Like Bruce Wayne accepting the mantle of Batman, Christopher Nolan's desire to revisit the world he so masterfully crafted in The Dark Knight was a heavy burden. The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger's legendary performance as The Joker, should have been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture in 2009, and its absence changed how the Academy would nominate films in the future. Nolan could have walked away from the franchise and left us to imagine our own ending to Batman's story. How do you follow a film like The Dark Knight? In most instances, such a task would be a suicide mission, a trap for failure.
If you're reading this review, you've probably decided that you're OK getting spoiled before seeing The Dark Knight Rises. Please stop. Stop reading this review. You won't hurt my feelings. Normally, I feast on movie spoilers, but for The Dark Knight Rises, I avoided everything. And I'm so happy I did. This film is too good to be spoiled.
Nolan didn't fail. Not at all. The Dark Knight Rises closes out its trilogy like film has ever done before. We've seen so many trilogies collapse when it comes to their third entries. Spider-Man 3 wrecked a franchise. Our faith in Nolan was rewarded, as the director has delivered not only another masterpiece, but a film that reaches epic heights like few other films ever have.
Christian Bale has always put an emphasis on making Bruce Wayne a flesh-and-blood person, not just the secret identity of Batman. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bale gives us his most nuanced performance as Wayne, tying together all the strings that he had been pulling at in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Bale brought the character of Bruce Wayne to heights that we had never seen in a Batman movie prior to Nolan's trilogy, and it's doubtful we'll ever see an actor match his accomplishments. Christian Bale is Bruce Wayne.
Many people were worried that with Ledger's The Joker out of the picture, The Dark Knight Rises would feel deflated and empty. That is not the case. Not by a long shot. While Bane isn't the unpredictable and insane villain that The Joker was, he's terrifying in his own ways. Tom Hardy, unrecognizable behind Bane's mask, is a brutal, brutal villain. A terrorist with a plan to bring Gotham to its knees. He is ruthless. He is violent. He is evil.
In the first two films in Nolan's trilogy, Batman was always the bigger man in fights. He was the one delivering the heavy-handed blows. Batman's strength, weakened by an eight-year absence, is dwarfed by Bane's. Superhero movies always put the hero in situations where they want you to think that all is lost, but in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane's assault on Batman and Gotham seriously makes you wonder if you're witnessing the true end.
Anne Hathaway nailed the role of Catwoman, or as this film only refers to as, Selena Kyle. The character's inclusion in The Dark Knight Rises was probably the most worrisome piece of the puzzle going into the film, but the actress created a character who wasn't campy and who meshed with the Batman world that Nolan had created. Just as Ledger's performance of The Joker made us forget Jack Nicholson's version of the character, Hathaway's version of Catwoman just made Michelle Pfeiffer's performance obsolete.
I would love to gush about the film's ending, but I can't without spoiling the movie. But ... THAT ENDING. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Every piece in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises meant something, and Nolan made sure that the payoff in the end was worth it. There are characters and actors and things that I'm leaving out of this review, and it's because I'm don't want to ruin anything for you. I don't want to just give them a courtesy mention while dancing around their importance. Everything in The Dark Knight Rises — Joseph Gordon Levitt's addition, Michael Caine's heart-breaking return as Alfred, all of the gadgets you've seen in the commercials — they all play their parts.
While you're watching The Dark Knight Rises, take a moment to think about how you're witnessing the final hours of one of the greatest triumphs in filmmaking history. Nolan took a franchise that was horribly broken, destroyed by years of Batnipples, Mr. Freeze puns and disrespect, and he elevated it to something that we had never seen superhero films do before. Yes, these are Batman movies, but they've always been about more, about something bigger. A critique of our society, a reflection on the world that we're living in. Nolan took Batman, and he crafted the franchise into some of the most ambitious filmmaking we've ever seen.
As you sit in the cinema watching The Dark Knight Rises, realize that while you'll probably see Batman on the big screen again, you'll never again see this Batman.
This legend has ended.