The final part in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is finally here, The Dark Knight Rises has been much hyped recently and given the level of success of Nolan’s last two movies, The Dark Knight and Inception respectively, it’s clear to see why. So, having avoided almost everything possible regarding the movie beyond my own internal hype, does it live up to it? The answer, unfortunately, is mixed.
The Dark Knight Rises opens 8 years after the events from the previous outing, the fallout from Harvey Dent’s homicidal rampage being a cover up and The Dent Act enabling the cleaning up of Gotham’s streets. Batman is an outlaw who hasn’t been seen since the evening of Dent’s death and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, shut up in one wing of his (now rebuilt) mansion. We first see Bruce, dishevelled and unshaven, in a dressing gown and walking with a cane. Enter Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, posing as an unassuming server at a function being held at Wayne manner. Hathaway’s timid maid gives way to a confident, sleek, perfectly cat like creature in an instant and the transformation is flawless, as indeed is her performance throughout. This opening is just a precursor to the larger story, which won’t be given away here, the basics of which bring Batman out of hiding in order to try to defend the people of Gotham from Bane, a massive imposing agent of chaos who is seeking to redress the balance of power between the elite and the everyday man.
The pop at the stock markets/banks and big business is an obvious and heavy handed message (even more ironic given that these movies have made a lot of people very rich) but it’s not really the point of the movie, which seems to be seeking to resolve the purpose of Batman in the first place. As expected Batman’s return brings with it some new toys that afford some exciting action sequences – the chase when he first reveals himself, and the final epic battle sequence being the highlights. Bane is imposing, but ultimately feels wasted, like he’s holding back – particularly in the two fight scenes with Batman that come off feeling very blocky and not enough like an ‘ultimate showdown’ – there’s one very brief moment during the final battle where you feel Tom Hardy is really going all out, but it is short lived.
The biggest point of contention, and one that ruins the effect of Bane completely, is his voice; not only is it bafflingly goofy to the point of distracting from what he’s saying but actually understanding him is sometimes difficult. Add to that the growly ‘big boy’ voice Bale puts on as Batman and at certain points it’s like listening to two rock filled blenders attempting to hurl dialogue at each other. It contrasts starkly with the simple, heartbreaking exchange that takes place between Alfred and Bruce at one point. As always Gary Oldman is great as Commissioner Gordon, this time adding some more subtle layers to the character, making him a lot more flawed and he get’s a sidekick of sorts in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Gotham PD beat cop turned Detective, John Blake. However Blake’s sub plot revolving around child orphans and his ‘instinctual’ knowledge of Batman’s identity are just a bit much in terms of trying to hammer home an emotional or humanistic story. Mostly it is not the performances that let this film down, it is the script (the exception being a late on performance by Marion Cotillard where she completely Shatner’s up the scene).
Unfortunately in many respects TDKR is very predictable, there was little in the way of surprising plot twists that weren’t clearly signposted early on, and some of the story development is bloated and tiresome. There has always been some licence with the interpretations of the comic books, I have no issue with that because of the universe that these films have created is succinct and vastly interesting, but this one perhaps represents the most divergent removal from the DC universe. It’s as if the previous two films success had inflamed the ego of this one to the point where some of the dialogue is self-indulgently inane. Cutting a couple of the superfluous elements and streamlining the rather expansive length would have made a world of difference to the overall satisfaction of the film.
But, a mediocre Christopher Nolan movie is still a good movie by any standards and TDKR isn’t awful, it’s just a bit muddled. Nolan is a great director, no doubt, but his portrayal of the passage of time is bafflingly full of holes and at more than a few points drags. The overall tone that runs through the previous two, highlighted perfectly in the powerfully dark soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, comes to a crashing crescendo in this movie and it is likely for that reason that any plot or pacing eccentricities can be forgiven.
As a final film in a trilogy TDKR suffices, and at times almost does justice to the idea of Batman, and it seeks to resolve plot lines and link back through to the beginning of the story. However the first two thirds feel like a crawling, banal, series of exposition heavy and pointlessly complicated series of scene progressions (for what is essentially a very straight forward plot) to end up at the satisfying, if predictable, conclusion. The final fight for Gotham is suitably epic, even if the Batman vs. Bane fight is not, and it is really Anne Hathaway’s sleek, charmingly crafty, and refreshing portrayal of Catwoman that really steals the show. It falls a bit short of the grandness of endings that I was hoping for, but in between the unnecessary parts there are moments of brilliance.