Christopher Nolan completes his iconic trilogy with the final instalment of this re-imagined comic book tour de force. This latest offering from the Inception director concludes the story, as well as hinting (somewhat undesirably) at yet another sequel.
Nolan delivers The Dark Knight Rises in the same vein as the previous two films, with brooding greys and blues ruling the colour palette, making Nolan’s world more real, and believable for the audience to invest in. This realist aspect of the film was also enhanced by the inclusion of current social issues: Jonathan and Christopher Nolan successfully incorporate plots involving modern terrorism and financial collapse into the story; both problems which resonate with a contemporary 2012 audience.
The villain of the piece is Bane, played by Tom Hardy, who always delivers a superb performance, be it in Bronson or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and his presence here is no exception. The team (writer, director, actor and costume department) have built a depth around a largely ignored, minimal character from the DC Universe, which is totally stunning. Hardy’s charisma is undeniable, and his somewhat unexpected vocal performance enhances the re-creation of such a character. Huge in stature (Hardy put on a whopping 30lbs for the role) and in screen presence, Bane’s inclusion in this final instalment is an unmitigated success, and his performance cannot be stifled by Bane’s mask.
The fight sequences here are captivating, and in some cases quite graphically violent. Bane’s triumph against Batman in the sewers makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially for comic book fans who know the trauma approaching Bruce Wayne. The blow to Batman’s face which shatters his helmet is particularly striking, partly due to the fear of our hero being unmasked. The idea of a mask is of significant importance to this film, with Batman constantly reassessing why he wears it, and explaining himself to Gordon’s protégée Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Other characters also hide behind masks and double identities, some invisible until the final scenes, making for interesting plot twists until the very end.
Other brilliant set pieces include the final battle between the Gotham Police Department and Bane’s thugs, which at first glance appears totally one sided when we notice the thugs’ machine guns versus the police handguns, however, the energy and atmosphere created is compelling, especially with the appearance of the ‘Bat’ soaring above the fighting. The only set piece which felt over the top and exhausting, was the sequence at the American Football stadium, largely due to its being a prominent spoiler in the trailer (a matter to be discussed in a future article).
As ever, Nolan’s team put together an exciting assortment of gadgets for the characters to use, by far the most prominent in this film being Batman’s new jet, the ‘Bat’. The flight craft is an invaluable piece of equipment for Batman in the film, with the blockade of Gotham due to Bane’s bomb preventing usual entry routes into the city, and proves itself as exciting as the Bat-Mobile and Bike both introduced earlier in the trilogy. Morgan Freeman as Fox is the man behind the machines, yet feels enormously underused in this instalment, mostly sidelined and in the background cowering from thugs. Alfred, on the other hand, played faithfully by our very own Michael Caine, gives a devastatingly emotional performance, his loyalty to the Waynes and to Bruce tugging at the heartstrings. His fear for Bruce’s well-being as he returns to the mask is juxtaposed throughout by a sense of hope, orchestrated by Nolan’s direction, despite the widespread devastation wreaked by Bane’s revolution.
Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and gives his most important and powerful performance of the trilogy. Previously painted as nothing more than a millionaire playboy, Bale is finally given some emotional depth to sink his teeth into, and reveals his more vulnerable side. For much of the first part of the film, Wayne is a cripple, both in body and spirit after having lost his beloved Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in The Dark Knight, and his progression from down and out, to hero once more is a journey we all enjoy being part of.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliantly cast as the up and coming police detective Blake, his slight frame and boyish good looks failing to detract from his believability as a modern hero. His characters’ past resonates with issues raised in the film (he was brought up in a children’s home) and allows the audience to emotionally invest in his plight. Although well-cast and giving a great performance, especially his developing relationships with Gordon (the fantastic Gary Oldman) and Batman, this reviewer is hoping that this is not the beginning of a new Batman and Robin franchise.
One new introduction that I did not expect to enjoy was Catwoman, (not being a fan of Anne Hathaway), but she took to the role elegantly and the writers have done their best to avoid cliché, presenting her as Selina Kyle, rather than at any point referring to her as ‘Catwoman’. This consciousness of comic book cliché kept Nolan’s film feeling real, and prevented its verging into Fantastic Four -style ridiculousness. Hathaway’s costumes also helped, as although sexy, the feline suggestion remained subtle, rather than overt, her ears only appearing when she pulled her night-vision glasses onto her head (rather than a permanently-eared headband, Halle Berry-style).
What was ridiculous, and why the film only warrants a four-star rating, were the gaps in the story. At times it felt like Nolan was trying to be too ambitious with his conclusion: attempting to fit in a whole storyline, plus new characters, each with their own back story and relationships, plus all the action and CGI brilliance we expect from the franchise. Believe it or not, 164 minutes did not feel long enough, and I really hope that an extended DVD/ Blu-ray version is released, as some unexplained and unlikely events detracted from the realism so heavily important throughout the trilogy. The only weak link in the team seems to be the director himself, who has created a believable world, yet cut the scenes together in such a way that the film at times feels disjointed. For example, the prison from which Bane came is an interesting addition to the story, and could have been stunning, yet elements felt forced, and the passage of time was not fully realised in a coherent manner. Likewise the opening scenes felt disparate, and took longer than anticipated to come together, with so many sub-plots running awry.
Despite these shortcomings, The Dark Knight Rises is a brilliant finale to Nolan’s record-breaking trilogy, and I sincerely hope that an extended edition is released to fulfil the potential of the story.