Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Cillian Murphy, Juno Temple, Tom Conti, Liam Neeson, Daniel Sunjata, Joey King, Josh Stewart, Aiden Gillen, Brett Cullen, Brent Briscoe.
The Dark Knight Rises is possibly the most anticipated film of the year, and for fans it may well live up to expectations. With this third film in his epic take on the Batman mythology, Christopher Nolan brings the series to a conclusion. Nolan’s bleak take on the comic book hero has taken Batman into darker territory that is far removed from the camp flavour and vibrant technicoloured action of the Adam West television series of the 60s. The Dark Knight Rises deals with themes of heroism, sacrifice, corruption, class warfare, law and order, and the fragility of heroes, heady stuff for a comic book.
The film takes up the story eight years after the events of The Dark Knight. Following the Joker’s reign of terror, Gotham has experienced a period of relative peace and prosperity. Batman has faded from the scene after his reputation was tarnished and he shouldered the blame for the crimes of Harvey Dent. “There’s nothing out there for me,” he tells the loyal and sage Alfred (Michael Caine) who is trying to keep him from harm. His alter ego Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become something of a recluse hiding away in stately Wayne manor while his business empire is slowly eroding away.
But he is forced to return to protect his beloved but unforgiving Gotham City when the ruthless masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to wreak havoc. His face is covered by a surgically implanted mask that gives him an even more fearsome presence. But it causes him to speak in sepulchral, Darth Vader-like tones, and sometimes renders his voice almost unintelligible. Bane wants to tear down Gotham and destroy Batman. He arms a nuclear device that will destroy Gotham within a couple of weeks. All the bridges leading out of Gotham are destroyed, trapping the frightened population in the city, which is now ruled over by a lawless mob.
With the help of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the technical genius of Wayne Industries executive Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) Batman tries to thwart Bane and reclaim his place as the saviour of Gotham. At the hands of Bane though both the caped crusader and Bruce Wayne suffer as they have never done so before.
The war on terror has resonated through the first two parts of Nolan’s epic series, but here the threat is even more palpable. As dust clouds rise on the rubble-strewn streets of Gotham and fear and panic take hold, the 9/11 references are pretty obvious. But the narrative is also suffused with undercurrents of contemporary sociopolitical concerns in America today.
Nolan is a visceral and visual director, and there are some superb sequences here, including the destruction of a football field, a terrorist attack on the stock exchange, and the daring mid-air hijacking of a CIA jet. The special effects are superb, and just under 50% of the film was shot in the IMAX format. This time most of the key action sequences take place in broad daylight, allowing regular cinematographer Wally Pfister (who has lensed all of Nolan’s previous films) to shoot them in bright colours. The action is accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s driving, percussive score.
But at 164 minutes the film is too long, and there are some sequences in the middle section of the film that lack pace, urgency and dramatic tension. The Dark Knight Rises is a huge scale undertaking, but Nolan deftly juggles the vast gallery of characters and subplots here. Many themes and motifs and characters from earlier films are revisited here in the script from Nolan and his brother Jonathan.
The solid performances from a stellar cast also elevate the material above the usual pulp comic book style. Bale brings a more nuanced vulnerability and sense of doubt to his complex characterisation this time around, although he still possesses a suitably brooding quality as the tormented, conflicted hero.
As well as the regulars of Bale, Oldman, Freeman and Caine, The Dark Knight Rises also introduces some new characters into the mix. Bane may be one of the lesser villains in the Batman canon, but as played by Hardy he is the epitome of evil, and has a truly menacing and malevolent presence. Hardy, who had such an imposing physical presence in Bronson, uses his bulky physique to great effect here. Anne Hathaway brings a sultry and feisty quality to her role as Selina Kyle, the pretty cat burglar who is both Batman’s foe and unreliable ally in trying to save Gotham from destruction. Marion Cotillard (from Nolan’s Inception) plays Miranda Tate, a philanthropic member of the Wayne Foundation board and a staunch supporter of Bruce Wayne’s efforts to salvage his business.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (also from Inception) brings a touch of humanity to his role as John Blake, an honest and decent rookie policeman who not only works with Gordon to try and stop Bane, but also tries to save a busload of orphans. Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn plays John Daggett, a corporate raider intent on acquiring Wayne Industries by fair means or foul.
The Dark Knight Rises is the most ambitious film in Nolan’s trilogy and is certainly epic in scope, bringing the series to a fitting conclusion. But in terms of action, impact, edginess and tension and a memorable, charismatic villain it does not quite match the heights of The Dark Knight.