The Dark Knight Rises is perhaps the most satisfying conclusion to a trilogy that I've ever seen in cinema.
Wait. Notice I said trilogy, not series. I'm talking about films that take place across three films with a beginning, middle, and conclusion. And I know that there will be more Batman films in store (probably much sooner than necessary), but not with Christopher Nolan at helm and Christian Bale in the suit. So think about it: How many trilogies can it be arguably said that each installment actually surpassed the previous one? It's a task that seems to be more difficult than said, when you consider. The original Star Wars reached it's epoch with the The Empire Strikes Back. Although Return of the Jedi was still a great film, it couldn't quite reach the bar set by the previous one. Then there's the Godfather trilogy which was improved in part II but fell flat in the third installment. And let's not even talk about trilogies like the Matrix, where each follow up got considerably worse.
What's that? Return of the King, you say? OK, I'll give you that. In fact it might be the only third act that I can compare TDKR to. So let's talk about it, shall we?
You've seen the trailers, been smothered by the advertising propaganda, and been shocked by acts of senseless violence on premiere night. But putting all of that aside, this film is much like the second film in that it's hardly a superhero film at all. Nolan's take is so grounded in realism that his Batman films are more crime thriller/dramas, only loosely tied to the superhero world by the fact that the protagonist dresses like a bat.
It had to have been hard to create a villain that would be relevant in the face of Heath Ledger's Joker, but Bane quickly proves to be even more formidable. He is a looming Darth Vader type of persona, only with equal parts of cunning mastermind to go with his intimidating presence and brute strength. Tom Hardy's performance will no doubt put Bane in the list of top movie villains. I've always believed that a story suffers when the villain isn't more powerful than the hero, but I didn't have to worry here. Bane places Batman and Gotham City in a choke-hold and squeezes with all his strength. Using his brutal tactics and tactical planning, he appears to be unstoppable.
I enjoyed Bale's performance as well. For the first time we see Batman and Bruce Wayne at their most vulnerable states. It's hard to pull off a great performance when you're dressed in a Halloween costume, but Bale pulls it off again No actor has appeared more dangerous in the cape and cowl. Yet in this film we see something we haven't seen before. Defeat. We see the Batman outwitted, worn down and broken.
And then we see him rise.
And that's the point of the entire movie. It's about what happens to you when the chips are down. When your world is turned upside down and you hit rock bottom. What choices you make in those moments are what define your destiny. It's about standing up after being knocked down. Facing impossible odds because you refuse to lie down without a fight. Because it's only when you're down that you can rise.
Each film in this trilogy has had a theme, a major obstacle to overcome. The first was fear. The second was chaos. This one was a bit more complex. In Bane we have a symbol of both fear and chaos. In his initial success he creates an atmosphere that becomes the third theme, one more difficult to overcome: oppression. It's a more potent obstacle than fear and chaos alone, because like poison it cripples over time. It's not until it's almost too late that the damage is revealed.
I could go on and on, but suffice to say that The Dark Knight Rises is a great film. Top notch direction, heavy duty action, an outstanding cast of actors, and a well layered story with some surprising twists. All of that plus Anne Hathaway in a catsuit. When all is said and done, these films will stand out from so many others because they are so multifaceted, so reflective of their time. Although I hate to see Nolan, Bale and company conclude their time with Batman, at the same time I hope they never are tempted to return. Because although Batman will continue soar, it's best to exit while you're on top of your game. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the top. Five out of five stars.