Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The third 'Dark Knight' movie once again pits Bruce Wayne/Batman against demons both within and without, raising the emotional stakes without shortchanging viewers who expect spectacular action sequences and creepy villains.

His legacy stained by the "murder" of Harvey Dent, whose dark secret identity went with him to his grave, the Batman has been absent from Gotham City for years. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has kept an equally low profile, though he reluctantly does his duty as the city's billionaire benefactor, hosting charity events like the “Harvey Dent Day” fete that introduces him to sultry cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who manages to abscond with his mother's pearls.

But the Catwoman is merely a nuisance: Real trouble is rolling into Gotham in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy), a sociopathic warrior looking for a worthy fight, whose external scars can't compare to those that disfigure his soul. In the guise of a people's revolutionary, Bane sets about taking back Gotham City for the people, turning it into an embattled island prison in the shadow of a ticking bomb of unimaginable power. Can anyone save Gotham City now?

The answer is, of course, yes. That much is a given no matter how much you rework the bat mythos to suit dark and cynical times. But to the credit of all involved, the conclusion to director/co-writer Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy rings true within the parameters established by Batman Begins and The Dark Knight: The stakes are almost grotesquely high, and Christian Bale's Batman walks a thin line between fighting monsters and becoming one.

If there were less going on, Anne Hathaway's Catwoman might be something of a disappointment: She wears her sleek gear well, but this Selina Kyle is underwritten in a way that makes her flirtations with Wayne fall flat. She's a yummy little kitten and she comes through when the chips are down, but there's something hollow about her sultry slinking—the fact that one has to ask "And what's up with that little girlfriend of hers, anyway?" pretty much sums up the problem.

How ironic, then, that Bane, at first glance a one-note monster with a God complex and a monster-muscleman physique, should prove the more nuanced villain. But the script's third-act revelations—and there are plenty—paint an entirely different picture of the hopped-up horror whose mask keeps his system full of pain-killing drugs, the legacy of…well, that would be telling.

A canny mix of blockbuster thrills and dark psychological horror, The Dark Knight Rises is the culmination of a wholesale rethinking of the Batman mythology, one rooted in loneliness and isolation, in which a poor little rich boy driven to crime-fighting by the murder of his parents has matured into a man whose closest emotional ties are still with Alfred (Michael Caine), the butler who's tended to him since childhood. And it's a mark of how thoroughly steeped in this alternate bat-lore The Dark Knight Rises is that its single most emotionally powerful moment is Alfred's, a strangled confession that he spent much of his life hoping Bruce Wayne would never take up the mantle of the Batman, and all of it since wishing he never had. That's heavy stuff for a costumed-hero movie, but remarkably effective nonetheless.