The Dark Knight Rises


Undoubtedly the most anticipated film of 2012, or many other years for that matter, the third and final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series opens, if not badly, certainly hesitantly. After the bang-bang-bang brilliance of The Dark Knight’s bank heist and emergence of The Joker, or the subversive time-hopping intelligence of Batman Begins, there’s a big action set-piece involving the liberation of Tom Hardy’s masked, richly (if sometimes muffled) voiced terrorist Bane that, while visually impressive, feels slightly like something out of mid-70s Bond. And not in the best of ways either. 

 Then, while Nolan sets his pieces on a chessboard, there’s 30-40 minutes of exposition and character introduction. In addition to the old favourites, such as Christian Bale’s now suffering and reduced Bruce Wayne, Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon and, especially, Michael Caine’s Alfred, we have a host of new faces. Some, such as Anne Hathaway’s slinky, sexy and morally conflicted Selina Kyle, are welcome from the outset. Some, such as Ben Mendelsohn’s slimy corporate raider and Juno Temple’s criminal-in-training, feel like uncertain and underwritten manifestations of the script’s big ideas. And others, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s upright cop John Blake and Marion Cotillard’s philanthropic Miranda Tate, might as well have ‘Big Twist or Red Herring’ written on their foreheads, so tangential might their parts otherwise seem to be.

 So, for a short time, there seems the very real possibility that Nolan, the most exciting director making films today, has turned in an acceptable, enjoyable but slightly flat final chapter in the most acclaimed mainstream blockbuster series ever. And then, as the first act comes to a close and the second act kicks in, the pace accelerates to that of a greased whippet on amphetamines. It would be churlish to spoil too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that Bane’s vision for Gotham is not one of peace and goodwill to all men, and that Bruce Wayne must once more adopt the mantle of Batman in order to avoid something foreshadowed as long ago as the first film.

 Nolan is an unusually cerebral and provocative filmmaker, and the big themes explored here – the nature of how society fares when law and order are abandoned; whether personal sacrifice can ever be less an act of altruism than a necessity; what the inevitable result of Occupy New York and its ilk must be – are immensely thought-provoking and fully realized stuff. (It should be noted that this is a deeply conservative film in its conclusions.) This is set against truly mind-blowing action set pieces, with the grandest of grand finales that bears close comparison to James Cameron’s best work, proving that Nolan, perhaps unexpectedly, has become one of Hollywood’s finest action directors as well as everything else. As ever, Wally Pfister’s cinematography (on what will apparently be his last film before he becomes a director) is top-notch, Hans Zimmer’s score gives the whole shebang urgency and grandeur in equal measure and the performances are all exemplary, as you’d expect from a cast seemingly mostly composed of award winners and nominees.

 But the talking point for many will be the ending. Not to spoil it, but early rumours of what eventually ensues for Bruce Wayne and Batman have proved to be both quite accurate and completely missing the point, ensuring that this very fine saga wraps up in an unusually emotional and moving fashion. By the very end, if you’re not even slightly moved when a character reads a particularly well-known, and very apt, passage from a novel that sets the thematic tone for the entire film, there’s something deeply wrong with you.

 As a character says at one point, ‘Boy, you’re in for a show tonight.’ 


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