Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Runtime: 164 minutes
Release Date: 20 July 2012
Matt C: You could say that the weight of expectation is always going to work against a movie that’s generated the kind of rabid anticipation that The Dark Knight Rises has, but while there’s often a degree of disappointment, sometimes a film can match or even exceed your expectations. The Dark Knight certainly did that for me, a bleak masterpiece that transcended its pulp origins to achieve instant classic status and had me reeling once I left the cinema back in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, even though it aims high, The Dark Knight Rises doesn't come close to matching its predecessor’s incendiary magnificence. There are moments where it seems to be heading in the right direction, but too many logic and storytelling issues raise their heads, preventing it from reaching its enormous potential. Which is not to say it's not a good film, because it most definitely is - one of the summer season's best - but its flaws are such that even the bombastic, brutal action scenes can’t flatten them.
Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has mothballed the Batman costume to live a hermit-like existence, Alfred his only companion, while Gotham has seen crime rates plummet thanks to the Harvey Dent Act enforced after the District Attorney’s death. Wayne is forced out of retirement due to the arrival of two separate individuals: a cat burglar, Selina Kyle, looking for a way out her felonious lifestyle, and a larger than life terrorist, Bane, who has grand plans to bring Gotham City to its knees. As Bane makes his move, and it becomes clear that Kyle has inadvertently assisted him, Wayne dons the cape and cowl and, even though branded a criminal himself, attempts to take the villain down only to discover that physically (and probably mentally) he's not the man he once was.
If nothing else, The Dark Knight Rises proves that Christopher Nolan is one of the few working directors with the ability to orchestrate a production on this scale. The grand, adrenalizing setpieces are frequently intoxicating, and where once his action direction wasn't so assured (see Batman Begins) now it's beautifully choreographed and utterly gripping, to the point where minor niggles often get swept aside by the sound and fury. There are enough moments on the lead up to Batman's first physical confrontation with Bane that having you thinking, "Fuck yeah! Batman!", hinting that the film is about to shift up a gear. However, after the point where Bane does what he's famous in the comics for doing, going on to set his plan in motion by issuing his ultimatum to Gotham and the world beyond, things start getting unstuck.
Bane initially presents himself as a force of urban revolution and this resonates well with the cultural happenings across the globe in the past couple of years (the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring), and if this was his true raison d'être it would have a been a much more powerful approach to take but, without getting too far into spoiler-heavy territory, there's something else at play, and that something simply isn't strong enough to make the same kind of impact. Basically, a reveal towards the end (one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood over the last year) sees Bane's presence undermined, sucking the life out of his scheming in favour of a clichéd Bond movie style climax. I know Nolan has always professed a great love of Bond, but considering the ideas he was playing with throughout the movie, it just feels like a cop out that a technically impressive, high octane chase through the streets of Gotham can't cover up. It's a shame that things resolve themselves in this manner as it robs the series of a monumental conclusion, but even if it does fall back on a tried and tested race against the clock, it's still a movie that holds the attention throughout, even if certain things do irritate along the way (certain plotholes and questionable logic linger long after the credits roll).
The cast are excellent, with the old hands (Bale, Caine, Oldman and Freeman) now fully comfortable in their roles, and new additions making a largely indelible impression. Tom Hardy's Bane is hampered by a concealing mask and a voice that's way too loud in the sound mix (although it would probably be incomprehensible if it wasn't) but he cuts an imposing physical presence as a man who is more than a match for Batman. Hathaway's character is never referred to as Catwoman, but no one's going to question who she's actually playing, and she's really rather good, not quite up to Michelle Pfieffer's sultry turn in Tim Burton's Batman Returns but not far off all the same, even if she does seem superfluous to the plot for most of the running time, more of a diversion than an integral component. Best of all is Gordon-Levitt who brings some real heart to the proceedings as a cop forced to work independently to get the job done, perhaps only missing a cape and cowl of his own. Only Marion Cotillard feels really wasted in an underwritten part, which is a major mistake, as when she's required to step up to the plate it feels contrived rather than natural, which helps to lessen the impact of the denouement. Behind the camera, there's very little to criticise. Perhaps some of the editing could have been a bit looser, but when things kick off on screen it's undeniably thrilling to watch the carnage unfold as Hans Zimmer's pounding score thunders in the background.
The Dark Knight remains the only true classic of the series, but despite its flaws, The Dark Knight Rises provides an ultimately satisfying conclusion, resulting in what is arguably (to date) the greatest superhero trilogy to grace the silver screen. The last of Nolan's Batman films doesn’t quite hit its target, but the good far outweighs the bad, and I have a feeling I’ll appreciate it more with additional viewings, despite its inherent problems. It's unlikely we'll see another superhero movie treated with such sombre seriousness for some time, and although The Dark Knight Rises doesn't quite find the balance between realism and comic book fantasy that the first two films managed (or contain a performance as devilishly iconic as Heath Ledger’s Joker) there's simply too much brilliance on display to ever dismiss it. 8/10