With “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final film in director Christopher Nolan's meditative and brutal “Batman” trilogy, Nolan orchestrates an artistically brave, uncompromised conclusion. It does not top 2008's “The Dark Knight,” but it sustains that film's excellence, building tension throughout and ending the saga with equal measures of wrenching catharsis and cautious hope for Bruce Wayne's beloved, beleaguered Gotham City.
Eight years after the Batman took the fall for District Attorney Harvey Dent's death and disappeared, the prosecutor is something of a Gotham saint: his policies of airtight due process, harsh penalties and nonexistent parole effectively decapitated organized crime in the city. Wayne (Christian Bale) and Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) quashed the reality of Dent's final miserable days as Two-Face, but as “Rises” opens, Wayne is a recluse, in seemingly permanent mourning after the death of lifelong love Rachel Dawes. He stays locked in Wayne Manor with only Alfred (Michael Caine) allowed to see him. It seems, for the moment, the Batman is no longer needed.
Then a master jewel thief masquerading as hired help steals something precious and irreplaceable from Wayne, who begins to reengage, slowly but just in time, because the clever thief, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) offers the billionaire a warning.
“There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne,” she said. “You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
To be sure, Wayne let many things slip, including his business and charities, and just as the entreaties of philanthropist Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and the lassitude of his company awaken his concerns, the storm begins. It starts with identity theft, corporate malfeasance, bad policing and robbery, but it ends with Bane (Tom Hardy), a monstrous, hulking master criminal who speaks through a mask that looks like one-part radiator, one-part ball gag.
Bane comes on like a nightmare and operates like a terrorist, but he speaks like a master politician through that awful mechanical filter. Once he harnesses one of Wayne Industries' instruments of good for the ultimate evil, a terrified Gotham City populace is cowed into a kind of Stockholm Syndrome-like fealty to the captor, who leverages Dent's overreach to pit neighbor against neighbor in a city edging toward apocalypse. Gordon and his police force, including a trusted rookie cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), must fight a guerilla war against Bane as the clock ticks toward Gotham City's end time.
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“The Dark Knight Rises”