By Marty Mulrooney
The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final instalment of director Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman film trilogy, following on from Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008). Christian Bale once again reprises his role as Batman, this time opposite Tom Hardy as the villain Bane, a terrorist hell-bent on destroying Gotham City. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman also return, alongside newcomers Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway.
It’s not easy creating a trilogy of films that are consistently excellent. The Temple of Doom caused the Indiana Jones trilogy to sag in the middle and Return of the Jedi was more concerned with selling children’s toys than ending the Star Wars trilogy on a high. Spiderman 3 is perhaps the most stinging recent example – let’s not even go there. When Christopher Nolan rebooted Batman in 2005 with Batman Begins, he offered a solid reimagining that was nonetheless heavily influenced by what had gone before. A great film, it was still bogged down with introducing the character and trying to convey a Gotham City that was a mixture of comic book and reality.
The 2006 thriller The Prestige – another team up with Christian Bale – seemingly gave Nolan more freedom and he responded in 2008 with his next Batman film, The Dark Knight. Featuring an astonishing, almost unrecognisable performance from the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, it seemed unthinkable that it could ever be topped – it became the definitive Batman movie. Inception was Nolan’s next project. A science fiction masterpiece released in 2010, it explored the world of dreams and showcased Nolan as one of the greatest directors of the 21st Century. It’s now 2012 and the Batman trilogy – up until now consisting of a solid first film and an incredible second film – has finally been concluded with The Dark Knight Rises.
Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises begins with Batman missing and Bruce Wayne a recluse. Gotham City is practically free of violent crime due to the Dent Act, a time of peace built upon a lie. Commissioner James Gordon and the Gotham City Police Department are back in control of the city, but Batman is a wanted man, Bruce Wayne is a cripple and Wayne Enterprises is crumbling. There is a Phantom of the Opera element to Wayne as the film opens – he locks himself away from the world inside his towering manor, a fallen knight with a walking cane roaming the halls alone.
Christopher Nolan uses the passage of time to his advantage. This isn’t Gotham as we once knew it – it is arguable that the city has finally learnt to look after itself. Yet the film’s breathtaking opening on board a CIA plane introduces a villain even more dangerous than the Joker. Bane is a gas mask wearing terrorist with arms like tree trunks, a brutal neck-snapping giant that speaks in resonant and sophisticated, occasionally unintelligible prose. Tom Hardy is a menacing presence as Bane and it is to his credit that, although he doesn’t surpass the Joker as a villain, he expresses so much with his eyes alone. It takes a brave actor to perform with his mouth covered throughout an entire film and the physicality of the role is everything – Hardy delivers in abundance.
Another newly introduced character is Selina Kyle, a cat burglar played by Anne Hathaway. Nolan is painting the universe a little bit too straight-faced to call her Catwoman outright, but there is no mistaking her trademark cat ears that poke up when she raises her high-tech goggles. Hathaway gets all the best lines and her chemistry with Bale far surpasses anything he ever had with Katie Holmes or Maggie Gyllenhaal. She steals every scene she’s in and manages to do the unthinkable – she surpasses Michelle Pfeiffer as the sexiest Catwoman portrayed on the silver screen to date.
All the old familiar faces from the previous two films are back and on fine form too – Michael Caine in particular lends the film a sense of emotional gravitas that would otherwise be missing. A fresh face who impressed in Nolan’s Inception, Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears here as John Blake. A young police officer who fights alongside Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, he embodies the ideals that Bruce Wayne once believed in. The Dark Knight Rises is as much his story as it is Batman’s. Marion Cotillard – another familiar face from Inception – also appears as Miranda Tate, a member of the Wayne Enterprises executive board, rounding off an impressive cast.
The plot won’t be spoiled here, but it’s fair to say that despite juggling too many characters at times and sagging slightly in the middle, the 165 minute runtime flies by at lightning speed. There are some plot holes if you look hard enough but the epicness is so off the scale that they won’t even register. The Batpod motorcycle is incredible to witness on an IMAX screen and the new vehicle simply named the ‘Bat’ makes the Tumbler look like a prototype – okay, they’re all prototypes, but you get the idea.
It’s hard at times to get your head around the fact that The Dark Knight Rises manages to make The Dark Knight look so relatively small-scale by comparison – but in many ways it does. Nolan’s Gotham City has never been so expansively shown or so fragile and at risk as it is here. The Dark Knight Rises is epic in every sense of the word: epic special effects, epic in scale and an epic conclusion. The quiet moments and the action are all punctuated and heightened by Hans Zimmer’s moody, evocative score – and yes, it’s epic.
For many Batman fans, there will only ever be one true Batman – Adam West. Other fans may choose Michael Keaton or even Kevin Conroy as their Caped Crusader of choice. For this reviewer, it has to be Christian Bale. Christopher Nolan has created a Batman trilogy that will endure. Any director wishing to reboot the series after a monumental cinematic achievement such as this had better batten down the hatches – there’s a storm coming. This Dark Knight can be fought, he can be broken, but he’ll never be beaten.
10 OUT OF 10
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