Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight , Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is losing money and Wayne Enterprises is sinking into financial crisis as it begins to be consumed by a crooked business partner (Australia's Ben Mendelsohn). Not only is Bruce Wayne's life falling apart; Batman has since been branded an enemy by the people of Gotham City as he is held responsible for Harvey Dent's murder. Dent is now remembered as a hero, so obviously no one found out he in fact turned into Two-Face. Batman has not shown himself to Gotham in that time, but Wayne feels he must once more, as he owes it to the people to set the record straight. Wayne's faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) feels different, that Wayne doesn't need to prove anything. He might need to anyway though, because underground terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) is hatching his master plan of nuclear proportions as he takes control of Gotham City in a move that's reminiscent of John Carpenter's Escape From New York .
I won't go into detail here, or try and explain the ins and outs of it because you'll be reading all day. In fact, the audience is kept in the dark for near to two-thirds of the way through the film's exhaustive two-and-a-half hour runtime so anything I say about that won't make sense until you've endured most of the film anyway.
Tom Hardy as Bane (image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Batman enlists the help of cat burglar Selena (Anne Hathaway), who is never actually referred to as 'Catwoman' in the film. Perhaps director Christopher Nolan didn't want to place her character in a box (figuratively speaking). On the entertainment value front, The Dark Knight Rises owes much of its primary audience engagement to the public hype and the marketing build-up to a much-anticipated release. This film is advertised most significantly as "the epic conclusion of the Dark Knight legend", so naturally that's what the audience want: the conclusion. As a result, this is one of those films where you sit there waiting for the end; not necessarily because the movie sucks (which it certainly does not) but because that's what we're waiting for.
The first two acts consist of a series of poignant conversations that manage to bleakly subvert trite dialogue of other superhero movies around at the moment, and challenge Bruce and those he cares about to consider the true meaning of good in the face of evil. This is essentially what lies at the core of the Dark Knight legend. It supplies the ingredients needed to create a grim and sometimes tragic tale of a moral high ground that comes tumbling down in the face of destruction and chaos. Director Nolan creates this atmosphere with absolute clarity and a distinct vision. I might argue however that in certain scenes it's dark for sake of being dark, but nonetheless the audience is transported to another time and place and because of that, the drama works.
The acceptability of such a story also owes itself to the talent of a brilliant ensemble cast including Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine, Marion Cotillard, and Joseph-Gordon Levitt, as well as others that were mentioned earlier. In fact, the most epic aspect of this "epic conclusion" is the cast, all of whom add something to the material. Together they contribute to justifying not only a world without order, but a world that wouldn't necessarily be better without it. A personal highlight for me was Anne Hathaway's turn as the seductive, conniving jewel thief.
Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle, the 'Catwoman' (image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Although the film rides on its long-awaited arrival to cinemas, it shows us not the man behind the mask, but the man without the mask, as a way to tell - or rather end - a story of loss, revenge, destruction and anarchy. The tone and pace of the film is consistent, but it never really becomes exciting until the final act when it ends in such a satisfying way - it truly is an "epic conclusion". Just bleeding with talent from its ensemble cast, coupled with a visionary script, story and direction, The Dark Knight Rises provides us with justified closure, even if you have to wait two hours to get there.