After what feels like years of anticipation, Christopher Nolan’s Batman legend finally ends in The Dark Knight Rises. Pitting the caped crusader against his biggest challenge yet, the film is a delicate mash up of what made its predecessors so masterful, subtly mixing action with tender heartfelt moments.
‘Why do we fall?’ asked Bruce’s father in Batman Begins. The answer influences much of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR from here on in), with the anarchy highlighted in The Dark Knight allowed full reign on the streets of Gotham. Here it is orchestrated by the sinister masked brute Ban (Tom Hardy) who intends to carry out the task started by Ra’s Al Ghul in Nolan’s first Batman installment.
TDKR‘s opening act plays out as a what happened next piece. Eight years have passed since the Joker’s reign of terror (a man who is conspicuous by his absence (though a nice homage to the sad passing of Heath Ledger)) and Gotham is enjoying an almost harmonious city life thanks to laws made in Harvey Dent’s name. Such harmony doesn’t last long, and Batman, absent from Gotham’s streets since the death of Dent, is soon lured from the shadows of the restored Wayne mansion.
Whilst the film enjoys a similar prologue to that of The Dark Knight (here we’re introduced to Bane via a rather nasty aeroplane stint), the beginning of the film is a slow-burner. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway)’s introduction allows the pace to gain a steady momentum but it is Bruce Wayne’s withdrawal from society that threatens the balance of the film. Where he had been the moral force of justice in the previous two films, here we’re confronted with the rotting shell of a man failing to cope with the loss of life-long love Rachel Dawes.
Suggestive that Gotham and Batman cannot enjoy a peaceful coexistence, this rupture of the heart of the franchise leads to one of the first (of many) powerful scenes. After threatening the harmony of Gotham Bane flees the force of the law. As the lights go out in the tunnel they race through we’re met with the familiar face of Gotham’s Dark Knight.
Much of the threat stems from a reactor created by Wayne Enterprises. A double edged sword, the reactor offers the opportunity of providing the city with a sustainable energy source whilst posing very real counter effects if it finds its way into the wrong hands. Nolan expertly weaves this into the storyline, providing Batman with more peril than he’s ever faced before.
Whilst attempting to protect Gotham once again, Batman faces a personal journey unrivalled by the previous instalments, with the return from retirement being the least of his problems. Love interests come in the guise of Hathaway and Marion Cotillard but it is Bruce’s relationship with doting Alfred (Michael Caine) that provides the film with its most tear-jerking moments. Distraught by what Bruce has become Alfred offers an ultimatum that pulls at the heart strings.
New faces come in the form of Tom Hardy (the afore-mentioned Bane) and Joseph Godron-Levitt’s John Blake. Whilst Blake takes up the mantle Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) left behind in the first two instalments, Bane provides a very different kind of nemesis than those that have previously threatened Gotham. Where the Joker’s attributes lay in his intelligence and skewed moral compass, Bane’s lie in his brute physical strength. When Bane and Batman face off in the film’s centrepiece the odds are forever in Bane’s favour, with his punches looking almost lazy in the ease with which he throws them whilst the comedic mockery in his tone provides him with menacing power.
Fighting the decadence of Gotham, Bane threatens the stability of an entire social infrastructure in his designs and, in doing so, creates countless memorable revolutionary set pieces including the destruction of a football stadium. Of course, that’s not to say he’s the only scene stealer. Whilst the Batpod is still present and correct we’re offered a new toy to feast our eyes on in the form of the flying vehicle known as the ‘bat’.
Bruce looks drawn and tired throughout much of the film, destroyed by his escapades as the caped crusader but Batman remains strong (far from the ‘sideshow’ Alfred accuses him of becoming) thanks largely to what Batman has come to represent; namely renewed hope. Whilst he battles his physical wounds, Bane sets about inflicting pain on his soul. TDKR is not without its faults, but these are often trifling and usually only spotted when compared to its predecessor. Hans Zimmer returns with his usual musical prowess, providing the film with a strong soundtrack.
Dark and intense, TDKR is a slow burner which allows for increased tension. Whilst the superior The Dark Knight wowed with its surreal set of barbaric incidents, The Dark Knight Rises boils these down into an epic sense of destructive power which are played off with twists and turns reminiscent of other Nolan classics. What do we do when we fall? We rise. Which is exactly what Nolan has done with the blockbuster stakes. Your move, Hollywood.
Best line: ‘I’m not afraid. I’m angry.’