Christopher Nolan knows how to please a crowd. That’s not the easiest task in the case of The Dark Knight Rises, though, because the elements are working against him. Expectations for the film are unbelievably high. It has a bladder-challenging running time of 165 minutes. Nolan and his cowriters have created enough story here fill a ten-episode HBO series, and only barely manage to cram all that into less than a third of that time without some spilling over the sides. And instead of going the easy route and making a third movie that’s simply a standalone installment in a superhero series, the director has made his Batman saga into a true trilogy with an arc that ties in threads and themes from the two previous films. The degree of difficulty involved in balancing on that many knives’ edges overlooking potential disaster is high, yet by the time the credits roll, there it is: Nolan sticks the landing.
TDKR finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a recluse, eight years after his alter ego took the fall for murdering Gotham’s white knight, Harvey Dent, supposedly in cold blood—Batman’s sacrifice of his image saving the populace from finding out that Dent, their unmasked hero, had actually gone insane and tried to kill Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) son. Thanks to draconian crime legislation passed to honor Dent’s memory, Gotham is now a gleaming utopia, practically free of crime. But cracks are beginning to show all over: Gordon continues to feel guilt over carrying this lie around for so long; Wayne Enterprises is no longer profitable; and a masked mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy), is bent on destroying the city, using a power-to-the-people tear-down-the-rich message as his cover when really he wants to blow every man, woman, and child, regardless of social status, to the skies.
Not everything here is a wild success—Hardy is one of the most expressive actors working today, but Bane’s face mask robs his performance of some of its potential power. Additionally, with so much story to cover, there are times when Nolan creates sketches and lets us fill in the rest in our heads or overloads long speeches with exposition. But he also chases after much bigger ideas than a standard-issue popcorn flick. There’s been grumbling in some corners that his message is unclear or, even more wrong-headed, that the film is either a left-wing screed against authority or a right-wing repudiation of the Occupy movement. But I found the film’s themes crystal clear, if almost unrelentingly dark: We are all corrupt, we are all corruptible, and good intentions don’t justify ugly actions. Everyone in this movie is flawed, even as every one of them has, at some point, some kind of noble interest at heart. Managing that kind of moral ambiguity may be the most difficult hurdle Nolan has to leap in the course of capping off the trilogy, but I’d say he cleared it with room to spare.
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