whole. The culmination of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy isn’t just designed to be another Batman story, it is—regardless of whether the titular character lives or dies—the last Batman story.
And it is good. Really good. Great, even. Really, really great. Since the events at the end of The Dark Knight, Gotham has been waiting for Batman to return longer than we have here in the real world. Bruce Wayne has turned into a Howard Hughes-type recluse, content to hang up the cowl in a city that is now, as the politicians and police claim, at peace. He is brought out of retirement only after the emergence of Bane.
Tom Hardy's Bane is at the complete opposite end of the villainy spectrum from Heath Ledger’s Joker. Whereas the Joker was erratic, chaotic, and haplessly spontaneous, Bane is a slower, more thoughtful villain, and the plot he orchestrates makes the ‘two ferries’ setpiece at the end of the Dark Knight look very amateur in comparison. Without spoiling anything really, it involves corporate espionage, a gigantic network of underground sewers, and some well-placed explosives.
At nearly three hours long, the film has pacing issues. Major characters get sidelined for long periods of time. Characters come to possess information without any sort of explanation as to how that information was acquired. If you’re the type of person who needs an explicit or logical explanation as to how Batman gets from one scene to another (which is a perfectly fine complaint), then you will probably tear your hair out while watching Rises. But if you can accept comic-book-movie logic and suspend your disbelief, the pacing problems can easily be overlooked.
While the narrative meanders a little much, Nolan still hasn’t missed a step when it comes to the action sequences. A three-way chase between Bane, Batman, and the entire Gotham police force gives way to well-choreographed fight scene in which Batman and Catwoman team up, which in turn gives way to a brutal mano-a-mano beatdown between Bane and the Caped Crusader. All of this leading up to a lengthy, intense, and exhilarating final action sequence that spans the entire decrepit city of Gotham.
This is a paragraph about how Hans Zimmer wrote a very good score. That's about all there is to say, really.
On to the cast: Christian Bale is as brooding as ever (though with less growl this time), Gary Oldman knows how to play a flustered yet committed Commissioner Gordon, Michael Caine is still worried, and Morgan Freeman is still smug.
It’s a relief to say that the newcomers—Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, and Marion Cotillard—are all excellent, but the writing fails them. Hathaway’s Catwoman is given little exposition or backstory for her character, and without that context and motivation, her actions ring hollow. Similarly, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character is more a plot catalyst than fully realized persona, only on-screen to justify the actions of others. Hardy, as Bane, however, is great, especially given the fact that he spends the entire film behind a mask, portraying his character more through vocal inflection than through any body language or facial expression.
The story might be lacking but, luckily, the top-notch action is there to pick up the slack. The Dark Knight Rises is, at the very least, a fitting and highly enjoyable ending to Nolan’s trilogy.