Release Date: July 20th, 2012
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy
Christopher Nolan didn’t really need to do anything to convince me to plonk my arse firmly onto an IMAX seat for nearly three hours and witness the closing chapter of his Batman trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises had me at hello – after seeing the phenomenal prologue sequence during the Operation: Early Bird campaign, I largely stayed away from the slew of production stills, teasers, trailers and leaks to follow in the hope of staying spoiler-free before the screening. To anyone reading this who may still be in the same position, I’ll try and keep the spoilers light.
The Nolanverse established itself well in 2005 with Batman Begins as a refreshingly earnest approach to the origins of the Caped Crusader than had previously been seen on film. Its sequel, The Dark Knight, further fleshed out the city of Gotham and brilliantly showcased two of the franchise’s most recognisable villains — The Joker and Two-Face. Neither film is flawless, but their ambition, density and execution make it easy to forgive any missteps which occur along the way. The Dark Knight Rises shares some of these missteps, and arguably introduces a couple more, but Nolan holds the film together admirably and gives Batman a bombastic send-off which fans of the series should not miss out on.
The film takes place 8 years after the death of Harvey Dent, whose crimes Batman accepted full responsibility in order to preserve Dent’s good name. Over the years Bruce Wayne has become reclusive, Wayne Enterprises is hemorrhaging money and Gotham has seen years of clean streets following from the RICO case filed by Dent and Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. However, these peace times do not last and a new threat approaches Gotham in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy), an excommunicated member of League of Shadows who is seeking to fulfill what Ra’s al Ghul could not — to cleanse Gotham.
Hardy is excellent as Bane — despite wearing a mask throughout, his ocular and bodily performance commands the screen and the highly-controversial “Bane voice” has been cleaned up significantly since early prologue screenings, making him equal parts terrifying and legible. Other new faces include Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate — Hathaway was undeniably a stand out as the self-centered, crafty and acrobatic thief, with great chemistry between herself and Christian Bale. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman reprise their roles and the film is structured more like an ensemble piece than before, with a network of interweaving narrative threads and sub-plots involving characters outside of Bruce Wayne. All of the actors perform well in spite of a script which can occasionally lose its way juggling so many threads at once.
Just as it happened with Rocky on his third outing, much of the film involves our protagonist rebuilding himself physically and mentally in order to face this new, powerful evil. Bane is the first villain in Nolan’s films that has truly felt like a physical threat — he is faster and stronger than Bruce, whose 8-year retirement has left his body weak. The first encounter between the two is a terrific scene which verges on hard to watch as Bane effortlessly breaks through every trick Batman has at his disposal. It was refreshing to feel a shift in power, and the deliberately-paced rebuild of Batman back into the third act is great to witness.
There are enough nods and references to the earlier films that I was thankful I had refreshed my memory of the series by rewatching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight earlier in the week, and I would suggest at least skimming through a plot synopsis of the previous two films before going in to TDKR if you’re feeling a little fuzzy on the details. Much of what has come before is made reference to including the League of Shadows and Harvey Dent, and while Nolan has stated that there was no reference to the Joker out of respect to Heath Ledger, it is hard not to feel as though there is something missing when the film takes pains to reference almost every other element of its legacy.
The film looks and sounds tremendous, and with 72 minutes of the film shot entirely on IMAX cameras I cannot recommend enough that if you get the chance to see the film on an IMAX screen, do so. Long-time Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister provides the cinematography for the film and Hans Zimmer also returns to score and delivers another masterclass in orchestration. The music of the film is deceptively simple but extremely effective, making use of short themes and repetitive, primeval rhythms to great effect, such as with the “Deshi Basara” chanting which characterises Bane.
The Dark Knight Rises does not disappoint. While it does falter on occasion, these faults are easily brushed aside as the film as a whole works well to round off Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Its connection with the previous films helps to maintain a good sense of continuity, but it is not afraid to freshen the series up by introducing a few new, great characters, large-scale set pieces and a plot twist or two along the way. Whether constructed by the film itself, or by the knowledge that this is the last we will see of this interpretation of Batman, TDKR works extremely well on an emotional level, providing a high-energy, grandiose, brutal and poignant end to perhaps one of the best-told superhero stories on film to date.
For a spoiler-filled discussion of The Dark Knight Rises, check out this week’s podcast here!