Fortunately not called ‘Batman Ends’, The Dark Knight Rises brings the story begun in 2005’s revelatory Batman Begins and continued in The Dark Knight to a triumphant conclusion. Director Chris Nolan (Inception) and his team should be commended, as with this last instalment of the caped crusader’s saga they’ve successfully cemented The Dark Knight trilogy as one of the all-time greats, worthy of recognition alongside classics like the original Star Wars trilogy and The Lord of the Rings.
The Dark Knight Rises picks up around 8 years after the Joker’s reign of terror in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, having hung up the cowl after taking the fall for Harvey Dent’s crimes in the previous film in order to maintain peace. But a storm is on the horizon and peacetime can’t last forever; sexy Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is on the prowl, and something big is brewing in the Gotham underground. The masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) is in town and has business with Batman and the decadence of Gotham.
Unlike The Dark Knight which was structured like a series of moral problems, Rises avoids stop and start pacing by beginning with a slow but steady build that never ceases to lose momentum. There’s good reason for this too, as there’s a whole heap of new characters and plot threads to wrap your head around, in addition to old favourites like Bruce’s fatherly butler Alfred (Michael Caine), crafty Wayne Enterprises’ President Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and the always reliable but world-weary Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). It’s an expert supporting cast that succeeds in adding weight to the onscreen drama.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50, Inception) provides fresh blood as honest cop John Blake. Blake has a larger role in the film than I’d initially anticipated, but he capably carries the story through certain bat-less segments. Fellow Inception alum Marion Cotillard is also on hand as Miranda Tate, Bruce’s new love interest – I really liked the direction that they took her character (she’s not just another ‘Rachel’ from the previous films).
It’s a good thing that these characters are so interesting to watch because Batman is absent for significant portions of the film. Indeed, Bruce is out of the game. He’s unfit and no longer in prime condition, and Batman is still wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent. A lot of time is therefore devoted to getting Bruce back in the fight, but I never found myself counting minutes until his appearance. This is a testament to the strength of the screenplay and the realism of the world that the filmmakers have created.
When he finally does appear, Batman has an array of new gadgets and gizmos at his disposal – the most impressive of these is his flying aircraft/jet dubbed ‘the Bat’. Still, parts of the plot almost feel like Rocky III. There’s even a brief training sequence that harkens back to the origin story told in Batman Begins. Speaking of which, while Rises contains a lot of references to The Dark Knight it contains many more narrative and thematic links to Begins. There’s a definite sense of things coming full circle, as Nolan fulfils his promise of bringing the trilogy to a close.
Although Bale gives his best performance of the series it’s Hathaway and Hardy who steal the show. Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is Rises’ version of Catwoman (though the name is never said in the film), and is the best incarnation of the character we’ve seen brought to life on the big screen. She bears a lot of spunk and brings some lightheartedness and humour to what’s otherwise a very bleak story. Meanwhile, Hardy’s menacing portrayal of intelligent but brutish Bane matches Heath Ledger’s acclaimed performance as the anarchic Joker in The Dark Knight. Hardy (Warrior, Inception) wears a mask so most of his performance comes through his body language and expressive eyes. The guy’s a tank, but it’s the voice that sells the character – Bane sounds a bit like Sean Connery by way of Darth Vader. It’s unique, original and weirdly mesmerising.
If there’s something to criticise it’s that the film lacks any of those seminal ‘wow’ moments that The Dark Knight had. There’s nothing here that rivals the famous truck flip or exploding hospital, and the major chase sequence this time doesn’t match Batman crashing the Tumbler through rooftops set to Hans Zimmer’s pounding track Molossus in Begins – although Zimmer does return with another excellent score for Rises. That’s not to say the action is gimped, as there’s an absolutely brutal one-on-one fight that ranks among the best of recent memory. Generally however, the scope of Rises is just so huge that it sacrifices individual moments of awesome for conflict on a larger but no less personal scale. And that’s the truth of it: The Dark Knight Rises is a war movie that transcends the superhero genre; the drama dictates the action and it’s all propelled by an idea-rich screenplay that manages to thrill right up to the final masterstroke.
A war movie, crime drama and superhero extravaganza all rolled into one, The Dark Knight Rises is an exceptional piece of moviemaking and storytelling, deftly bringing Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy to an end. View it in IMAX if you get the chance.