My poor Devil dressed in black. You bore the brunt of an unprecedented frenzy. Not only did you guard precious secrets from a rabid public, but you dealt with elaborate battle sequences involving thousands of people. With so much action on set and years of anticipation, how could you, one man, possibly keep everyone and everything safe? You can't. That's the reality. Even the greatest among us must have limits. We now understand that Batman is just a man and The Dark Knight Rises is just a film.
And that's okay. In fact, it's a relief.
This epic, conclusive entry to Christopher Nolan's so-real-you-feel-it superhero saga continues to take itself very seriously. That's what works. Most of the film seriously kicks ass. But as you know, it also means the fans will get so very serious about the whole show*. So everything needs to be handled carefully, from getting the story just right, to dealing with sneaky spies snapping photos on set. The consequence of mishandling even a small detail would have a ripple effect through both real and imagined worlds. The Internet is like an underground society that will ruthlessly claw out any vulnerable piece of information, both before and after the film comes out. So at this point, it's time you let your guard down, and let me defend Gotham for a while. Or at least do my best.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham is paralleling the post-9/11 experience with a Patriot Act that bears Harvey Dent's name. Crime is down because criminals were all quickly locked up, and the city's misunderstood protector hasn't been seen since. Not-so-coincidentally, Bruce Wayne has transformed into a reclusive billionaire. But that can't last when a bulging menace in a respiratory mask named Bane appears. He earns his screen cred by first one-uping The Joker's bank robbery with a daring and spectacular aerial heist. He then retreats to his subterranean society to plot increasingly bold assaults on the city.
We're also introduced to a sexy Cat burglar, played by Anne Hathaway in a (sigh-of-relief) satisfactory performance, and gutsy police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is the heir-apparent to Commissioner Gordon's virtue. Everyone alive in the real-world seems to affect the story in some way, plus a few more characters that are involved in delightful turns and surprises. All of Gotham City is now on trial for America's corporate greed, and Batman is often stuck out of the suit. The final reckoning comes in waves, with more and more people taking to the streets and taking sides.
We see this all unfold with unexpected visual clarity, as though Nolan actually listened to some of his critics. The average shot length in this film feels much more digestible, without sacrificing any energy. Even Bane's auditory performance is now thankfully crystal clear (after some near disastrous sneak peeks), although it does sound a little Jeremy Irons-meets-Darth Vader. But other moments feel visually cheated, like a climactic leap of faith and arguably the mid-point face-off that essentially breaks the film in two. The full frontal street battle managed to raise my pulse, but the limitations of a PG-13 rating let me down a bit with the sanitized mayhem. Batman himself is a moral creature who avoids killing, so I accept the approach, but it also reminds me how in terms of audience terror, The Joker's pen is mightier than the machine gun.
That's really all the eager public who harassed you wanted to know - can this film possibly live up to the previous one? Let's put it this way -it's a thrilling, ambitious, big-scale climax to an outstanding trilogy. The dramatic structure borrows a lot from The Dark Knight, and the story brings back many elements from Batman Begins. So the short answer is yes, it can withstand the hype, but it can't surpass it. The overall stakes are raised, but as advertised, the legend must end.
*Editor's Note: We here at DC&C try to avoid the hype leading up to big movies, so that our critical eye remains sharp and our initial enthusiasm unabated. Still, our strict editorial guidelines require that someone other than the original author must proof each review. In this case, Christopher was the only one to witness the sneak preview, meaning some poor soul had to step up and read this before seeing the movie. Your editor was bribed with both beer and popcorn to complete his task. If there are mistakes, it is because the keyboard was slick with tears, and the monitor blurry. Cry, for innocence lost too soon.