Eight years after Batman took the blame for the crimes of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne (Bale) has retired from crime-fighting while Gotham City enjoys a period of relative piece. Damaged both physically and emotionally, Bruce lives as a haunted and reclusive shut-in, until the arrival of mercurial cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway) sparks his interest. But while organised crime has been all but eradicated in Gotham, idealistic cop John Blake (Gordon-Levitt) believes that it still needs a Batman, something which proves true with the arrival of a deadly terrorist known as Bane (Hardy)…
From Richard Pryor leaping off a building on skis in Superman III to the potential-wasting disappointment of Spider-Man 3, no comic book movie series has ever delivered a worthy third instalment. Until now, that is. Despite having to live up to an insurmountable amount of expectation after raising the bar so high with his brilliant Batman Begins and instant-classic follow-up The Dark Knight, filmmaker Christopher Nolan (who was initially hesitant about returning for a third) has pulled it off. Though not without the odd minor niggle, it’s a delight to report that The Dark Knight Rises is an intelligent, gripping, complex and suitably satisfying end to what is now – quite easily – the best comic adaptation trilogy of all time. Hell, it’s arguably the best trilogy of all time, period.
Crucially, the difference is that Nolan and his co-writers (brother Jonathan and scripter David Goyer) decided to conclude the story. While other third instalments have always tried to balloon the stakes and failed miserably in the process (see also Blade: Trinity and X-Men: The Last Stand), The Dark Rises succeeds by bringing the saga to a close, which is something we’ve not seen before. Peppered with thematic, narrative and visual callbacks to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (the former in particular), it brings the story full-circle in a way that, impressively, never feels forced.
But while it’s another grown-up and serious-minded blockbuster which balances cerebral smarts with plot-driven spectacle, The Dark Knight Rises is arguably the most ambitious of the three. Certainly, it’s the longest at two hours, forty minutes, but it never feels that long. While you could contend that the basic plot follows a similar journey to that of Rocky III (it does), Nolan and co also find time to include material about redemption, idealism and financial divides (influenced by Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities). Perhaps, it’s not all balanced as succinctly as before, but while the impatient will complain that it takes too long to put all the pieces in place, there are plenty of narrative twists and spectacular pay-offs in store.
Opening with a stunningly-executed Licence To Kill-esque plane heist, there’s plenty of thrilling action too, all carried out with an admirable lack of CGI. Like Nolan’s previous bat-flicks, The Dark Knight Rises is part crime thriller, part psychodrama, but it’s also – to some extent – a large-scale disaster movie. Complemented by Hans Zimmer’s bombastic score and Wally Pfister’s stunning cinematography (the snow-blanketed Gotham and the striking cityscapes look amazing), Nolan’s trilogy-capper is frequently striking and often rousing (see a certain climb, see a certain re-match). Though Nolan’s detractors often complain that his movies are humourless, there are also a few genuinely amusing lines, while those who weren’t wowed by Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (like this writer) will find the emotional involvement, sense of danger and underlying complexity that was lacking there.
Still, once again Nolan excels most during the quieter character moments. Although Batman is off-screen for long periods, The Dark Knight Rises remains Bruce Wayne’s journey and Christian Bale turns in an appropriately-haunted, soul-searching performance, aided by great scenes with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. After years of Batmanning, Wayne’s body is now ravaged with injuries, a move which adds credibility to a series which trumps all other comic movies when it comes to plausibility. Arguably, The Bat (Wayne’s new flying craft) is a bit out-there for the heightened reality of this universe, but it provides a few cool moments (such as Bale growling “THIS ISN’T A CAR.”) and – rather crucially – never feels silly.
Unlike most comic adaptations, Nolan’s bat-series has never strained to include elements from the comics if they don’t fit organically – especially when it comes to the villains. Of course, following Heath Ledger’s monumental turn as The Joker is nothing short of a thankless task, but Tom Hardy (a great choice) as Bane (a great choice) does as well as is humanly possible. With Bane’s voice having been fixed so you can understand him fine (there were complaints that it was too muffled during early trailers), his ghoulish Euro accent combines with Hardy’s gorilla-like physicality to menacing effect. Elsewhere, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are terrific new additions, while Nolan continues to fill up his pictures with fantastic character actors (Matthew Modine, Tom Conti, Aidan Gillen, the list goes on).
Despite having to live up to an insurmountable amount of hype and expectation, The Dark Knight Rises delivers the first worthy third instalment of a comic-book movie series and completes an unmatchable genre trilogy. Smart, gripping and – most importantly – satisfying, as one cop says to a rookie: “Boy, you are in for a show tonight”. Good luck rebooting this.