By Robert Bayley.
This review contains spoilers.
He’s actually done it. Christopher Nolan has created the latest Great Trilogy. Nolan’s Dark Knight series of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and now The Dark Knight Rises can comfortably stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
The Dark Knight especially is regarded as something of a modern classic with a great deal of praise going to Heath Ledger’s nightmarish take on the Joker. Without such an iconic and flamboyant villain, could the Dark Knight conclusion ever hope to be as captivating?
Wisely Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer have sidestepped the studios request of Leonardo DiCaprio as The Riddler in favour of an incomparable villain.
Bane is a towering monster of a man and Tom Hardy brilliantly plays him, his voice the complete opposite of his body language. While Bane’s speech is erudite and intellectual he has the mannerisms of a gorilla, which his baboon-like mask effectively plays to. As a result Bane is a greatly nuanced villain, almost equaling the Joker, if in a far subtler way.
But Bane isn’t the only villain worthy of praise. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as Catwoman and perhaps the most three dimensional version of Selina Kyle we have yet seen on screen. Taking inspiration from Hedy Lamarr ( the inspiration of the comic book character) Hathaway’s performance manages to be simultaneously graceful, seductive, callous and vicious. The way the the screenplay so effectively weaponizes her sexuality is also of note.
The Dark Knight Rises is not all about the villains of course. One of the few criticisms leveled at The Dark Knight was that it was as much a Joker film as it was a Batman film, with Two-Face not getting much of a look in. The Dark Knight Rises though is definitely Batman’s show.
Christian Bale is, as ever, in great form as the definitive big screen caped crusader. Here Bale shows there’s yet more digging into the character to be done and he’s allowed to stretch his talented acting muscles as Batman goes from almost starving to death in a distant prison to battling Bane’s army in Gotham city. Bale often doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his portrayal of Batman so perhaps this final time audiences will be more recognizing of just why he was the fan’s choice. His smugness and apparent death wish add extra layers to the character and make him more compelling to watch than ever before.
Likewise the supporting performances, big or small, are all equally enjoyable and well done, from Michael Caine’s Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon to Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate and Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow, there really isn’t one bum note. Its a shame not to be able to credit everyone but this really is film making on a grand scale.
As such its got a particularly lengthy running time of 165 minutes, but nothing feels unnecessary. You are aware that some serious groundwork is being laid down, but not once is one left wanting the film to shift up a gear. In fact when Bruce finally does don the cape and cowl its a particularly gratifying experience. It also allows for some greatly involved and intricate action scenes that left this reviewer literally hyperventilating with excitement. The nerve-shredding third act is Nolan giving us a first rate masterclass in how to pile on tension. Great and inventive use is made of the Bat-pod and particularly the new airborne vehicle known as ‘The Bat.’
Nolan also cuts back on the ultra-fast editing from the previous films for the fights. While it was entirely appropriate there, here Batman is against an adversary easily capable comprehending his attacks. The fights become, in line with the film, more sweeping and epic as a result.
Despite it’s length however the script still whizzes along at a consistent and thrilling pace. Never once does one feel they are in ‘a slow bit’. An effective mix of the stories Knightfall, No Man’s Land and The Dark Knight Returns, it also allows our characters to go on a more emotionally satisfying journey, especially Batman. This really is an intense emotional arc so you are encouraged to take some tissues along.
Intense is probably the word that best sums this film up. The action is brutal; Batman and Bane’s final clash really hurts as our hero repeatedly punches in Bane’s breathing apparatus. The twists are unexpected; Talia Al Ghul’s reveal is particularly effective. The emotions are fraught, from Bruce and Alfred’s final goodbye to Bane’s motivations regarding Talia. It is the complete package.
The Dark Knight Rises is a film which gets everything right and ensures we’ll be mentioning Nolan’s trilogy in the same breath as classics like Superman. Fitting for such an iconic character, it is the perfect farewell to the Batman.