*** Originally published on Beyond the Marquee, 07/17/12 ***
I hate the word “epic.” It’s been robbed of its meaning by teens that loiter around hot topic saying stupid stuff like, “Bro, that burrito at lunch was effin’ EPIC!!!” or “Last night was EPIC… I straight puked all over the sidewalk!!!!” Well, here are two real definitions of the word according to dictionary.com: 1) heroic; majestic; impressively great. 2) of unusually great size or extent. Well now that Comic-Con is finished and the press embargo has been lifted, I can tell you that Christopher Nolan’s new film The Dark Knight Rises is truly epic. To call it anything else, would actually be a slight on the adjective.
***Warning: possible spoilers ahead*** The film begins 8 years after Harvey Dent was “murdered” by the Batman (Christian Bale). The city is at peace with virtually all organized crime at a halt. The Caped Crusader hasn’t shown his cowl in ages, much like his alter-ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, who’s been mourning Rachel Dawes’ death by becoming a Howard Hughes-like recluse. While Gotham has flourished over the years, Wayne Enterprises has begun to crumble, with its namesake sinking much of the company’s finances into the pipe dream of a cold-fusion reactor. Unable to safeguard this technology from potentially being turned into a nuclear weapon, he chooses to keep the reactor a closely guarded secret, hoping that one day it will be used without risk. Enter, Bane (Inception‘s Tom Hardy), a masked mercenary hell-bent on destroying Gotham City and fulfilling the mission of his onetime mentor. Reluctantly working for Bane and his greedy upper-crust Gotham financiers, is master thief Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (a.k.a. Get Smart‘s Anne Hathaway). Talented, beautiful and deadly, Kyle wants a fresh start, but not unlike a cat she tiptoes around danger and always does what she must to land on her feet. As Bruce attempts to move on from his loss of Rachel, he dusts off the Batsuit, makes a shaky alliance with Catwoman and makes a go at Gotham’s new terror. But Bane isn’t just some meathead with a nuke – he’s concocted a master plan that will rob the Bat of everything. And I mean everything. ***End of possible spoilers***
Clocking in at a whopping 2 hours and 44 minutes, this is one huge movie. “Epic” even. That said, it moves at such a tight pace, feeling like only half that. There are many minutes of set-up here, with Batman and Commissioner Gordon not really appearing much in the first hour or so, but what you do get is young officer John Blake (the always incredible Joseph Gordon-Levitt) rising through the ranks, Catwoman and the sticky situations she finds herself in as she helps to set Bane’s plans in motion and plenty of the evil mastermind himself. This highlight’s Nolan’s genius: We know about Bruce Wayne and his tortured alter-ego (and obviously the audience comes in rooting for him.) However, we need to form attachments and opinions of the others to raise the stakes for our hero. And raise the stakes he does.
Heath Ledger’s Joker is certainly a tough act to follow. He was charismatic and manic, childish and violent. The perfect raving maniac. But Tom Hardy’s Bane is just evil incarnate. Quite possibly one of the most vicious villains ever put to film and while you hate and maybe even fear him, you can’t help but be mesmerized. He’s faster and stronger than Batman, has resources equal to or greater than Bruce Wayne and is ten times more devoted to destroying Gotham than the Bat ever was to saving it. The guy commands an entire Army (!) and for the first time in a Batman film, even the President of the United States is forced to acknowledge the hell being wreaked on Gotham City. Catwoman is smooth and sexy, a femme-fatale straight from an old film noir, full of double-crosses and willing to lie to your face with a cute grin. You want to trust her, but you’re never sure you can. Come to think about it, there’s lots to this movie you’re never sure about and there are plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing. With Batman beginning to show signs of slowing down, he’s vulnerable enough to make you wonder if he’s even going to survive this final installment.
I’ll never tell.
But I will tell you this, with a full-scale war being waged on Gotham City, the series ends with a bang, not a whimper… like the grand finale at a fireworks show. There’s action, adventure, romance, the evilest evil and the most heroic of saviors, incredible stunts and explosions, and a story that will stir up emotions in even the most stone-hearted viewer. It’s safe to say that Nolan is a master of his craft. It may be just as safe to say that he’s the best director working in movies today. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t only a fitting conclusion to the greatest superhero trilogy of all time, it’s also the best of the three.
And that’s something epic.