The third and allegedly final film in a series that has become the most successful Hollywood reboot of all time (a dubious honour, sure), The Dark Knight Rises had some intimidating expectations to contend with but manages to cap the series off with impressive grandeur. A broken hero, thrilling villainy and ambitiously complex plot mingle to give director Christopher Nolan’s caped crusader a fine send-off – even if further instalments are a forgone conclusion.
After losing his love and taking the fall for district attorney Harvey Dent’s crimes as Two-Face in the second film, both Batman and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) have disappeared from Gotham’s streets, which are now unprecedentedly crime-free. Dent’s end seems not to have been in vain as his murder becomes the catalyst for the tough legislation police needed to stamp out organised crime. With no war to wage there’s no need for Batman and with no Rachel Dawes to love Wayne sees little purpose in his own billionaire playboy existence, retiring from public view for some eight years.
Of course Gotham isn’t the kind of place that can stay clean for too long and a chain of events triggered by the seductive cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) soon sees a new menace marching on Gotham – one dire enough to yank the morose vigilante out of retirement. That menace comes in the hulking form of Bane (Tom Hardy), a terrifyingly physical masked terrorist that instantly burns the memory of 1997’s Batman & Robin interpretation of the character from the audience’s collective conscience.
Thing get off to a slow start as we are reintroduced to the old cast – Michael Cain’s Alfred, Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon – all getting on with their lives in the absence of Batman. We also meet a handful of new faces, including Hathaway’s slinky Catwoman (though she never claims the name), benevolent socialite Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and righteous young police officer John Blake (Jospeh Gordon-Levitt). The new characters are established with more haste than is ideal but the strong cast is enough to swing the audience in the directions necessary.
Once the formalities are over and Batman’s new mission is laid bare the film tilts its hefty premise forward and topples onward with intense momentum. The citywide set pieces that see Gotham cut off from the rest of the world as Bane stages a ‘revolution’ against the city’s authorities are thunderously impressive. Our hero naturally has an equally remarkable array of toys to combat the monolithic tyranny, though Bane’s tactical ju-jitsu ends up turning these weapons against the police as Wayne is removed from the board and forced to watch his city burn.
As gravelly and melodramatic as the gothic tale may be it is still, at heart, an action film and in this (as in everything else) it’s duties are taken very seriously indeed. Batman’s combat style hasn’t changed much since we last saw him slapping poor old Heath Ledger around – more brawler than ninja, probably because of costuming restrictions – but up against Bane we really see sinew start to grind. Hardy plays the villain with such menace and ferocity it’s almost an artful pleasure to see him mash the Dark Knight to a pulp.
Needless to say the veterans of the supporting cast hold up their end with grit, poise and charm, as necessary. Welcomely we get to see a bit more of Gordon’s valorous, if at times almost bumbling, heroics though Alfred and Lucius are largely relegated to the fringes. This is, of course, to make way for the new kids and they certainly don’t disappoint. Gordon-Levitt has recently been bearing teeth to overcome his dirty past as a child sitcom star and for the most part passing with conviction, and his idealistic John Blake is no exception (and Bat-fans with a penchant for homophones can guess at where he’s headed).
The biggest wildcard in the deck was former teen princess Hathaway as Catwoman; while she could hardly do more damage to the character than Halle Berry managed she nevertheless seemed an odd fit for Nolan’s tone. We needn’t have worried, however, as she flirts her way through with teasing confidence, dry wit and seductively questionable morality.
Clocking in at 165 minutes Dark Knight Rises is a long player and, despite the frenetic second half, you do start to feel it. Unfortunately, even with that much celluloid to play with script is over-stuffed, at times jumping quickly from scene to scene when time to linger on the brooding mood and morbid drama would have been preferable.
Pacing issues aside, the film ticks all the boxes fans could have wanted; it plays to the comic legacy with a complexity that doesn’t underestimate the audience while knowing exactly when to dial back the cerebral and gun the action. It might not hit the orchestral highs the second film on occasion managed, but overall it’s a more level production with very little to fault. If this really is the legend’s end we couldn’t have asked for a much better dénouement.
The Dark Knight Rises is in cinemas now.