If you have not seen to The Dark Knight Rises yet, then this is not the review for you. I will steer clear of major spoilers but it’s impossible to review this movie fairly without giving some things away, you have been warned.
When Batman Begins arrived in cinemas in 2005 the world took a collective gasp at Christopher Nolan’s take on the Dark Knight. Nobody knew what to expect, but it gave credibility back to Gotham City’s favourite son after two woeful Joel Schumacher movies, Nolan was the indeed ‘the man for the job.’ Lightening struck twice as The Dark Knight managed that rare feat, it bettered and built on what went before, pushing the envelope for superhero movies.
How could Nolan top the Dark Knight?
Franchise closers are a tricky beast, everything has to be bigger, more villains, more danger and it must offer a sense of closure. We’ve been drip fed trailers, on set pictures, clips, posters and rumours for over a year now and living up to this level of hype is going to take some doing.
Eight years on from Harvey Dent’s death, Bruce Wayne is a recluse; a withered man still grieving for Rachael, he has turned his back on his father’s business and Gotham. Batman has faded into memory, and the streets have never been safer in part thanks to his actions as Harvey Dent is still held as the shining example of good. He’s even had a public holiday dedicated to him.
Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has kept the secret these long years and it has taken its toll on him. His family has left him, the Mayor is pushing him out of office and Gordon almost lets slip the truth about what happened that fateful night.
Meanwhile, a storm is gathering and Bane (Tom Hardy) seems to be at the centre of it. His master plan is put into action with a show stopping mid-air escape. Elsewhere in Gotham, cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) encounters Bruce Wayne whilst stealing something from him, and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is trying to get the self-sustaining energy programme she help fund with Bruce back on track.
There’s a lot going on and Nolan manages a difficult juggling act confidently, what could have been cluttered is thankfully a beautiful symphony conducted by a master. There is a slightly baggy middle section to the movie, the pace slows down and this does lose some momentum. Thankfully this is all part of the plan and is perfect for building up to an unforgettable finale, one that is more emotionally charged than expected.
Michael Caine has been the heart of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Alfred is the father figure Bruce needs and the voice of reason that brings our hero back from the brink. Early in the film Alfred pleads with Bruce to not pursue this destructive path, and to live his life in the light of day. Once again Caine proves to be the emotional core of this series, and I defy anybody not to get at least a little choked up as he walks away from Wayne Manor.
Much speculation was made about who Joseph Gordon-Levitt was playing, was he going to be Robin? A third unknown villain? He plays a cop named Blake who quickly rises to the rank of detective, but he has the same values and morals as Jim Gordon once did.
To those who have read the comics and know the mythology, Bane is a pivotal character in the Batman world. As soon as I heard the main bad guy was going to be Bane, I got goose bumps; my goose bumps got goose bumps. Then add Tom Hardy to the role and you have the recipe for an electrifying villain. There has been a lot of negative feedback about Bane’s voice, okay so it does sound a little bit like he’s talking into a yogurt pot but personally I didn’t have any problems understanding what he was saying. Only in the football stadium sequence when Bane is talking to the crowd through a microphone did things become a little difficult to hear.
Tom Hardy cuts an imposing frame as the man who broke the Bat; this is the first time the caped crusader has faced a physical superior and their final confrontation is magnificently epic and laced with revelations. In this scene it’s difficult not to feel for Bane a little, a monster born in hell that became an animal to survive, and as we later learn, to protect something precious to him. This is a less showy performance and Hardy proves he’s worth the hype.
Gary Oldman once again delivers a knockout performance, this is a very different Jim Gordon, and the secret he shields from Gotham has started to eat away at him like a cancer. Oldman’s understated work throughout this series has been a true highlight; we can only hope he features in the director’s future projects.
Both Hathaway and Cotillard are on fighting form, but there is the sense that both characters are a little under used. The third act twists and turns give us the pay off for these two femme fatales but one things for sure, Hathaway manages to erase the bad memory of 2004’s Catwoman. Both these women in their own way are perfect for Bruce/Batman; there are each his equal but represent two very different paths he could take.
The fight sequences are outstanding, we are treated to things we have not seen before and there is a brutal coldness to the first bout between Bane and Batman. This scene is made all the more shocking by not using any music underneath it, just the punches these titans trade roar out of the screen at you.
For the most part Nolan has done the impossible, a complete trilogy of movies that fit together perfectly and each one is better than what has gone before. His take on Batman raises the bar for superhero movies, not just in scale but also in quality. The Avengers was a huge heap of fun and no mistaking, there is noticeably less humour on offer in DKR and the situation has never been so bleak.
Christian Bale may not have been the obvious choice to bring Bruce Wayne/Batman back to the big screen. He silenced those critics within the first five minutes of Batman Begins, and here he gives his most dynamic performance. The actor finds the perfect balance and plays an older Bruce with depth; he gives this victory lap all he’s got and more.
Cameos from Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson are both nice touches, Matthew Modine reminds us all how great he can be, and former Torchwood star Burn Gorman gets a medium-sized role as Stryver. He must have one hell of an agent.
Unlike the previous films where Batman is always in the shadows, most of the action takes place in the day. This adds to the unease and the magnitude of the situation, a city held hostage by a madman with purpose, and a nuclear bomb.
Is this truly the end? For the most part yes, there is closure and a sense of finality but there is still room for another visit to this incarnation of the Batman universe. In many ways the ending suggests a movie we all want, but know in our hearts we shall never see. Considering the Justice League movie is happening (boooo!) and Nolan has no interest in being part of it, a fourth movie from Nolan is unlikely but we can live in hope.
I will remain silent about the last 10 minutes for now, but myself and Jim will be recording a spoiler filled Dark Knight Rises Podcast Special later this week so do check back with us for a feature-length chat on Christopher Nolan’s final visit to Gotham.
The Dark Knight Rises is a game changing movie, it’s on a scale that’s not been seen before and is still very much grounded in the real world. A satisfying end to a phenomenal trilogy that will stand the test of time as the definitive vision of Batman. Christopher Nolan has forever changed the superhero movie, and for that we shall be forever grateful.
More importantly though, what will Nolan direct next?
The Dark Knight Rises is released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 3rd December