In some ways, Christopher Nolan could feel helpless about the large portion of negativity directed his way now The Dark Knight Rises is finally upon us after months if not years of heightened anticipation and amplified speculation. However downright spectacular TDKR (and it truly is) happened to be, it will forever be within The Dark Knight’s shadow.
It’s a testament, then, to what Nolan has conjured for the trilogy-closer to the Dark Knight saga that it comes out the other side every match for what many considered to be the best superhero film of our time. It might be a tad over-long and suffer ever so slightly from pacing issues where The Dark Knight tirelessly zipped along (Wayne’s confinement in the middle of the film marks the beginning of that lull), but packed into its 164-minute run-time is a cinematic spectacle quite unmatched by its ‘super’ competitors. Joss Whedon and Marvel’s Avengers Assemble might have taken the plaudits at the opening of the frenzied summer season; but it is Nolan, DC Comics and Warner Bros. that will reclaim top spot.
Set eight years after the climatic close to 2008’s The Dark Knight, Rises opens with Commissioner Gordon addressing the Gotham people in a way befitting of the city’s new-found idolisation of one Harvey Dent. Having taken the rap for the horrific heads-or-tails crimes committed by the late district attorney, Batman (and therein with him, Bruce Wayne) is all but left in a shadow not entirely of his own making. As psychologically tormented he is by the death of childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes as he is physically damaged (the caped crusader’s garb has been hung up in place of a trusted cane), Bruce Wayne has all but withdrawn from public life.
That is until the unpredictable, brutal man-hulk Bane (played by Tom Hardy, superb) gets in on the action, bringing the city of Gotham down to its knees once again in explosive-lined acts of methodical terrorism and deft attacks on corporate America - the neatly-choreographed assault on the stock exchange, while we arrive at that point, is a smart response to The Dark Knight's bank heist opener. Like the Joker's evocative entrance in the former, Nolan's introduction of Bane is quite brilliant. An almost 007-like mid-air plane hijack brings home the calculated, systematic nature of Bane's method of chaos – a total contrast to that invited by the Joker (“some men just want to see the world burn”). It's all the more chilling when experiencing the sound mix of Bane's voice; menacing, ominous and powerfully delivered.
Seizing a nuclear device from Wayne Enterprises intent on not only bringing the city to its knees but wiping it out completely, Bane represents Batman's greatest threat yet. It's a credit to Hardy's portrayal that we believe in the strength and punishment his character dishes out - an underground confrontation between the two around the mid-way point finds Batman entirely stripped of the control he normally imparts, entirely at the behest of Bane. His motivations may be cloudy at best (and it's to the film's detriment) for the most part, but still there's depth to be found in Bane, with a back-story teased throughout the film showing that even behind the mask there's humanity to be found. Only the anti-climatic end to the character can take anything away from what Bane gives to the film as a whole.
But however great its villain turned out to be, like any third instalment, The Dark Knight Rises' greatest test was always going to be whether it tied up the lose ends of the Dark Knight saga towards a meaningful resolution. Rest assured, then, that the trilogy-closer does so in terrific fashion, bringing the series' most notable character arcs to a fitting close. Gary Oldman is once again superb as a conflicted, troubled, yet stoic hero. Michael Caine delivers what could be his finest performance as Alfred, brought home with an emotionally-resonant farewell. Bale, meanwhile, manages to pull off a character who throughout the run-time goes from physically-distraught recluse; to dejected, drained and mentally-scarred; back to the muscle-bound caped crusader of the title. It's quite a transformation, and perhaps the greatest exploration of the Batman character on film.
And while Nolan nor brother Jonathan can do anything with the script to ensure Hathaway's Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Marion Cotillard's Miranda are anything but sideshows to the brunt of the action, the introduction of Joseph Gordon Levitt as 'hot-headed' cop Blake reclaims something for TDKR' debutants. A closing name reveal aside, Blake is the meeting point between Gotham's finest and Bruce Wayne's masked bat, once again drawing out some of the humanity locked away behind the mask of Batman and proving beyond Inception he has what it takes in a more full-fledged action role.
But once again we return to that word 'spectacle' when trying to sum up The Dark Knight Rises. It's a rip-roaring two-and-a-bit-hours ably delivering set pieces in the first, second and third acts that most other films would be content with for a magnificent climax. The American football scene, as seen on the trailer, is truly special on the big screen, as is the way in which the film cuts to a city-wide shot of the city to allow the audience to completely take in the destruction that Bane has administered.
From the terrific performances, all the way to the fantastic blend of visual and special effects, the stunning cinematography, to the magnificent Hans Zimmer score that will remain iconic to Batman into the foreseeable future, it's a blockbuster deserving of its place of one of the year's must-see movies. And about that ambiguous ending, you better believe it's not over yet... 9/10