Typically, trilogy doesn't usually goes well with the third movie especially when a sequel had already sets the bar high. Such bad examples are X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), THE GODFATHER: PART III (1990) and SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007). When THE DARK KNIGHT hits theaters four years ago, the sequel was widely regarded by many as the greatest comic-book movie ever made and also earned a spectacular $533.3 million at the U.S. box office alone (a then-record breaker for such genre, before THE AVENGERS finally beat that tally with more than $610 million and still counting). So here lies the biggest question: can Christopher Nolan repeats the same massive success with his third and final Batman chapter of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES? Personally, I think it's a tough act to follow, considering the way he has set the bar so high in THE DARK KNIGHT. But being an extraordinary filmmaker as he is, Nolan manages to pull it off so well it's totally exceeds my expectation. This is no doubt his magnum opus, even though he doesn't reach some of the dizzying heights he has done successfully in THE DARK KNIGHT. Well, more on that later.
Picking up eight years after the event of THE DARK KNIGHT, we learn that Batman (Christopher Bale) is still blamed for Harvey Dent's (Aaron Eckhart) death and he remains an outlaw. Meanwhile, the man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, spends all his time holed up in his Wayne Manor as a crippled recluse. But one night when a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) broke into his home and manages to get away with his mother's precious necklace as well as stealing his fingerprints, Bruce begins to investigate about her identity and attempts to track her whereabouts. It doesn't take long before he decides to go out again to track her down and resumes his alter-ego as Batman, just in time when he also have to confront a new threat in Gotham City. That threat happens to be a masked hulk named Bane (Tom Hardy) who leads an underground group of terrorists hell-bent to hold under siege against Gotham City and determine to crush Bruce Wayne/Batman both physically and emotionally. Elsewhere, a beat cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) impresses Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) a lot with his extensive detective work to help solve the elaborate crime Bane has orchestrated as Gordon is laying in the hospital after had a terrible encounter with Bane.
Clocking at a whopping 164 minutes, and with so many multiple stories to juggle for, it would have easily falls victim into a bloated outcome. But at the hands of Christopher Nolan, that rarely happens. Only few minor quibbles involving the brief romance between Bruce and Miranda, while certain exposition-heavy scenes does robs some of its momentum. Other than that, the pace is well-constructed and kudos must goes to Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer for crafting an elaborate story with such complexity, yet well-defined and absorbing crime epic that brings everything into full circle. Likewise, Nolan's realistic vision for a comic-book movie adds more sense of urgency with his timely themes of sociopolitical issues, economic meltdown, and post-9/11 anxiety -- all magnified in a grander scale. Epic scale aside, Nolan also succeeds in depicting an intensely personal drama for every key characters involved in here, particularly at the tumultuous journey suffered by Bruce Wayne/Batman as he tries to rise from the fall, only to find more difficulties along the process. Beneath all the powerful narration, the movie often benefits from Nolan's trademark of captivating dialogues which filled with lots of thought-provoking ideas and statements worth debating for.
The ensemble cast is top-notch, and even some of the regulars here manage to perform better than expected. Among the most significant improvement of all is Christian Bale's role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. For those who complained the way his character being overshadowed by the late Heath Ledger's impeccable performance as the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT, rest assured that his performance is exceptionally layered and more emotionally involving this time around.
As Bane, Tom Hardy may not matched the undeniably brilliance or the charisma of the late Heath Ledger's Joker but he does hold out on his own. His hulking appearance alone is physically imposing. Even though he's wearing a mask that covers most of his face, he manages to express himself well, especially the way his eyes that speaks volumes. No doubt Tom Hardy is an excellent actor here, and he has successfully turns his supposedly least-popular character of Bane in the Batman universe into a memorable role.
When Anne Hathaway was first cast as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, a lot of people were skeptical about how risky the choice Nolan has made. It's easy to see why because this is an iconic role we are talking about here. Till now, I'm sure a lot of fans out there agree that Michelle Pfeiffer remains unsurpassed in her Selina Kyle/Catwoman role previously seen in BATMAN RETURNS (1992). But Hathaway defies all the naysayers the way she slips comfortably into a role that is both feisty and slinky enough to ensure she's the Selina Kyle/Catwoman of today's generation. Her exceptional performance also makes you erase all that sour memory Halle Berry has made for her embarrassing portrayal in CATWOMAN (2004).
Michael Caine, on the other hand, gives a truly heartfelt performance as Alfred. Some of his teary monologues with Bruce are simply poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Officer John Blake, is well-cast and often steals the show as a honest beat cop-turned-detective who is willing to go for great length to uphold the law. Marion Cotillard brings a certain warmth and elegance to her Miranda Tate character that appropriately served as a good contrast to this otherwise gritty movie filled with lost hope and despair. The rest of the supporting casts are equally ace, including Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and right down to the cameo appearance by Liam Neeson returning as Ra's Al Ghul, who previously appeared in BATMAN BEGINS (2005).
Technical credits are nothing short of being grand and sensational, as the reportedly $250-million budget is certainly well-spent here. Highest praises all goes to Nathan Crowley's and Kevin Kavanaugh's magnificent production design as well as Wally Pfister's stunning cinematography and Lee Smith's taut editing that makes the 164 minutes-running time feels (mostly) like a breeze. Not forgetting also, is Hans Zimmer's pulse-pounding score that is so memorably epic.
Despite the overall improvements Nolan has achieved here, it's quite a letdown the way he executes most of the action sequences here. Don't get me wrong, the action are epic and intense, especially more than an hour of IMAX footage are reportedly shot in this movie. But what lacks here is the money shot. Remember how memorable it was for that well-staged chase sequence in THE DARK KNIGHT? Well, this movie doesn't quite matches that feat. Still it has its moments -- the opening plane heist sequence is worthy of a James Bond movie; the bone-crunching duel between Batman and Bane in the sewer; and the thrilling air chase sequence where Batman flies off his jet-helicopter hybrid, The Bat, as he zigzags around the tall buildings while dodging several missiles.
Meanwhile, the ending can be both fascinating and frustrating at the same time, depending how you react to the now-infamous twist that Nolan loves to mess around the viewers' mind. Apart from being (too) expository, and with some interesting twists along the way, it still works for me as a fitting conclusion the way Nolan ends his Batman trilogy in a high note. You just to watch it for yourself.
It's rather sad that Christopher Nolan has openly admitted that this is his swan song in the Batman movie, and I doubt whoever is chosen to take over the franchise in the future -- be it a follow-up or a reboot -- will be nevertheless an uphill task to be accomplished for. But right now, he does a great job here in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and I can't wait what is the next movie he has to offer in the future.