And now, the end is here

Bert B. Sulat Jr.
Grand and imperfect, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is still a satisfying finish to Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy

SLINK OR SWIM. Anne Hathaway aboard the Batpod as sly cat burglar Selina Kyle. All movie stills from Warner Bros. Pictures

MANILA, Philippines – The Dark Knight Rises, the last in British director Christopher Nolan’s trio of Batman flicks, is all about heft. 

It all starts with the central villain, a bulky sociopath known only as Bane — a domineering, lethal combination of brawn and brain. (As Bane, British actor Tom Hardy, obscured by a gas mask that looks cooler than the comic-book baddie’s original facial cover, faintly echoes the hulking criminal he portrayed in Bronson, his little-seen, 2008 tour de force.)

From there, Rises lays on one kind of heaviness after another. 

There are heavy emotional dilemmas, such as the prospect of endangering one’s life to save others’. That concept results in high drama between English actors Christian Bale and Michael Caine, as reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne and fatherly, driven-to-tears butler Alfred Pennyworth respectively — the latter pushed to the breaking point in convincing his lifetime ward to cease being the Batman. 

There’s sociological weightiness as well. 

Rises’ story not just progresses but mutates into something more than unbelievable superhero fodder, the narrative doubling as a venue for symbolism. And we’re not even talking of the Phoenix-rising-from-the-ashes suggestions of the movie’s trailers or very title, or the continued exploration of heroism as a lonely road even with the few supporters to one’s noble cause. 

(Some spoilers in the next two sentences…) When we see Bane and goons crash into the stock exchange then liberate imprisoned lowlifes, take over Wayne/Batman’s beloved Gotham City and blow up a football field during a game, all that anarchy not only apes the French Revolution but also allude to the recent woes of economically struggling and terrorism-traumatized America. 

And when a Wayne Enterprises machine for harnessing clean energy gets seized for its nuclear power, viewers could be reminded of the continuing threats posed by the armed likes of Iran and North Korea, and ponder how certain objects can be good or bad depending on the bearer. 

(As I was drafting this review, reports came out of a shooting spree in a Colorado, USA, midnight screening of Rises — a terrible, ironic footnote on criminality despite the assertions of good triumphing over bad of this PG-13 movie. The dismaying tragedy in this aside, unimpressionable moviegoers, those able to distinguish between moviemaking fakery and palpable evil, should brace for possible renewed debates over cinematic violence. And an inspiring suggestion has been posted on Facebook: that Christian Bale be “a real-life hero” and visit the victims.) 

MAN IN BLACK. Christian Bale suits up for his last go-round as the Dark Knight

Weighty and lengthy

This being a Batman movie, the gadgetry is heavy as well. 

The so-called “tumblers” — likenesses of the tank-like Batmobile — abound. Also showcased anew is the self-righting motorbike called the Batpod, its wheels able to roll sideways — and which, as ridden by Anne Hathaway as slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle, makes for a rather erotic visage. Then there’s the massive jet-chopper nicknamed the Bat, with propellers on its belly instead of overhead and able to negotiate between skyscrapers. Perhaps the best is more portable: an anti-paparazzi device that Wayne can click to discourage nosy photographers from snapping away.

Adding to its coolness quotient is The Dark Knight Rises’ “title card,” i.e., Nolan’s creative take on the Batman logo. Whereas in 2005’s Batman Begins the logo was formed through a swarm of bats and in 2008’s The Dark Knight it came out of thick smoke, Rises brings it forth in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it effect that also hints at the new movie’s wintry setting and tone.

All this plays out in the simmering, build-build-build fashion Nolan had established with those two preceding Bat-flicks, resulting in the director’s longest movie yet: Rises clocks in at 15 minutes shy of three hours. (Seems that Hollywood has been open to breaching its usual two-hour movie limit — liberated, I would like to think, by Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, he of the international filmfest-winning, truly epic 10-hour opuses.)

And to match all of that narrative immensity: some 50% of the movie was shot using Imax cameras, resulting in transition shots and pretty much all of the action sequences filling the huge screens of Imax theaters from top to bottom. In other words, The Dark Knight Rises is visually muscular, too.

FIELD OF SCREAMS. A football player survives the worst game of his career

Here’s where the story ends

Given all that, Nolan and company, including brother and co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan and story co-conceiver David S. Goyer, have brought their take on the Caped Crusader to a close in one grand, there’s-no-tomorrow fashion. 

Somehow, The Dark Knight Rises manages to cram in all that while also placing plot details sourced from Bane’s appearances in the Batman comic books and circling back to the origin story of Batman Begins — and still come off a little less busy than The Dark Knight from 4 years ago. (And despite observations to the contrary, I believe that being totally unacquainted with DC Comics or with Nolan’s earlier Bat flicks is no hindrance to getting a rise out of Rises.)

Much of the cast essay their roles well despite the limitation of their allotted screen time or necessity. 

In addition to veritable chameleon Gary Oldman’s commissioner Jim Gordon role, the winning standout is not Hardy (his Bane should have gotten more quotable quotes), not Hathaway (she’s great as the proverbial Catwoman but not as unforgettable as Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns); it’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who gets to portray an idealistic, clean-cut cop, in the process embodying the everyman potential for good.

CROWDPLEASING. Gary Oldman as police commissioner Jim Gordon (flanked by photos of Aaron Eckhart as the late district attorney Harvey Dent)

Flaunting the flaws

Yet, even as Wally Pfister’s cinematography can be breathtaking, even as Nolan’s penchant for plausibility attains for this movie a stunning realism, and even as the film’s ambitions result in cineplex fare that’s more complex than usual, Rises is not without its imperfections — repercussions of such a humongous silver-screen undertaking, sure, but still. 

Certain plot loopholes aside, (vague-spoiler alerts in this paragraph) I felt particularly miffed at the expected face-off between Batman and Bane, their encounter comparable to the most yawning fight Manny Pacquiao ever flew to Las Vegas for. And there is a needless storytelling twist somewhere down Rises’ road that can make discerning viewers go, “Blah” instead of “Whoa.”

Still, as far as “threequels” go, this third of a trilogy is far from being a dud a la Batman Forever or a degenerative eyesore like The Matrix Revolutions or as unnecessarily bloated as Spider-Man 3.

If anything, The Dark Knight Rises is more akin to Return of the Jedi — excellent in its own right, if not superior to its immediate sibling (in this case The Dark Knight, with its Joker-rific turn by the late Heath Ledger, and The Empire Strikes Back, with its surprise daddy twist). 

THIS MAN’S A GAS. Tom Hardy is in-your-face as the nefarious Bane

Perhaps the best thing about The Dark Knight Rises is its ending, a montage that both provides a satisfying closure to the 165-minute movie and Nolan’s entire Batman story arc but also hints at the wondrous possibilities that can be thought of — if not by Nolan then at least by appreciative audiences who might keep the movie going in their heads. –

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