With “The Dark Knight Rises,” Christopher Nolan brings his Batman trilogy to a close with a majestic, almost completely satisfying crash. Everything feels epic about the film: the characters, the effects, the emotional stakes — even the missteps (and there are more than a few). Because this director puts an individualist’s stamp on all his movies, from “Memento” to “Inception” to the two films preceding this one, “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008), he’s that very rare creature, a blockbuster auteur. “The Dark Knight Rises” feels personal, and that’s what separates it from dully efficient corporate products like “The Avengers” and cynical retreads like “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Nolan’s a Wagner for the multiplex, fashioning his operatic eccentricities on the grandest possible scale.
How eccentric? “Rises” is a superhero movie whose superhero at times seems like a supporting character. It’s eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse, hiding in stately Wayne Manor and tending wounds both physical and psychic. Bale brings the crazy-eyed intensity that makes him so alarmingly enjoyable to watch, but he’s effectively upstaged by the film’s villain, a hulking ogre named Bane who has a praying-mantis mouthguard and a voice on loan from Darth Vader. Through a combination of makeup and sheer will, British actor Tom Hardy disappears far beneath the surface of this character while suggesting hideous depths. “You’re pure evil,” someone gasps at Bane, who thunders back, “I’m necessary evil.”
Bane, whose roots intertwine with Batman’s own and who had a particularly formative upbringing in a desert prison known as The Pit, is leading an army of criminals with intentions that take a while to play out. Above ground, Gotham City seems at peace; in the sewers and tunnels below, an entire mirror-city of malicious enterprise flourishes and builds.
Above ground, too, characters collide and collude. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) pines for the return of Batman but spends too much of the film in a hospital bed; his eyes on the street include a doughty young beat cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the ace in the hole of “Inception.” Trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine) gets off a few teary monologues about Bruce’s tormented soul, and Wayne Enterprises head Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) is on hand to show off the new toys, which are choice. While “Rising” lacks a mercurial scene-stealer like the second film’s Joker — much less a performer with the pop baggage of the late Heath Ledger — it manages to convince us that more is more