“The Dark Knight Rises” may be the best superhero movie ever made – and it does it with limited screen time of the superhero. This is more about the man behind the cowl, Bruce Wayne than it is about Batman – much like the first film in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, “Batman Begins.” In fact, that is really what this trilogy is about – the flesh and blood man, not the incorruptible symbol. It is through the symbol that Wayne discovers who he is and how he should live up to his family legacy. After eight years of Gotham City putting the blame on Batman for the death of Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight” (a blame which Bruce self-imposed to ensure peace in the city), a mercenary, Bane, comes to Gotham to wreak havoc on the city’s society and foundations.

Christian Bale has his best performance by far as Bruce Wayne/Batman in this film. He is asked to do much more and delivers in every aspect. Tom Hardy (Bane) does a great job using subtle facial expressions to strike fear into his opponents and the audience. Many have griped that Hardy’s talent was wasted because his mouth was covered by a gas mask. But would it have been better if his entire face was covered like it was in the comic book? I’m not so sure. For those fans who have read the comics, especially “Knightfall,” you won’t be disappointed. Bane is as intelligent as he is a physical specimen, just the way he is supposed to be – Batman’s greatest adversary, not the mindless thug in Joel Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin.”

Even though I thought of the character as a throw in because of popularity, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman only added to my enjoyment of this movie. In a movie as intense and gut-wrenching as this, it needed a character that was almost as sly and cunning as Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Yes, Ledger’s performance will probably never be topped and the Joker is the most recognizable villain in the entire Batman universe, but Hathaway did a fantastic job in her role as the second most popular “villain” in Batman lore. It also expands Nolan’s audience to women as well, which is important as Batman is generally more geared toward men.

Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) gave top notch performances as always and I was pleasantly surprised by Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, John Blake in this movie. My initial thought was that he was just an excuse for Nolan to bring yet another of his “Inception” cast in his Dark Knight finale (Marion Cotillard, Hardy, Caine, and Cillian Murphy being the others), but Levitt actually played a bigger role in this movie than anyone could have imagined. I also love where Blake ends up at the end of the movie. Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, a philanthropist who throughout the film asks for Bruce’s support, and while at first she seems like another throw-in to give Bruce a love interest, her character becomes way more interesting in the final act of the film.

This film has no shortage on action, explosions or brutal fist fights, some may say too much, but there are also powerful emotional moments interspersed in the movie. There are a couple scenes where I got chills. In “The Dark Knight Rises,” one could not have asked for a better end to Nolan’s trilogy and Bruce’s journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. Coming out of the theater, my immediate reaction was that it was better than “The Dark Knight.” It could be that I always thought that the second installment of the trilogy was boosted (in a tragic way) by Ledger’s death, which made his portrayal of the Joker something beyond a mere villain in a Batman movie, and something legendary. In this film, everything is stripped away from Bruce and it is up to him to learn to pick himself up. That in itself makes it a better superhero story than “The Dark Knight” even though the villains might not be as unforgettable.

After sleeping on it, I still think “Rises” is better than its predecessor. It is bigger, more ambitious and deals with the internal struggles of the main character instead of focusing on secondary characters like the Joker, Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes as “The Dark Knight” did. We are invested in the character of Bruce Wayne from start to finish in Nolan’s trilogy and in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Nolan’s telling of Bruce’s journey comes to a very satisfying and fitting end.

  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
  • 165 Minutes
  • ★★★★★
  • 5 out of 5 stars

Originally published on July 23, 2012