Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Director: Christopher Nolan

****

In a summer boasting the likes of Avengers Assemble and Prometheus, it’s no mean feat to be considered the most anticipated film of the year. Yet that’s exactly what The Dark Knight Rises is. Since the end of The Dark Knight, the expectation for Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy has been utterly huge. The size of the hype is matched only by the film’s scope.

The epic size and scale of TDKR is what will linger in the memory after the credits roll. Here is a film that travels halfway across the world, juggles characters old and new and yet still manages to maintain the basic themes and conflicts of the first two films. Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse since his pointy-eared alter ego disappeared into the night and took the rap for the crimes of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. His reclusiveness, informed by his mourning for his parents and his late love Rachel Dawes, addresses one of the problems of the last two Batman films. Nolan has been accused of favouring the head over the heart, his intellectual leanings swamping any potential emotionality. This time around, Wayne is visibly wounded and grieved. Having taken this journey with him so far, we arrive at the emotional climax that we have arguably been denied to this point. Bale gives his most intense and invested performance as Wayne third time around; this is probably the most in-depth we’ve been with Wayne, even more than in Batman Begins. As promised, Nolan returns to the themes and ideas laid in that film. He also brings the focus back squarely onto Wayne/Batman after the Joker pilfered the last film with little more than a pencil and a cackle. Mind you, there’s no lack of an arresting villain here.

Bane (Tom Hardy) is your threat for the evening. His plan is a standard ‘destroy the city’ ploy (pg.34 of the Master Criminal’s Handbook, Vol. 4), but what sets him apart is the ferocity of his plan and his physical and mental dexterity. Bane and his gang essentially hijack central Gotham and sever it from the outside world. If anything tries to get in or out, he destroys the city. Its boldness reflects that increased scale and scope Nolan’s going for. Bane is also a physical match for Batman as well as a psychological one, and he drags Batman back into his past and back to his experiences and his training years before. Between the two, on the borderline between friend and foe is cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). She’s never referred to as Catwoman, but then this isn’t Michelle Pfeiffer redux. Hathaway’s Kyle is truly feline; she’s a self-interested predator, but that doesn’t mean she can’t seduce and charm with little more than a purr. Hardy is truly intimidating, but Hathaway is the standout of this ensemble. Her vulnerable sexiness is one big furball in the face of her naysayers.

As if these two weren’t enough, we have plenty other new characters along for the ride. The main ones are honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a right-hand-man to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, the newest member of the Wayne Enterprises board. Matthew Modine’s also new in town as Deputy Commissioner Foley, and we still haven’t discussed the returning old hands, Alfred (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). There’s the nugget of The Dark Knight Rises’ main problem; there’s a lot of characters and a lot going on here and, at 164 minutes, one has to wonder how much of it is necessary. The Dark Knight Rises never drags (a complaint The Dark Knight couldn’t even overcome), but the first hour is an overload of information. The screenwriters, Nolan and his brother Jonathan, seem compelled to spell out what’s happened in that eight year gap, and it can sometimes confuse. Not that we’re not interested in the power politics of Wayne Enterprises, but information revealed early on does factor in later, so paying attention is required, even through sometimes choppy dialogue (To judge from the way he talks to Wayne, Alfred must be taking a night course in public oration). Further on, the spelling out of detail segues to weeks flashing by in seconds. Someone, pick a pace! Meanwhile, a disappointing audio mix means Hans Zimmer’s score frequently threatens the dialogue.

All that said, once the exposition has been exposed, on comes the pain, the loss and the redemption. Mainstream Hollywood has never been as dark and despondent as this. Bane brings the pain, Bruce pays the price and the Dark Knight does indeed rise. As exposition melts into introspection, any niggles will be forgotten as the final half hour rolls in to constantly deliver moments that will have your lower jaw on the ground. As all the loose ends get tied up, Nolan delivers Imax-lensed action on the grandest scale possible, infused with a genuine pathos and emotion that may well leave you weeping come the final reel. This ending, this film and this trilogy, for all its flaws, are no less than either Batman or his audience deserve. Hats off to Christopher Nolan; he sure does have a taste for the theatrical.

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