LIKE the eponymous hero at the heart of The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan seems intent on giving fans of Hollywood’s most revered comic book character everything with this final instalment of his Batman saga.
Set eight years on from The Dark Knight, the 165-minute result may not hit the giddy heights of its genre-redefining predecessor, but it’s not for want of trying. Big, bold and occasionally brilliant, it pushes the comic-book form to the limits of what it can really bear, but comes good in the end thanks to Nolan’s ability to use cinematic sleight-of-hand to create a grand spectacle that embraces its more fanciful elements while pretending not to be interested in them
Taking as its main narrative thrust the physical, psychological and emotional toll that being Batman has had on his billionaire alter-ego Bruce Wayne (once again played by Christian Bale), the film starts off with Wayne living the life of a Howard Hughes-esque recluse while Gotham City enjoys a period of relative calm thanks to a far-reaching law enacted in response to the events of the previous film. With this law predicated on the lie that “the Batman” was responsible for the murder of fallen public defender, Harvey Dent (played in The Dark Knight by Aaron Eckhart and seen here in flashback), its shaky foundations – propped up by a floundering Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) – ensures the peace is destined not to last, particularly with Gotham’s self-appointed gatekeeper out of the picture for so long.
Ironically, Nolan’s own decision to keep Batman out of the picture’s early stages gets the film off to a shakier start than one might have expected. Indeed, there are times when the film’s portentous first act feels wobblier than Leonardo DiCaprio’s Inception totem, especially as Nolan (co-writing once again with his brother Jonah) proceeds to mull over Wayne’s grief-fuelled refusal to engage with the outside world or attempt to find any form of happiness within it. Consequently, the quiet character moments – like the ones between Wayne and his beloved butler Alfred (Michael Caine) that used to cut to the beating hear of the story – are clunkier than they should be.
But if some of the early expository dialogue feels a little unwieldy, rest assured that everything does have a narrative purpose and the dividend is the expansive, large-scale and frequently breathtaking story it sets in motion. The catalysts for this are Batman’s new nemeses: the muzzle-sporting, bison-like Bane (Tom Hardy) – introduced via a stunningly executed plane heist shot over the Cairngorms – and a slinky, morally ambiguous cat burglar by the name of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). That latter is, of course, better known as Catwoman (although she’s never referred to as such in the film). Her distaste for Gotham’s monied elite, together with Bane’s insurrectionary determination to destroy the city once and for all, results in Bruce being inexorably drawn out of his self-imposed retirement and back into the bat suit for a series of massive cataclysmic showdowns.
Here, Nolan once again marries his source material’s pulpy comic book roots with real-world significance in exhilarating ways. As with the previous films, 9/11 imagery is much in evidence (especially in the film’s later set-pieces), but he’s also fed the financial chaos of the past four years into the story in fascinating and entertaining ways, not least in a brash early raid on Gotham’s Wall Street-style stock exchange that results in brokers and bankers being used as human shields.
That raid is orchestrated by Bane, whose presence injects The Dark Knight Rises with plenty of menace thanks largely to that face-hugging muzzle, which makes him hard to read and understand. Sounding like The Elephant Man kitted out with Darth Vader’s breathing apparatus, Tom Hardy is as credibly outlandish and out-there as villains in Nolan’s Bat universe are permitted to be. His character also shares some nifty parallels with Batman that force him out of his shadowy comfort zone and into the daylight. As the film progresses, though, Nolan is very much in his comfort zone, delivering dazzling narrative twists and spectacular plot-driven set pieces and finding ways to weave in compelling new characters (Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s virtuous rookie cop is the stand-out) while simultaneously bringing things back to the story he started with 2005’s Batman Begins. Back then, of course, there was little talk of this being trilogy, but The Dark Knight Rises ensures the series satisfies as one without having to reverse-engineer the story to make all the pieces fit together. It’s an ambitious sequel, flawed yes, but one that, against the odds, brings what has become a bruising and operatic series to a close in a suitably epic way.
The Dark Knight Rises (12A)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine.
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