The Dark Knight Rises *****
Directed by:Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman
The Dark Knight was always going to be a tough act to follow.
Between Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning, spine-chilling turn as The Joker and the fact that it capitalised so well on the momentum of Batman Begins, it was hard to deny it either as a triumph of the comic book genre or *gasp* of any genre.
But where could director Christopher Nolan go from there when he came around to The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter in his triolgy? Up didn’t seem possible – after all, how could TDK be improved on? Down seemed more probable given the fact that final films in cinematic trilogies tend to go that way even in the best of cases (consider The Godfather, Part III, Return of the Jedi and Mighty Ducks 3).
Sideways – making something equivalently epic and memorable – seemed the best fans could hope for but even that would require Nolan to capture lightning in a bottle again as he did with Ledger.
The good news is The Dark Knight Rises ain’t Spider-Man 3. The bad news is it ain’t The Dark Knight either. But it isn’t too far off it.
Taking up the story eight years after the last film, TDKR opens with a daring action scene introducing the film’s masked, garble-voiced giant of a villain, Bane (Tom Hardy).
Meanwhile, in Gotham, Batman is persona non grata for killing DA Harvey Dent and hasn’t been seen for years, while billionaire Bruce Wayne has become a recluse with a broken body, who haunts his mansion and mourns his lost love.
So… Happily ever after then…
As is the tradition for all good detective stories, some small, seemingly unrelated crimes combine to rise Batman out of his funk. The primary domino flicker in the chain reaction that jars him back into crime fighting is cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), whose spot of petty crime gets Bruce back into the game just in time for Bane to take the city hostage.
Will the battered Bat have what it takes to save the city from the worst terrorist threat it’s ever faced? You can probably guess the inevitable answer but golly-gee Nolan, who wrote the screenplay with his brother, never makes it easy for the hero to save the day.
Beyond Batman getting his groove back, there’s also a sub-plot involving an aging, ailing Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) playing politics in the police department and his young protegé John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to keep up with his mentor.
With his bald head, face mask and voice that sounds like an Oxford-schooled Welsh farmer performing Shakespeare at the bottom of a well, Bane is a well-chosen bad guy to follow up from The Joker.
While the Clown Prince of Crime embodied chaotic malevolence, Bane’s vendetta against society is uncomfortably understandable.
Hardy too is an excellent choice for the role having, as Nolan seems to demand from all his stars, more serious acting chops than you might normally expect to find in a film about grown-ups running around in tights.
Having put on even more bulk than he did for Warrior, Hardy is suitably massive, without looking cartoonish and gives Bane an imposing thuggishness to off-set his social-philosopher manifesto. The last time he was this scary was in his breakthrough role in Bronson.
Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, is now neck-and-neck with Michelle Pfeiffer for title of best Catwoman ever. Hathaway embodies the bitter burglar perfectly, spitting out snide, sarcastic comments with aplomb.
As with most superhero flicks – Iron-Man excluded – the least interesting star is typically the name over the title and so it goes for Batman as the Caped Crusader pales slightly against the more interesting, less familiar supporting cast.
Not to say that Christian Bale isn’t a great Batman. He’s got the whole brooding, psychologically conflicted borderline mentalcase schtick down-pat. It’s just that he’s a bit boring and does a slightly silly thing with his voice every time he puts the cape on.
Anyway, while it is a cracking good time, The Dark Knight Rises is not without its flaws. To start with, the plot is a bit meandering. There’s a lot of ground covered here – both literally and thematically – but parts of the film seem to drag a little. There’s also the problem that so many things happen that characters just drop off the radar (Alfred, I’m looking at you…)
Mostly, though, this is nit-picking. The action is first rate and the story intriguing and engaging. If you like Batman, you’re going to love this. Maybe not as much as The Dark Knight but still it is an undeniably satisfying end to Nolan’s remarkable trio of comic book movies.