The filmmaking powerhouse that is Christopher Nolan delivered a fairly satisfying final chapter of his Dark Knight trilogy, even if it’s much easier to pick holes in than his previous two outings with the Caped Crusader.
The plot of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES might be a slow-burner, but the stockpiled tension accumulated over the course of the film explodes in an epic finale. Set eight years after the events of THE DARK KNIGHT, we find Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired from crime-fighting and become a recluse, giving into his ailing body and the belief that Gotham City no longer needs Batman. This all changes when he encounters a far from ordinary cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy), the masked leader of a mercenary army bent on revolution.
With the addition of this final instalment, Nolan’s Batman series gratifyingly feels like a complete story that brings you full circle rather than a succession of tacked-on sequels. This was achieved thanks to an extraordinary joint writing effort by the Nolan brothers and David S. Goyer, who have put great effort into keeping their series tonally and thematically consistent. I loved the clear plot references to BATMAN BEGINS in particular (the police vs. Bats chase, the flashbacks, the involvement of the League of Shadows). This is one of the most enjoyable of the Caped Crusader’s screen outings, being pretty dark, provocative and relevant to an era of economic uncertainty (in an incredibly blatant way) but also never forgets to be fun, with a fair few lighter moments to break the monotony. Rises is a genuine, uplifting superhero film like Begins was, unlike The Dark Knight, which was more of a high-concept crime thriller that happened to involve people in silly costumes.
Is Tom Hardy’s Bane a more memorable villain than Heath Ledger’s Joker? Not by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s an entertaining, distinctive antagonist with a wonderfully odd voice and some of the best eye-acting ever committed to the screen. Bane’s introduction scene is arguably on par with the Joker’s from the previous film, though – both are creative, thrilling heist scenes that are served beautifully by Nolan’s love of IMAX. I’m not overly fond of the first Batman vs. Bane fight, though – it’s a bit lumbering and uninteresting, and I’m sure more effort and creativity could have been put into the choreography.
The old faithfuls of the franchise – Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are good as ever, though with reduced screen time, and Christian Bale impresses as an older, creakier Batman. Series newcomer Anne Hathaway is mesmerising playing the manipulative and morally ambiguous Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman (though never actually named as such), who proves herself to be at least as formidable as her pointy-eared associate. Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to hold his own in a cast of big-hitters as an honest cop served well by his instincts, though all his good work is nearly undone by a clumsy and unnecessary moment at the film’s conclusion (not Levitt’s fault, the writers’). The weak link of the cast sadly is the usually excellent Marion Cotillard, who veers from being wooden to hamming it up royally at an alarming frequency.
The main crime The Dark Knight Rises commits is attempting to tackle too much. The plotting is a lot looser this time round, conveniently glossing over such narrative inconveniences as the passage of time and geography, and there are frequent references to things that supposedly happened between the last film and this one, often resulting in an information overload. The amount of new incidental characters that are introduced, and the frequency at which they are dispatched again can be alarming, and it doesn’t exactly help a viewer in grasping the story. A lot of narrative fat could have been cut at the beginning of the film, and a tweak in plotting in the first act would have certainly helped with the flow of the story, and perhaps heightened the dramatic impact of the “rising” of the title. Also, if you’re paying attention, the plot twists don’t come as much of a surprise at all.
The Dark Knight Rises is still a hugely entertaining and handsome-looking film, and the mostly practically achieved action has never looked better, but if the story had been stripped back a little, and had been more focussed, then perhaps a more consistently enjoyable final product might have emerged. Whatever DC/Warner Bros do with Batman next, it’ll be nigh-on impossible to top Nolan’s trilogy, and tragically, since they’re starting from scratch, we’ll probably never see Hathaway’s wonderful take on Catwoman again. SSP