The Dark Knight Rises to meet expectations
Fifteen years ago, when Joel Schumacher murdered the Batman franchise with Batman and Robin, he ruined the image of one of the Dark Knight’s greatest modern foes by reducing the monster Bane to little more than a roided-out henchman. So it is fitting that writer/director Christopher Nolan’s triumphant resuscitation of the franchise should close by righting that offensive wrong. In The Dark Knight Rises Nolan has breathed new life into Batman’s deadliest foe and weaves an epic conclusion to his phenomenal trilogy.
While The Dark Knight Rises may take place eight years after the caped crusader was last seen onscreen, the film brings everything up to speed in quick succession. The initial sequence (previously screened as the prologue) works much like the introduction of the Joker does in The Dark Knight. Whether bearing intentional similarities or not, the scene is a breath-taking opening that is instantly memorable. Back in Gotham, familiar faces are reintroduced and newcomers are given ample opportunity to make their mark. Nolan and screenwriter brother Jonathan give Michael Caine terrific dialogue to work with and his scenes as Alfred with Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne add a new, vital dimension to their relationship. Bale is as reliable as ever and further cements his version of Wayne as definitive. The same can be said of Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon who also returns. One of three Inception alumni new to the scene is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who turns in a captivating performance as an idealistic young officer in the Gotham police department. In fact, it may be Gordon-Levitt’s superb portrayal that gains the most attention. Anne Hathaway’s agile and clever Selina Kyle is a fierce take on the character and she pulls it off magnificently. The dynamic between Catwoman and Batman is beautiful captured and holds true to their long-established attraction amidst animosity. Finally, as Bane, Tom Hardy is rather limited by the mask, but his physical presence is not to be underestimated and it goes far to make up for an absence of facial expressions. Nolan’s Bane is a truly brutal beast who, beyond remarkable brawn, also has the intelligence and leadership to pose an incredibly menacing and entirely genuine threat. While these characters are brilliantly brought to life by the actors behind them, it is the Nolans’ story that allows them to meet (and, in some cases, exceed) expectations.
For the most part, The Dark Knight Rises, despite its hefty length, breezes by. The Nolans have composed a work that aims to tie up all the loose ends from the prior films. By and large, there are no throwaway exchanges. Even seemingly minor aspects from Batman Begins are shown in a new, significant light. Not just the final film of the series, The Dark Knight Rises is the final chapter of Nolan’s vision of Batman. Themes are re-visited and by the time he has worked his magic, it all seems to make perfect sense. The central plot is an ambitious example of terrorism on a grand scale that is pulled off convincingly at every turn. Psychological factors are considered and exploited for maximum effect. As with Nolan’s previous two Batman films, The Dark Knight Rises is a crime thriller at heart, just as much as it is a superhero movie; so great care has clearly gone into ensuring that it presents a challenging conflict.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few bumps along the way, however. There are at least two minor characters that could be eliminated from the story altogether, without missing a beat, for the sake of tightening the pace. Whilst Nolan’s insistence on keeping his Batman firmly grounded in reality has always been welcomed, it does make some plot points more difficult to swallow than they may otherwise be in a more fantasy based feature (not to mention the lack of blood displayed). One other sticking point is a moment that gives away a reveal far too early in the film. While on one hand, it is a nice tip of the hat and entirely consistent with an aspect from one of the previous films, for those clued up enough to spot it, having it telegraphed so far in advance severely reduces the impact of a major plot development. It’s a give and take situation that probably could have been better balanced with relative ease.
The action side of The Dark Knight Rises’ coin is solid, by and large. As a film-maker, Nolan has improved on his ability to capture the often chaotic-appearing nature of action sequences onscreen. Strong levels of suspense and tension are built, even if altercations could have been framed more powerfully. The unstoppable force of Bane is established through such scenes well-enough to leave no doubt as to how great a threat he poses. As for the much discussed audibility of Hardy’s mercenary, there are moments where it is difficult to make out what is being said, but this becomes less of an issue further into the film. The Dark Knight Rises can be quite loud at times and it seems some dialogue even beyond Bane’s gets lost between the action and Hans Zimmer’s thrilling score.
A closing, important point to make on The Dark Knight Rises is on the conclusion. Regardless of what any viewer makes of the road Nolan takes in getting to the film’s final minutes, there is no denying how perfect those minutes are. Endings do not come more satisfying than what The Dark Knight Rises provides, which, given the amount of hype and expectation, is no small feat. Everyone involved can be vastly proud of the result and fans will not go home disappointed.
The Dark Knight Rises is, in every way, is a fitting close to Nolan’s Batman saga. In some ways better than its predecessors, it lacks the weight of a performance like Heath Ledger’s or the diabolical fun his Joker brought to The Dark Knight, which would allow it to firmly stand as the superior film. Still, The Dark Knight Rises meets the challenges Nolan faced and there is no doubt that this is the finale that the Dark Knight and the fans need and deserve. 9/10