Nolan had the foresight to gather a well-respected group of actors who, on first glance, weren't obvious choices to bring the bat-inspired superhero and his friends, associates, and enemies to life on the screen. Prior to being cast as the man to next don the Batsuit, Christian Bale was best known for starring in American Psycho. His credits at that point also included Newsies, Little Women, Velvet Goldmine, and Laurel Canyon - not exactly a list that immediately makes you think 'potential Batman.' Edgy, indie films - yes. Big-budget superhero studio movies - no. But Nolan had faith in Bale's ability to crawl into any character and wear its skin, even if that skin was covered in a latex suit with pointy ears. He also brought in Michael Caine for his first major comic book-inspired film, and the chemistry between Bale's Bruce Wayne/Batman and his loyal servant, Alfred, was magical.
Gary Oldman (Sid and Nancy, JFK, Dracula) balanced two franchises with his role as Jim Gordon in Nolan's Batman series and Sirius Black in the Harry Potter films. As with Caine, Oldman made his supporting Batman character into something special.
The Batman villains proved Nolan's genius at finding the right peg to fit in the right hole. As I said in my review of Batman, Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow was a spotlight stealer. "His performance is all in the eyes. If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, then trust me you don’t want to meet Murphy in Scarecrow mode in a dark alley." Skip forward to The Dark Knight Rises and Tom Hardy's Bane, and once again the performance is all in the eyes. With his face and voice obscured by a mask, it's the eyes that need to sell how deep the character's depravity is, and Hardy's menacing physicality makes his portrayal of a Batman villain worthy of the franchise.
But second only to Bale as Batman, the franchise's most memorable performance came from another unlikely casting choice. Heath Ledger lives on in films, and his legacy is topped by the final - and perhaps finest - performance of his career as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Again quoting from a past review: "In The Dark Knight, it's Ledger's Joker the rest of the cast needs to keep step with. This Joker is nasty-scary, a greasy, grotesque creature lifted straight from the nightmares of coulrophobics. Even those not given to fearing clowns are going to recoil in fright from Ledger's mesmerizing performance."
But what does any of the above have to do with reviewing The Dark Knight Rises? Yes, this is basically a love letter to the genius of Christopher Nolan more so than a review of his, unfortunately, final Batman film as director. But truthfully, it's best to go into The Dark Knight Rises knowing as little as possible about the plot, and a review, no matter how basic, could possibly give away something best left to moviegoers to discover for themselves. With The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan brings the franchise full circle, leaving no doubt the marriage between filmmaker and material has been a loving, albeit too short, affair.
The Dark Knight Rises is everything you could want or hope for in the final film of this Batman trilogy. Expectations are exceeded, the action is grander, the new additions to the cast (in particular Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, and Marion Cotillard) are outstanding, and the 2 hour and 44 minute running time simply flies by. I couldn't imagine a more perfect way to wind up this trilogy. It's incredibly sad to be saying good-bye to Nolan, Bale, Oldman, Caine, and the rest of the Batman gang, but if we have to allow them to move on, at least we have one of the most mesmerizing, entertaining trilogies ever released to show for their efforts.
The Dark Knight Rises was directed by Christopher Nolan and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language.
Theatrical Release: July 20, 2012