Movie review: The Dark Knight Rises

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From the July 19, 2012 edition

As I rewatched the second chapter of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy early this week, a little dread crept into the sea of anticipation I had for the finale. What if the whole thing crumbles under the sheer weight of this?

It is indeed weighty. Nolan made the superhero movie darker and more grown-up than ever — even as the genre has crawled in that direction continually over the years. “The Dark Knight” was, frankly, the best film of 2008. It deserved serious Oscar consideration.

So in watching Heath Ledger’s anarchic Joker performance, the spectacular action set-pieces and tight-as-a-drum pacing, I rightly thought to myself, How can Nolan possibly top this?

Well, he can’t. That was a cinematic lightning strike. But Nolan brings the trilogy to a sweeping and emotional close befitting all that came before with “The Dark Knight” Rises.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” is a serious film, and a stirring one. It doesn’t offer the pop thrills of its predecessor — or this summer’s top hit so far, “The Avengers” — but its storytelling ambition is unmatched among superhero films.

Nolan loves a storytelling challenge — hell, he came into the public eye with a movie (“Memento”) that told its story backward. He interweaves even more characters — notably Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar (hmm …) Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s altruistic young cop John Blake — into the world of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. (Coincidentally, Bale has toned down that gruff “Batman voice” considerably.)

The villain bar was set impossibly high with Ledger’s Joker performance, but Nolan gets one that’s nearly as indelible with Bane (Tom Hardy), a hulking figure with a mask strapped over his mouth like the most terrifying orthodontic device imaginable. Bane is imposing, terrifying and demands attention every second he is onscreen.

The plot is best left to your own unraveling — and you probably don’t want anything ruined. It’s a dense film, even with a runtime that nears the three-hour mark. It is in many ways a war movie, and Gotham at large is at stake.

If there’s a major flaw here, it’s that there may just be too much. Character and plot development are deft and efficient, but there’s so very much going on here that it threatens to overwhelm.

But it’s almost its own delight to be overwhelmed in Nolan’s “Dark Knight” world. Sticking the landing on a trilogy can be challenging business. Nolan ensures that his will remain one of the greatest ever.