The Dark Knight Rises (12A, 164 mins)
Director: Christopher Nolan
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Having revitalised the Batman brand with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan has ensured The Dark Knight Rises arrives as the year’s most anticipated movie, and the pressure is on him to complete the trilogy in style.
Since taking the fall for the murders committed by Harvey Dent, Batman has been gone for eight years. In fact his presence hasn’t been required, since the work supposedly done by Dent has rid the streets of all the worst criminals. That’s until a metal-masked maniac named Bane (Tom Hardy) shows up, a hulking mercenary with a plan to unleash hell on Gotham.
With his cape tucked away, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a reclusive figure, broken in body and mind, and still mourning the death of Rachel. But the threat posed by Bane forces him to don the Batsuit once more and rise to the challenge.
Returning from previous instalments to aid Batman are Michael Caine as butler Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as gadget provider Lucius Fox. As well as Hardy, new additions Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provide a fresh spark. As, respectively, a duplicitous cat burglar, a philanthropist with an interest in Wayne’s business, and a rookie cop who knows a thing or two, they’re all integral to the story.
With such a vast cast and sprawling narrative, keeping tabs on everyone becomes a challenge for both Nolan and the audience. Actions and motivations can be murky and confusing, and characters often seem able to pop up whenever they're required, Gordon-Levitt especially seeming to be everywhere at once.
So it’s flawed then, more flawed than you might have reasonably have hoped. The problem is, after The Dark Knight, we demand perfection. Anything less than that is a letdown. And yet more often than not The Dark Knight Rises succeeds in the most breathtaking ways, especially if you see it in IMAX.
For carrying on plotlines and themes begun in Begins, it’s part of that rare thing, a fully-rounded trilogy. And while it offers fewer of the electrifying jolts that were part and parcel of The Dark Knight, the compensation is that it exists on a level of scale and ambition that demands our attention and respect.
Massive set pieces are brought off with seamless technical precision, and the action pounds to the bone. But first and foremost it’s about the characters, and the stunning line-up of actors, and the sincerity they each bring to their parts, is to be applauded. Bale reaches deep to show us the human side of Batman, and while the relationship between Bruce and Alfred takes a bit of a bruising, it’s still the beating heart of all three films.
Hathaway gets to show many faces, from demure to slinky to ferocious, and she comes close to stealing the show at times. Bane is a truly dangerous villain, one who has the measure of Batman physically, and their confrontations are monumental in their ferocity.
It’s in the final reckoning that the film really earns its stripes. There are twists galore, most of them stunning, and a crescendo of action, character and emotion that has been worth the wait.
So as a summer blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises is really solid. As a Nolan Batman film it’s perhaps a slight disappointment. But as the third part of a game-changing series of comic book crime epics, it’s a hugely satisfying capper to a tremendous trilogy.