Four years ago director Christopher Nolan took the standards of the comic book movie – and film in general – to a completely new level with The Dark Knight. The film was an unprecedented success that has not only stood the test of time, but manages to get better with each viewing. Nolan was reportedly reluctant to add a third instalment to the franchise but eventually announced The Dark Knight Rises: A follow up to one of the films of the decade that was sure to come with a substantial weight of expectation. Fans around the world have been salivating over the string of trailers and the bold tagline “The Legend Ends” and I should admit that I was heading into the screening expecting no less than a 5 star experience. But amidst the heat and rubble of such lofty pressures Nolan indeed Rises above it all and delivers a masterpiece of suspense and action and intrigue; a heart-racing, thought provoking thriller. The Dark Knight Rises is everything we wanted and more.
The film opens with an introduction to the lead antagonist Bane before taking us back to Gotham City. The mayor and the citizens are celebrating the 8th annual Harvey Dent Day, a public holiday named after one of the city’s bravest public servants. There is “peace” in Gotham City thanks to new legislation that forced the criminal underbelly behind bars, made possible by the stirring reaction to the heroics of Dent. It is a new age in Gotham and perhaps one where the old heroes -Commissioner Gordon and disgraced vigilante The Batman – no longer fit in. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, losing interest in the outside world; his fortunes – literally and figuratively – are failing. But the new “peace-time” was built on a lie and the bad fruit that grows from a bad seed is about to come into season. Something big is building. Something that may call a battered and bruised Dark Knight out of the shadows.
It is considered by some, including myself, that the run time of a film can be a spoiler. But for The Dark Knight Rises it is best to know that SPOILER it is 2 hours 45 mins UNSPOILER because you need to buckle up and prepare yourself for an adventure. The film has the trademark Nolan touch. The haunting score backs a fast paced succession of scenes and try as you might not to miss a word you begin to feel on the back foot. But have faith because Nolan is a master of his craft and the action gathers and crescendo-ing to a frenetic endurance test of a third act. There are similar elements of the pacing to Nolan’s recent effort Inception and the aforementioned The Dark Knight. His ability to reach top gear and sustain the drive is enthralling, almost to the point of exhaustion. You will find yourself gripping the edge of your seat until your hands cramp.
The drive behind the tension is generated through a solid cast of Gotham regulars and what is a Batman film without the characters. Christian Bale delivers another stellar performance as the ultimate superhero. He looks older and less passionate but still moves with the qualities that make Batman so admirable. Bane is an intimidating figure – actually that is a major understatement – he is terrifying. Tom Hardy looks larger than life. I will admit his voice takes some getting used to but it is his physical presence that allows him to dominate every scene in which he appears. Initially doubts were raised over Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and I was definitely a doubter, however in her first scene that dubious sentiment is swiftly washed away. She is elegant and innocent one moment, dangerous and seductive the next. Acting wise Hathaway walks a thin line between the steely exterior of Catwoman and the emotional core of Selina Kyle and never shows a sign of slipping – and hey, even if she did she would land on all fours anyway ; )
The other main characters include the ever endearing Alfred (Michael Caine) whose relationship with Bruce Wayne helps maintain the human side of The Batman. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is the working class hero of the film. He is battle-worn and weary but he still fights on in the absence of his masked hero. Joseph Gordon Levitt as young Officer Blake portrays the next generation of hope – the future of Gotham City. Morgan Freeman and Marion Cotillard fill out the cast as technical guru Fox and well intentioned business woman Miranda Tate. In a world of superhuman abilities it is important that these human characters keep us grounded in reality. They represent the prize of Gotham City; the hope that ordinary citizens can rally together as one, or tear each other apart.
TDKR maintains the dark tone of its predecessors. Some criticise this as being untrue to the comic book origins but there are elements of this film that draw directly from classic Batman tales such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. There is even a recreation of one image from The Knightfall series which is an iconic moment purposefully re-enacted. For this reason to have the heavy tone altered in any way simply would not suit the Bane character. He is a genuinely frightening figure and he was born in a world where bad things happen. While The Joker could easily be presented in more comical and child friendly offerings than Heath Ledger’s tormented interpretation, Bane cannot be toyed with. He is a tangible threat of physical dominance. There is one scene, inevitable perhaps, but still no less traumatising, that will have any true Batman fan emotionally stricken. The “realism” of the series is what makes this scene so unbearable.
Like any review it is obligatory to mention a few negatives from the film but they are petty at best. As I mentioned Bane’s voice is odd at first and is sometimes hard to understand. There is a romance element that seems rushed and the simple solution to Batman’s knee problem makes you wonder why he held out so long. But apart from these minor issues the film is flawless.
I almost feel unprepared to deliver any final verdict on this film. It is an amazing film that will be hailed as another landmark in the long running tale of Batman. Inevitable comparisons will be drawn with The Dark Knight but the film serves better as a continuation of the journey. The two complement each other rather than competing for glory. We see the growth of Batman and of Gotham itself through the series and what Nolan has delivered is a captivating trilogy. One fair parallel to draw is that a second viewing is definitely required. I’ve said plenty here without truly spoiling or referencing specific moments but I want to go back knowing what I know. I can tell you that there is a fire inside me that is dying to spark a detailed discussion but I will leave that for another day. Until then do yourself a favour and see the film and we can have a chat next time we cross paths.
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