Nolan doesn’t disappoint in epic conclusion to Batman trilogy

Grade: A-

Nolan doesn’t disappoint in epic conclusion to Batman trilogy
Christian Bale (“The Fighter”) returns to play the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman as he flies across Gotham City.

The highly anticipated conclusion of the Batman trilogy hit theaters July 20, and the cast and crew deliver something for everybody. Literary critics will find depth and meaning, action-adventure junkies will find fight scenes galore and fans of the original DC Comics will get to see a host of characters they’ve come to love and hate---some of which they’d never thought they would see again. It’s all there in “The Dark Knight Rises,” woven together seamlessly as a fitting crown jewel on the head of the latest rendition of the Caped Crusader’s escapades.

Christian Bale (“The Fighter”) reprises the role of Bruce Wayne and The Batman, who returns to Gotham after eight years in retirement just in time to fight Bane (Tom Hardy, “This Means War”), a masked villain who seeks to hold Gotham hostage in an extremist plot of populism to erase the corruption that’s plagued Manhattan’s fictional counterpart. With the help of the standard cast of characters of Gotham Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) and scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”), as well as some new faces including Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, “One Day”), better known as Catwoman, and Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50”), Wayne must---what else?--- save the citizens of Gotham while dealing with his own physical and mental weaknesses.

The creators of the Batman trilogy, at the direction of Christopher Nolan (“Inception”), have made their superhero movies into true insights on the human condition. The movie is rich in allegory and symbolism, pitting the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich and the loyal against the treacherous. It’s striking to essentially see a Gotham version of the French Revolution play out in all its ugly glory, complete with a citizen-run, unjust justice system and quotes from “A Tale of Two Cities.” The lecture on human nature can be heavy-handed at times, but it’s genuine and deliberate.

But the story leaves something to be desired. Granted, the twists and turns have the audience guessing until the end, making the two and a half hours pass by in a flash. But anybody who has not seen “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight” will spend half of the movie wondering how some of these characters know each other. Going back to the original two movies (which stand alone much better than the third installment ever will) reveals brilliant foreshadowing, and it’s clear Nolan and his team methodically created a story arc that is compelling and thorough. True Nolan fans will not be disappointed in the ending of one of the few cinematic works of art to deserve the name “epic.”

But even epics have flaws. The final plot holes and abundant deus ex machinas mar an otherwise believable script. The final scenes are canned and groan-worthy.

However, the cast more than makes up for these flaws in acting prowess. Hardy’s Bane is a shining example of brilliant acting; he’s stoic and controlled throughout, and he contrasts nicely with the delightfully manic performance of the late Heath Ledger’s (“The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”) Joker in this movie’s prequel. Hardy takes a faceless man and gives him depth and character without appearing robotic. That is no easy task.

Hathaway is also fantastic as a sociopathic jewel thief. The rising star takes the feline aspects of her villain and makes them more covert than apparent; it’s more of an overall attitude of standoffish arrogance than the outright, animalistic mannerisms that viewers saw in Michelle Pfeiffer’s original Catwoman.

Gordon-Levitt has matured significantly, and he carries a gravitas that was barely noticeable in “Inception” (alumni of “Inception” appear en masse in “Dark Knight Rises,” including Nolan, Zimmer, Hardy, Michael Caine (“Harry Brown”) as Wayne’s butler, Alfred, and Marion Cotillard (“La Vie en Rose”) as Wayne’s latest squeeze, Miranda Tate). He carries himself with poise and purpose, and it’s exciting to see how far the young man has come from humble beginnings of “Third Rock from the Sun.”

There are flaws to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but it is a fitting tribute and an absolute must-see. It’s difficult to keep today’s audience entertained for almost two and a half hours straight. The last two movies did just that, and the final installment is no exception.

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