The beautiful thing about a Christopher Nolan film is the way he has rejects formula and convention while still capturing the hearts and minds of his audience. In his first two Batman instalments, Nolan gave us what we’d expect from a comic film but in a way we didn’t see coming. Crafting a back story for Bruce Wayne where he becomes Batman because he is afraid of Bats is one of the many ideas and concepts that have entranced audiences. With this final instalment in his Batman trilogy, Nolan doesn’t let up. For those expecting to see more of what they loved about the The Dark Knight, you’re in for a rude shock. The Dark Knight Rises is a sprawling Epic where the darkness once owned completely by Batman meets its match.
Set eight years after the events of the previous film, the lie about Harvey Dents death has worked and the city has enjoyed eight years without organised crime. This new world order is one where the Dent Act has removed such things as parole for prisoners, cracking down ruthlessly on the criminal elements of Gotham. But the lie weighs heavily on Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and has sent Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) without his caped alter-ego into exile. It’s bred a sense of complacency in this modern Gotham, symbolised by the behaviour of Gordon’s Deputy (Matthew Modine) who oozes complacency and politics. But when a cunning cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) robs Wayne, and a masked mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy) walks into Gotham, the need for the Dark Knight … Returns …
For a film about Batman, there is very little of the caped crusaders to be seen. This isn’t really a comic book movie in the sense we’ve come to know, it’s far more than that. More akin to other epics such as The Last Samurai where our hero is searching for himself, this is a film that extends the premise of Nolan’s first film Batman Begins … Who is Bruce Wayne? We know he becomes Batman because his parents were shot dead at such a young age, but how does this story end for him? The films central premise reveals itself when Gordon’s protegé John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) confronts Wayne early in the piece and cuts directly to the core of what drives him. How does someone move on from such tragedy? Is Batman just the rage that Wayne cannot let go?
What acts as the mirror to Wayne’s soul searching is the morally dubious Selina Kyle, who is essentially Catwoman although she is never referred to as such, and the enigmatic brick wall called Bane. One is searching for a clean slate, while the other is driving towards an inevitable reckoning. These are the two choices that confront our hero, and as he is pitted against the ferocity of Bane and the confusion of Selina’s actions he falls deeper into his spiritual exile.
It’s in that exile that the film suffers the most however. It dramatically loses momentum for a time and as it try’s to juggle the stories many branching themes it struggles to find some cohesion. For a brief period of time we have to make do with montage like exposition instead of a focussed sense of story. It falls into that trap of telling us what is going on rather than simply showing it and letting us fill in the blanks. Fortunately it’s brief, and the payoff is justly rewarding.
Also rewarding are the performances. The returning cast are as exceptional as ever and Bale provides his strongest performance as Wayne yet. At first I was dubious of the casting of Anne Hathaway but she is mesmerizing as Catwoman, a perfect fit in the end for a very intriguing character who was not given enough screen time. Tom Hardy also excels as Bane, with only his eyes left to express anything thanks to his mask he manages to turn in a very human and believable performance. The pain in his eyes at several points is as strong as someone who would be able to use their whole face to express an emotion.
For some of the audienceBane is likely to disappoint however, he is not Ledgers Joker in the sense that he lacks the charisma that naturally draws you into that love hate relationship. Where the Joker wants to watch the world burn, Bane wants to burn it. I’m quite comfortable with the tone of this films bad guy, but you do for a time wish that there was a little bit of the Jokers fun in the film.
Instead of that comic relief the film relies on some very big action sequences to break up the seriousness and darkness of its plot, and boy are they big. They might be few and far between, but they are a sight to behold. The special effects are seamless and the scale is epic, using the entire city of Gotham to play out the battles. But it never escapes us, Nolan’s deft touch keeps everything grounded and believable. He is not just a master of casting and character, he is probably one of the strongest action directors going around as well.
Bringing all the themes and plot lines for the previous films together Nolan has weaved a canvas for us that pushes us towards his inevitable conclusion. There is no holding our hands and easing us into the abyss, he is constantly pushing us and forcing us to catch up. While The Dark Knight Rises at first appears less nuanced than the previous film, everything eventually comes into focus, and with a few surprises it doesn’t fail to deliver. To miss this film, especially on the big screen, is a disservice. Even if you aren’t quite into this sort of thing, Nolan has crafted a special trilogy and it deserves our attention.