In January of 2008, Hollywood lost one of its unknowingly finest actors, the infamous, lovable Heath Ledger, and in July of 2008, we got to see that actor rise too late to the crop of Hollywood's finest with his unbeatable performance as the sadistic Joker. As much as the world was enamored by his performance when the credits rolled, we were equally anxious to know how it would be humanly possible to make another film with the loss of Ledger in the air. There needed to be another one, though. The franchise and clever work Nolan had put into the legendary name of Batman was too good to only have two films. We wanted more. However, Nolan was timid on returning to Batman as well, when the Joker was literally left hanging there at the end of The Dark Knight. With great focus though, Nolan along with his brother, Jonathan Nolan (co-writer of The Dark Knight) and David. S. Goyer (co-writer of Batman Begins) went to the drawing board and came up with the story that would drive the concluding piece of Bruce Wayne's tale. And what an amazing story they created.
It's been eight years since Batman nobly took the blame for the death of Harvey Dent and went into hiding. Although Dent turned evil when he lost his love and half of his face, Wayne knew Gotham still had to view him as a hero, otherwise the people of Gotham could never believe in good again. We are re-introduced to the frail, crippled Bruce Wayne who has been a recluse for the last eight years, when an intriguing waitress steals his mother's pearls and fingerprints from his safe, during a party thrown at Wayne's mansion. The waitress is really the witty, apathetic Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a thief who works for a corrupt businessman and rival of Bruce Wayne, Roland Daggett and enjoys donning a cat suit to acquire things she wants. Daggett happens to work with the incredulous and feared new terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane is an untouchable man of muscle with a contrasting voice like Sean Connery's. He is rumored to have trained with Raz-Al-Gul, Wayne's trainer, who is the head of the league of shadows. Bane was however kicked out of the insoluble league for being too radical and now has his sights set to destroy the corrupt Gotham. With Bane's underground army building, Wayne is pulled out of retirement to put back on his mask. First he needs some support from his more than loving butler Alfred (Michael Caine), a visit to Wayne Enterprises head Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) for some new toys, and if he's lucky, some underground information from Ms. Kyle.
In addition to the characters mentioned above, Gary Oldman reprises his role as Gotham's commissioner James Gordon, who has kept criminals off the streets up until now. Marion Cotillard plays a member of Wayne Enterprises who insists on Wayne continuing his father's philanthropic efforts and Joseph-Gordon Levitt plays a hothead rookie cop who is Batman's strongest supporter. As usual with Nolan's films, no character or piece of dialogue is put to waste. Each person is there for a reason and the Nolan brothers know how to weave them all together through various believable interactions that connect each story. With this many characters in a film, you are almost guaranteed to become confused, but the Nolans just use them to perfect a complex but completely fluid and realistic script. The best part to embellish about the Batman story is the realism. There's no magic, no crazy unimaginable powers -- there is just a real world that we can relate to but that can still surprise us. Gotham represents that perfectly as a city that we could easily be citizens of despite its fictional nature. Something else that is expertly utilized in this film is humor. Nolan carefully places funny moments, especially with the role of Catwoman, to his advantage, while still keeping the mood of severity and intensity very high.
The number-one point that people use when arguing nothing will top The Dark Knight is of course Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning Joker, which has been forever instilled in our memories. However, that was certainly not the only trait about The Dark Knight that astonished us. No matter what Christopher Nolan does, we are always won over. Films like Memento, The Prestige and Batman Begins all thrived without Ledger, and The Dark Knight Rises can be added to that list of celebrated works of cinema because one important skillful trait of Nolan's as a director is that he knows how to cast. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle is arguably the best female performance in Batman history, comic book history, action movie history -- you name it. Hathaway, who amazed audiences with her role as a recovering addict in Rachel Getting Married, still continues to grow and diversify herself as an actress, most expectantly with Tom Hooper's Les Miserables, out this Christmas. She is the real highlight of The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy makes a close second as the captivating Bane, someone as equally petrifying as the Joker, but this time both physically and mentally. Finally, Christian Bale continues to beautifully carry this grand story as Wayne and easily adds more weight and realism to the character than any other actor has before.
A Batman film, or an action film in general, has simply never been as stunning. Nolan, who is as equally dexterous with visual effects as he is with storytelling, abstained from using 3D and CGI, but instead used IMAX to give each shot a huge visual capacity. The lighting is also heavily affective showing the dreary and cold city once Bane has taken over.
To put it simply, Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest directors of all time, right up there with Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski, because he did not reboot the Batman series. He reinvented it with quality filmmaking. He inspires emerging filmmakers because he is able to combine his abstract creativity in his writing with a commercial franchise like Batman that we are complete suckers for. There's nothing wrong with seeing a fun action movie, especially when it has a clever script and good actors, such as The Hunger Games or The Avengers. Nonetheless, I have never walked out of an action movie -- let alone a comic book movie -- being so dumbfounded by the amount of thought put into each aspect of it and the amount of thoughts I'm left thinking when the credits roll.
In the aftermath of the horrific massacre that occurred during the screening of this film in Aurora, Colorado, it's more than likely that people might shun away from The Dark Knight Rises. However, a gunman shouldn't scare people away from the best film of the year yet. The Dark Knight Rises is enjoyable, gorgeous, thought-provoking and most importantly, a well-crafted finale to the most memorable and exciting trilogy of all time, and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy it.