Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Third parts are notoriously difficult in films. If things haven’t been planned out from the start they feel like horrible cash-ins, where that once fresh and original idea has long since milked dry. At best you ignore them, deny they ever existed. At worst, they kill off all the enjoyment you had in the series. The Dark Knight Rises is Christopher Nolan’s final part in his Dark Knight trilogy. Will Nolan give us the ending we want? Will Batman get the send off he deserves? Read on and find out.

The events of The Dark Knight had a profound effect on Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). His body broken and The Batman cast as a villain, Wayne goes into hiding. Eight years have passed, and it takes an encounter with canny cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and the shooting of his friend, Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to draw him out of exile. Just in time too – a brutal masked mercenary by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) has arrived in Gotham, hellbent on destruction.

Nolan set himself an incredibly difficult task – How exactly do you follow The Dark Knight? His answer is simple – Go bigger. Ramp it up. The scale and scope of the film is HUGE. The set-pieces, the score, the story. Everything. The opening act introduces a myriad of new characters and plot points at such a pace that if some aren’t giving it their full attention, they’ll find themselves lost and muddled by the all the goings on.

Despite the many interweaving strands of plot, at heart the film is the simple tale of Bruce Wayne. Wounded, and stripped of everything that defines him, this Wayne is unlike any we’ve seen before. A broken man, physically and mentally. In that regard, I don’t think Christian Bale has been better throughout the series. Can he make his way back from the depths? Of course he can. This may be where the legend ends, but Bruce Wayne and The Batman will rise. Oh, and speaking of Batman, it’s good to see him front and centre in most shots. No longer always lurking in the shadows or glimpsed in the dead of night, we see him in daylight, and surrounded by hundreds of people. His first appearance in the film is wonderfully handled too – the lights drop out, the music strikes up, and “Oh boy, you are in for a show tonight, son!”. Brilliant. Speaking of brilliant…

The internet was up in arms when it heard the casting of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. Did they learn nothing from the Heath Ledger/Joker announcement? Clearly not. In Nolan we trust. Her first appearance sparks. Caught by Wayne in his mansion with a very precious heirloom, all it takes is a drop in her voice and a kick to his walking cane to know we have our Catwoman. Hathaway’s Selina is smart, capable, and morally ambiguous, a conwoman who’s equally adept at breaking safes as she is at kicking ass. She isn’t lost like Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal (to which she’ll be inevitably compared, like by me just now), she has purpose – wanting a way out and a fresh start at life.

As for purpose, there is no better definition of The Dark Knight Rises as a film than Tom Hardy’s Bane – A big brutal juggernaut that steamrollers everything in his path while at times being confusing and incomprehensible. Yeah, let’s get the voice thing out of the way first. For the most part it works, I don’t hate it (but then I’m also one of the Bale gruffness apologists), but there are times where you lose it, be it the accent or getting lost in the mix with Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score. This will definitely be annoying to some.

Nolan’s Bane is a cross between a charismatic cult leader and vicious guerrilla freedom fighter. This is none more evident when he delivers his speech atop a Tumbler in front of Blackgate prison. Cut to a montage where people are torn from their homes and rounded up while Bane passionately preaches he’s giving freedom back to the populace of Gotham. Like a politician on his soapbox he sells every word like he means it, and exactly like the corrupt officials he’s denouncing he’s lying through his mask-covered teeth (I assume he still has teeth). That said, Bane is a man of action more than he is words, and there is no better example of this than the film’s centrepiece battle between him and Batman. Nolan strips out the music and all you can hear is the vicious exchange of blows. Bale’s Batman bellows and roars in pain and frustration, while Hardy’s Bane picks apart his opponent both physically and psychologically. For the first time ever on the big screen, Batman is out-muscled and out-willed (is that a term? It is now). For all this, as big and bad as Bane is, he does suffer in comparison to Heath Ledger’s Joker. The big bruiser just isn’t as interesting, vibrant, or vital as the clown prince of crime. To be fair to Hardy he doesn’t even try to compete, but Ledger’s shadow looms large.

As for the rest of the cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hardworking cop John Blake is great, adding a little humanity to proceedings. The holy trinity of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman do their usual best, Oldman in particular getting to be more of the action hero in this than ever. The weakest part of the ensemble is probably Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate. Great as the malevolent Mal in Inception, here she isn’t given enough to do to wheedle her way into our hearts.

Nolan tries to cram so much into the two hours forty-five minute runtime that sacrifices are made, and namely in this case it means plotholes. Lots of plotholes. Now, you’ll remember how I tore into Prometheus for its complete lack of sense at times, and no doubt you’ll be wondering why I’m not doing the same here. I’ll try to explain. In the case of Prometheus it was set up as the return of the intelligent sci-fi blockbuster, in which case you really should be trying your darnedest not to do stupid things. BUT, I would also be more forgiving of the occasional witless act IF I felt the underlying story was powerful enough. In Prometheus, sadly I didn’t. In The Dark Knight Rises, I do. There are some big blundering plotholes but I can and will forgive them because Bruce Wayne’s arc is strong enough and deserves it. Which brings me neatly to the end.

The ending was always going to be the most divisive point on the entire trilogy. It’ll either satisfy or disappoint. For me, it satisfies. I can’t possibly think of a better ending to please the majority of the audience. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, suffice to say it’s open to interpretation. Nolan, his brother Jonathan, and writer David S. Goyer, give the characters the send off they deserve while giving Warner Bros. plenty of options on where to take the series forward. It’s rare to leave the cinema and still be lost in thought about a $250 million blockbuster hours later.

The Dark Knight Rises is sometimes a mess, often times thrilling, and never a bore. The scale and scope are unrivalled in modern cinema. Nolan’s use of practical effects over CGI, and the THOUSANDS of extras is unlike anything we’ve seen in years, and possibly unlike anything we’ll see again. Where would I rank it out of three? It’s not as good as The Dark Knight, let’s be clear. Is it better than Batman Begins? I’m not even sure about that yet. But despite its flaws, it’s a fitting end to what will easily go down as the best superhero trilogy of all time.

The Dark Knight Rises is out on cinema screens all over the world right now. Check it out in IMAX if you can. You will not be disappointed.

More Reviews:

The Amazing Spider-Man

Prometheus

The Grey

Iron Sky

The Avengers (Marvel’s Avengers Assemble)

Ghost Rider – Spirit Of Vengeance

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Drive

Haywire

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Melancholia

Coriolanus

Troll Hunter

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger

Tron

The Girl With Dragon Tattoo (2009)

Hackers

WarGames

Super 8

The Parallax View

Cowboys And Aliens

Swamp Thing

X-Men First Class

The Human Centipede

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

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