It’s a word so overused that it’s beginning to lose its meaning. Nowadays, the word can be found everywhere on blogs, Twitter and Facebook to describe everything from a meal, to a birthday party, even something as mundane as running an errand. It’s become this generation’s “cool,” “bad,” or “sick,” an easily inserted go-to word to describe anything remotely positive.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, the first thing that pops to mind when I hear the word “epic” is the “Iliad” by Homer, which accurately represents the true meaning of the word — a creative work centered upon a hero in which a series of great achievements or events is narrated in elevated style. Taking that definition, a really good slice of pizza is not “epic,” nor is a fun day at the beach. But the Batman trilogy created by director Christopher Nolan truly is.
Tasked with relaunching the story of the popular DC comic book superhero, Nolan created a solid foundation for the character with “Batman Begins” in 2005, then gave audiences what I believe is the greatest comic book character film ever in “The Dark Knight” in 2008. “The Dark Knight” went on to gross $533 million domestically as well as win two Academy Awards, one for Heath Ledger’s iconic performance as The Joker. With its successful first two chapters and the addition of two popular Batman villains in Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), expectations are indeed high for the concluding film of the trilogy. So does “The Dark Knight Rises” hold up to the rest of the series? No doubt.
Taking place eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight,” Batman has been blamed for the death of Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face), leading to the Dent Act, which cleaned up all organized crime in the city. Gotham is at peace, and there is seemingly no need for the Batman, so billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has been keeping a low profile, happy to sacrifice his innocence for the benefit of a crime-free city. But then a robbery in his own home by master thief Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) leads Wayne down a sequence of events, ultimately ending with an encounter with the ruthless terrorist Bane, who is threatening to destroy Gotham with a nuclear bomb created by Wayne himself, originally intended to be a source of clean energy.
While not as complete or polished as its predecessor, “The Dark Knight Rises” certainly does provide a very satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy. Admittedly, it would’ve been nearly impossible for Hardy and Hathaway to match the mastery of Ledger’s unforgettable Joker, but both do their best and give solid, if not great, performances.
Hathaway, in particular, shows a nice balance of self-preservation and vulnerability as Catwoman, who could be either friend or foe to Batman. Veterans Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, as well as Bale, also continue their great work in the series. And along with Tom Hardy, Nolan makes “The Dark Knight Rises” a mini-“Inception” reunion by adding Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard to the cast. Gordon-Levitt’s career is deservedly peaking right now, and he brings a welcome everyman’s point of view of the ongoings, playing an idealistic policeman who believes that Batman is innocent. I’ve never really been a fan of Cotillard’s work, and she is the weakest link in this cast as a pioneer for clean energy who helps save Wayne Industries. But she takes what should be a throw-away character and makes her relevant by the story’s end.
“The Dark Knight Rises” is not an all-out action fest and expectations in terms of spectacular set pieces should be tempered. There are a few action sequences, but nothing that is truly exceptional like Nolan’s zero-gravity fight sequence in “Inception.” The fight scenes are pretty pedestrian and as grounded in reality as a comic book fight can be, with even Bane and Batman merely trading punches in their two main showdowns. Instead, “The Dark Knight Rises” focuses on character and story, but doesn’t lose effectiveness in doing so. The build-up of the story is gradual, but mesmerizing, as is Hans Zimmer’s marvelous score that accompanies it.
By no means is the film perfect, but the flaws can be overlooked when judging the film as a whole. For instance there are a few plot points that are obviously convenient for the sake of moving the story along and with so much going on in the story, a few scenes go on too long, while others could use a little more exposition.
But overall Nolan has done a tremendous job in telling the story of his Batman. With his three films, we have witnessed his origin, his highs when idolized by the public, his lows when crucified by the same people, his unforgettable battles with the most memorable villains, and now his conclusion. And that, my friends, is an epic.
“The Dark Knight Rises,” 164 minutes, is Rated PG-13 and opens in theaters today.