The Dark Knight Rises (Film Review)

It’s finally here, Christopher Nolan’s climax to his epic Batman trilogy. The million dollar question is not whether it is good; Christopher Nolan has proven himself as one of the most consistent directors working. The big questions are whether this lives up to the hype of expectation and where this fits into the trilogy. To which those answers are an emphatic yes, as well as doing similar things to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight while being a completely new beast.

At the end of the Dark Knight, the great white hope that was Harvey Dent fell and Batman took the fall. Taking place 8 years after the events of that night, the dark knight rises sees Bruce Wayne psychologically and psychically broken. Living as a recluse in Wayne Manor, it takes the brazen Selina Kyle (Hathaway) to shake this existential funk. Between the two films, Gotham now has the façade of peace time. Crime is at low ebb thanks to an act born from Harvey Dent’s death, keeping all the violent criminals locked away in Blackgate. That peacetime quickly erodes thanks to the ball that is set in motion by Kyle stealing from Wayne Manor. From that seed, corruption in the city returns bringing the storm that is Bane (Hardy) with it.

There are twists & turns and satisfying references to the batman rogues gallery, what makes this trilogy and by turns the dark knight rises is the fortitude to be daring. The script by the Nolan brothers is commendable in its patience, not many $260 million projects have accrued the good will to take the time to tell their story. It’s not until about 40 minutes in that we see the cowl for the first time. This is not the third film in a series of thematically intertwined action blockbusters; on the contrary this is the third film in the trilogy. It has a story to tell, the consequences of begins and the dark knight can be felt everywhere. It’s that what truly makes rises excel, that and the endurance to give time to Bruce Wayne’s story.

This is a character study of Bruce Wayne and the effects that earlier trials have on his psyche, the manifestations of these trials being Bane and Cat Woman. The internet verbalised its distress at the announcement that Bane and Cat Woman would star in this third film, especially when the news broke that Anne Hathaway would play the latter. Casting Hathaway is inspired; she oozes with the confidence and sex appeal that made Selina Kyle such a legend in comic book legend. Bane is more erratic. Turning a Mexican genius/wrestler fuelled by a super serum and his more prominent comic book exploits from Knightfall and No Man’s land into a believable creation sings the praises of the script and production design. His dialogue however is an unavoidable issue in its intelligibility.

Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway may be the main players, but they are by no means the film. Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine return, with the latter providing the emotional resonance. There are many scenes between Bruce Wayne and Alfred that will bring about the misty vision. Other major roles are filled by Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon Levitt. There are also cameos and smaller roles filled by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn; the cast is an embarrassment of riches, exaggerated only by everyone bringing their A-Game.

If Scarecrow & R’as Al Ghul were the degradation of society and the joker was chaos, then Bane represents destruction. Nolan’s Batman has never faced up against someone more psychically dominant than himself and that is reflected in the narrative. Although less nasty than anything the Joker could conjure, the action has mass. Bane (Hardy) gleefully throws his weight around on-screen. Likewise behind the blows and the broken bones, there is an implication. Nolan goes to great lengths to have Batman fight at ground level, continuing the ideal that Batman is a symbol, he could be anyone.

It’s admirable the lengths that are gone to, not just to thrill but to add some substance. That’s not to condescend to the spectacle. The commitment to in-camera effects and story influenced cinematography by Wally Pfister make the scope impossibly grand, and never once does the film over-reach its ambitions. Every penny is seen on-screen without betraying that bond with reality; it’ll be a long time before a film of this scale will be made again.

It’s not flawless; much like its brethren there is a case of overcooking the story. During the opening third the sheer amount of storylines and information operating would devastate many lesser films. It’s not until the final third that it all pulls together to make this part of a richer tapestry, more than the sum of its parts. It has issue in logic and certain relationships are understated. The Dark Knight Rises is a problematic beast, but it’s also bravura film making from Nolan. Both feverishly entertaining and impressively fleshed out in its mythology and character study. The Dark Knight Rises is the perfect ending to a perfect trilogy.

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