The Dark Knight Rises is a film which has been released under a huge amount of scrutiny and expectation. The considerable (and at the time) unprecedented success of The Dark Knight meant that Christopher Nolan’s latest (and concluding) Bat-film would more than likely fail to meet expectations – after all it’s often extraordinarily complex to bookend a trilogy, especially one which has 70 years of history attached to it. However, Nolan has succeeded, and in my belief, surpassed the previous two entries in his Batman franchise.
First up, it should be noted from the onset that there isn’t a character with the command which Heath Ledger’s Joker possessed. Nolan doesn’t try to outshine or out-do that, he simply wouldn’t succeed in an attempt to do so. Tom Hardy’s Bane is a different beast altogether, literally and figuratively, and he portrays the character with a physicality and a theatricality which is great to view.
Bane is a member of The League of Shadows, the organization once controlled by Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) from Batman Begins. Bane is hell-bent on the destruction of Gotham City and of Bruce Wayne, who has turned into a recluse following the deaths of Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). Eight years have passed and no one in Gotham has seen Wayne or Batman, but he is soon forced out of his self enforced exile following the appearance of Bane and the mysterious Selina Kyle.
To discuss the plot of The Dark Knight Rises would do the film a disservice. There’s a great deal of twists and turns in the film’s near three hour running time, and if perhaps mentioned here, could be considered spoilers, but what I will add is that the film does pay-off from the first two films and rewards fans with a conclusive ending. The perfect ending. Nolan has clearly created his own unique end to the Batman myth, closing his film series with style.
Christian Bale does his best work as Batman/Bruce Wayne in this instalment. He feels more relaxed and at ease with the character, but this has a lot to do with Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle (she’s never called Catwoman). Female characters have always been the weak-link in Nolan’s Batman films, with the character of Rachael Dawes feeling shoehorned in by some studio mandate. Sure, the character was integral to the events of The Dark Knight, but she never felt like she belonged in Gotham City – Selina Kyle does. Hathaway and Bale have chemistry, and some of the finest character moments in the film come when the pair spar verbally and physically. Somewhere in an alternate universe there is a film with just these two characters.
Returning favourites such as Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) all deliver an emotional core -with Caine’s Alfred in particular, adding a lot of compassion to the film in the role of Wayne’s long-suffering Butler. While new characters like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Blake, Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate and Matthew Modine’s Foley, provide the human face of Gotham City – the city that Batman is trying to salvage. These are noble people, people who are the very reason why Wayne has put on the mask, the people of Gotham are no longer faceless citizens. These characters do much of the heavy lifting when Batman is absent from Gotham for a stretch in the mid-section of the film, and they take Nolan’s Gotham to new places dramatically.
Technically the film is, as you would expect top tier. Wally Pfister’s cinematography is bleak and gritty, with the added snow-strewn Gotham City adding a slightly new colour palette to proceedings – it looks stunning in IMAX. The special effects are again grounded in reality, and while ‘The Bat’ may take things more in the direction of the comic books, it is a welcome addition to Batman’s arsenal of toys. Hans Zimmer again provides the rousing score, and while it may not be as melodic as Danny Elfman’s work for Tim Burton’s films, it does fit magnificently into Nolan’s universe.
The Dark Knight Rises is superior to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for many reasons. Nolan has been able to take all of the elements that worked for those films and bind them together. For me, Batman Begins feels like a superhero origin story made by someone who didn’t want to really be making one, a necessity of rebooting the franchise. Nolan clearly tried to push away from the conventions of the comic book genre, but you could almost visualise the leash around his neck, gripped tightly by Warner Bros. The Dark Knight was the film that Nolan wanted to make, but the ending has too much going on. Sure, Nolan needed Batman’s climatic fight with the Joker and to also conclude Harvey Dent’s journey, but the film didn’t really require the added threat to the citizens of Gotham City as they waited on bomb-loaded ferries. He takes a similar plot line in The Dark Knight Rises, and ups the ante by threatening characters we already know and care for.
However, with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has actually added more to his past Batman films, making them more layered and more textured. The faults with those films on a plot level are somewhat patched over now by concluding the trilogy. The differing tone between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was always something that seemed wrong, but The Dark Knight Rises is the missing link; Nolan’s universe has come full-circle, with this new film bridging the gap between the more comic-book elements of Begins and the Michael Mann crime drama lurking beneath The Dark Knight.
An epic adventure and a powerful drama means The Dark Knight Rises is a great film, but it’s also a great Batman story. It doesn’t skimp off the drama or the action, and it offers a fitting conclusion to the Batman legend. It’s simply the Batman film that I’ve waited a quarter of a century to see.