The Dark Knight Rises

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy.

And so we come, at last, to the end of the trilogy begun by Nolan in 2005. Amazing to think that was seven years ago. Of course back then no one was sure if a new, more grounded version of Batman was possible, or whether Nolan was the right man to direct or Bale the right man to be Bruce Wayne/ Batman. Quite quickly it became apparent that Nolan knew exactly what he was doing, especially in casting Bale who has both the acting chops and the physicality needed for the role and Batman Begins was an excellent film.

Then in 2008 we got the sequel, The Dark Knight , which gave us both the Joker and Two Face, and sadly proved a swansong for Heath Ledger, who did a fantastic job as the Joker, and kudos to Nolan for making the Joker seem like a character who could really exist.

Now, finally, we get the Dark Knight Rises. It’s 8 years since the events of The Dark Knight, and Batman hasn’t been seen since the night he took responsibility for the death of Harvey Dent, who’s been lionised as a hero rather than the tragic villain he’d become. Gotham City is a better place thanks to somewhat (it appears) draconian legislation enacted in Dent’s name, and Bruce Wayne is a broken man, hobbling around his palatial mansion like Howard Hughes, unable to move on from the death of the woman he loved, nor from the cowl.

But things are beginning in Gotham, things that will necessitate the return of the Dark Knight. The question is, can even he fight what’s coming?

I’m going to try and limit what I say here to preclude giving anything away, and there’s a fair bit to give away, with the film taking several twists and turns during it’s almost three hour running time. I’ll stick to the information that’s widely available. Bale is still Bruce Wayne, and still doing an excellent job, and his interplay with Michael Caine’s Alfred is a joy as always, although sadly there isn’t enough of it. Tom Hardy is Bane, the masked strongman who’s come to Gotham as a mercenary, but has his own ulterior motive beyond this. He gives a good performance, and he’s certainly imposing, having truly bulked out for the role. Unfortunately because his face is obscured by a mask for the entire film he’s perhaps the weakest of the Nolan Bat villains, lacking the grandeur of Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul or the weasel like qualities of Murphy’s Scarecrow. He can’t compete with Ledger’s twisted, reptilian Joker or Eckhart’s tragic Two Face (even though we barely saw him). This isn’t to say Hardy isn’t good, he just might have been better with a different look.

Anne Hathaway is Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, and she’s really good, showing great range and looking good in practically every outfit she’s asked to wear. The woman harks back to the Hollywood glamour of the 40s and 50s and suits Gotham down to the ground and she’s a very good Catwoman—very different to Michelle Pfeiffer’s version, but that’s to be expected given this is Nolan’s take on the Bat. On the downside you do kinda wish there’d been more of her (which is a recurrent problem for several characters).

Caine, Oldman and Freeman could sleepwalk through their parts and still be brilliant, three fine actors, but it’s a shame they don’t get more to do here.

This leaves Marion Cotillard as Bruce’s potential love interest, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake, a cop who becomes an important ally to Batman. In many ways Blake is the best character in the film, a noble everyman, and at times the film seems to revolve more around him than it does Batman, Bane, or Catwoman.

And there are several great cameos, but its best to find out about them yourself…

Now as to the film itself. It’s brilliant, truly awe inspiring at times…and yet…it has problems. There is a lot of story packed into it, an awful lot of story, and even with 165 or so minutes to play with, at times the film has to play fast and loose with logic to keep all the various plates spinning. It’s credit to Nolan as a director that, for the most part, he gets away with it, but there’s a lot of exposition, a lot of very obvious leading, and at times you need to work on the assumption that characters must be having meetings off camera, or  otherwise they must be gaining information by osmosis, as suddenly one character knows what another has learned, even though they don’t ever seem to intersect.

There’s a period of several months that passes in Gotham which also stretches credulity in several ways, and even though the film is packed full of incident, you still come away feeling there was more to see here, we never get a feel for what the average Gothamite is actually going through during this time.

I can’t help but compare this to Prometheus though, but where the holes in Scott’s film were jarring, those in Nolan’s film seem less so, perhaps because the film has such great momentum that by the time you’ve started to think “Hang on a second…” you’ve been distracted by something else, and despite its length I was never, ever bored, and frankly I wouldn’t have complained if it’d gone on a bit longer.

In many ways it’s the most ambitious of the trilogy, but that isn’t necessarily the same as being the best of the three. It lacks the narrative clarity of Begins, and however good Hardy is, Bane is no Joker. It’s epic story is both a blessing and a curse in equal measure and frankly Nolan packs enough story for two(maybe even more) films here.  It’s a fitting end to the trilogy, and I never felt cheated in any way by the ending. This is a serious contender for one of the best films of the year so far, yet I can’t help wonder what it might have been like with a slightly narrower scope, a slightly shorter narrative and a different villain.

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