Flick of the Day: The Dark Knight Rises

For better or worse, comic book adaptations have largely come to dominate the list of Summer box office titans over the last decade since the release of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man in 2002. This film, an adaptation of perhaps the most commercial of the comic book superheroes spawned two sequels and even a reboot this Summer. Perhaps an unexpected consequence of its success was to set off somewhat of an arms race between the two publishing empires Marvel and DC who have come to dominate the genre. Each Summer since the year of Spidey, there has been at least one major release from the pair. From the awful (Daredevil, Hulk) to the interesting (Iron Man, X-Men), Marvel has been the more dominant of the two with a four year cycle of films culminating in this Summer's tent pole release Avengers Assemble. Perhaps the last laugh may go to DC Comics who have garnered critical acclaim for Christopher Nolan's series of Batman films culminating in today's flick of the day and last in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
Perhaps the most pleasing element of Nolan's approach to the Batman character has been the intellectual legitimacy which he has garnered for the genre and for his own work. Nolan's Batman is an adult creation who endures in a relentlessly downbeat Gotham, and a world away from the witty quips of an Iron Man or other more child friendly creations. After the success of the previous instalments in the series 2005's Batman Begins and the Heath Ledger dominated The Dark Knight in 2008, hopes were unnaturally high amongst the near-rabid fan base. 
Opening 8 years after the events of the previous film, we find ourselves in a much changed Gotham. Thanks to the Harvey Dent Act, crime has dropped to an all time low under the auspices of Commissioner Gordon, played again by the great Gary Oldman. Meanwhile Bruce Wayne has retired into seclusion, a Howard Hughes like tragic figure who hides in the shadows of his vast mansion while his Batman alter ego has not been seen since the death of Dent at the end of the previous film and has taken the blame accordingly. However there is a storm brewing in the shadows of Gotham, a mysterious cat burglar named Selina Kyle is making herself known. Kyle is played by the surprisingly adept Anne Hathaway. Also stepping into the complacent Gotham is the terrorist Bane played by a bulked up Tom Hardy. Bane is the very antithesis of Bruce Wayne's moral code,a masked man who wishes to see Gotham brought to its very knees and is introduced to us in a spectacular opening scene. The cast is rounded out by the ever reliable Michael Caine reprising his role as Alfred and Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young police officer with an independent streak while Marion Cotillard is underused as a wealthy social campaigner.
Without delving too deeply into the plot, suffice as to say Christian Bale's mournful Bruce Wayne is forced to don the black cape once more to defend the city once more but will he still be up to it or will Bane prove too much for him? The films moves from one stand out scene to another while still managing to detail the moral turmoil at the heart of the tale.
Despite coming in at an ass numbing 2 hours and 45 minutes, the film doesn't seem to lag at least I never felt my mind wandering. There is much to enjoy here from a visual perspective and as with so much of Nolan's best work, there is a subtle subtext at work here. Bane appears to be less the kind of unthinking Lucifer that was Ledger's Joker and more of a crusading villain attempting to return Gotham to its own year zero. There are some interesting references to corrupt bankers and the evils of wealth but they are not fully followed through and merely exist to hang Bane's psyche on.
Again without giving anything away, the ending is an enjoyable piece of storytelling which ties up the looses ends nicely while delivering the kind of emotional punch and what if analysis seen in Nolan's Inception. The wide and varied cast deliver in their respective roles with a special mention for Michael Caine, who as Alfred is the moral core of the film attempting to rein in Bruce's need to satisfy and save. Caine will be 80 next March and is still delivering performances that wow. As noted, Marion Cotillard is largely underdeveloped given her pivotal role in the film though perhaps this was intentional. Nolan's direction is never heavy handed  and hits all the right notes in the set-pieces while the score from Hans Zimmer serves to enhance the action with its terrible Sturm und Drang giving the piece an epic feel. And the film is epic if nothing else, the breadth of the story and the moral complexity of the characters is unlike anything previously attempted in a comic book adaptation. 
While not hitting the heights of perfection which so many fans had unreasonably hoped for, this is a strong ending for Nolan's trilogy and nicely finishes out the tale which began uncertainly in 2005. Bale is undoubtedly the best actor to have taken on the role of Batman and his broody intensity was well matched with Nolan's attempts to take the character down the dark road to which it is best suited. Arguably Nolan's best work has been outside of Batman with Inception and The Illusionist. I look forward to his next work. So then in conclusion, not perfect but a very enjoyable film all the same.