Christian Bale in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Ron Phillips / Warner Bros. )
On Friday, the curtain will finally lift on "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan's much-hyped and long-awaited conclusion to his Batman trilogy. Early reviews indicate that the film, starring franchise anchor Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman) and series newcomers Tom Hardy (Bane, the bad guy) and Anne Hathaway (cat burglar Selina Kyle), serves as a suitably dark, ambitious and well-crafted finale.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes that "The Dark Knight Rises" represents "big-time Hollywood filmmaking at its most massively accomplished." McCarthy ranks "Rises" as the most cohesive film of the trilogy — "everything here is lucid, to the point and on the mark" — although he says none of its elements quite matches the heights of Heath Ledger's bravura turn as the Joker in "The Dark Knight." The action scenes range from the familiar to the "fresh and brilliantly rendered" but serve the story well, and in terms of acting, "Bale is at his series best," McCarthy says.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone writes that "the sheer scope of Nolan's vision — with emotion and spectacle thundering across the screen — is staggering." He agrees with McCarthy that Bale is "up to every challenge in a tough role [and] gives a hypnotic, haunting performance." Hathaway and Hardy also acquit themselves well — with Hathaway "dynamite as Catwoman, bringing welcome humor to a movie about to be enveloped in darkness," and Hardy delivering a "physical and vocal performance [that] is riveting." Travers also commends "the visual pow of the film," much of which was shot in Imax.
Variety's Justin Chang says Nolan "steps up to the occasion" in capping his blockbuster trilogy. If the film "never quite matches the brilliance of 2008's 'The Dark Knight,' " it "raises the dramatic stakes considerably" and also "reasserts the primacy of its title character and the general excellence of Bale's performance." Hardy and fellow "Inception" alums Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard "are all on their game," as are Gotham City stalwarts Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman.
The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern is struck by the darkness of the film: "It's spectacular, to be sure, but also remarkable for its all-encompassing gloom." "Rises," Morgenstern says, offers "thrilling chases, supercool vehicles, majestic vistas, an epic scale that hasn't been achieved since 'The Lord of the Rings,' a redemptive climax that brings an end, more or less, to a complex saga" — but its most remarkable element "is how depressing and truly doomy most of it is." For their part, Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt provide "some sorely needed grace notes" and "a breath of fresh air," respectively.
And the Guardian's Xan Brooks calls "The Dark Knight Rises" a "bruising final stanza … that ends the tale on a note of thunder." It's a far cry from "the jumpsuit antics of 'The Avengers' " and "the noodling high-school angst of 'The Amazing Spider-Man,' " and although it "may be a hammy, portentous affair," Nolan "directs it with aplomb." Like Gordon-Levitt's character, rookie cop John Blake, Brooks admits he's "still a believer in the Batman."
With July 20 looming large for Batman and for Nolan, it's worth remembering that they have at least one thing in common: From Gotham to Hollywood, they rarely let down their city.