Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Juno Temple
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“A storm is coming…” The last time we heard those words, it was in 2005 and Bruce Wayne (Bale) was putting on his Batsuit for the first time. It’s no mistake that we hear them again now, at the conclusion of The Dark Knight trilogy: Christopher Nolan’s epic finale is full of flashbacks and echoes that pick up on the smallest of details from the preceding instalments: tiny asides turned into big, loud plot points.
And when we say “big”, we mean BIG. The same goes for LOUD.
Things start off super-sized, with the arrival of Bane (Hardy), a beast of man with a Gotham-sized beef. We meet him in a heist that suspends disbelief – literally. The opening recalls the introduction of Heath Ledger’s Joker (and License to Kill), almost to a flaw, but the way Nolan just flings aside an airplane is what sets the tone for this ambitious piece of block-busting.
Things get bigger – and louder – from here.
Rising from the city sewers, Bane wields the city’s credit-crunched citizens like a timebomb, setting them on a revolution that erupts into full-on civil war. It’s a plausible scenario, a sea of grey morals that’s sold by the generous ensemble of Lucius Fox (Freeman), the “quite lovely” Miranda Tate (Cotillard) and Commissioner Gordon (Oldman, as well-moustached as ever). It’s just a shame the set-up is so messy.
It’s a strange thing to say about Nolan’s troupe of Batvets: Lee Smith’s editing is economical, ramming together set pieces like little bricks of Lego; Wally Pfister’s cinematography is crisp; and yet there are characters and scenes that could be removed from the script altogether, an accusation that could never be levelled at the slim-fit Batman Begins.
As Nolan pushes for bigger and better, we start to see the pieces being lined up for the first time. Characters’ journeys are mapped out and storylines flagged up way in advance; twists aren’t surprising, they just exist for the sake of twists. Occasionally inaudible dialogue doesn’t help either – for all the furore surrounding Bane’s masked vocals (which mostly resemble a chain-smoking Scooby Doo), it’s just as difficult to understand some of Gary Oldman’s injured mumbling. And, of course, there’s still Bale’s own hoarse barking to decipher (Lucius still hasn’t invented the Batlozenge).
But like The Dark Knight before it, Rises still benefits from its bloated girth. The sheer scale of the thing keeps you watching: as much an adaptation of A Tale of Two Cites as a comic book strip, its scope really is Dickensian, packed with sweeping cityscapes.
Mopey as ever, Bruce Wayne’s self-imposed isolation is agonising, given real heart by Michael Caine’s loyal butler and real pain by Hardy’s back-breaking antagonist. Catwoman, meanwhile, is an intriguing cipher thanks to her determined lack of backstory or clear ethical side; in Hathaway’s hands, Selina Kyle is as much a social statement as a sex symbol.
Between her steel stilettos and Bane’s massive biceps, it’s astonishing to think how far we’ve come from the last Batman finale. Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin would never go near this clash of right-wing establishment and liberalising upstarts, let alone create a world believable enough for it to inhabit. But Batman’s position in this world of corrupt officials versus freedom fighters is an uncomfortable one that never quite settles.
Still, on a smaller stage, after two character-driven crime thrillers, Christopher and his brother Jonathan understand the psychology of DC’s caped crusader. Batman’s barely even in the film, spending most of the 2 hours and 45 minutes as a chalk drawing on the pavement rather than a physical presence.
“Do you think he’s coming back?” one kid asks Joseph Gordon Levitt’s idealist cop John Blake. His belief in the symbol of Batman is as much a part of Nolan’s vision as Wayne’s own journey – and despite some clunky dialogue, it’s Gordon Levitt’s earnest newcomer that sells the last 45 minutes, a well-choreographed explosion of action, vehicles and, yes, emotion.
While Gotham regresses to the 18th Century, Hans Zimmer’s relentless score gets more and more apocalyptic, building up to the booming finale. Where were we? Yes, big and loud. There’s no drowning out the feeling, though, that this is the weakest of the trilogy. A messy first half leads to a slightly awkward pay-off that, while technically impressive, can leave you feeling a bit cheated – especially by the final Michael Caine-related shot.
Fortunately, though, the volume mostly wins out. The Dark Knight Rises to an end that’s just satisfying enough to work. Big and loud, it concludes the heck out of an awesome trilogy.
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