This summer sees Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy close with The Dark Knight Rises. The last sequel, The Dark Knight, separates the offices of EBFS right down the middle. One half find it a overwrought film that falls apart as soon as you start picking at the threads, whilst the other still refuses to get rid of his Joker T-shirt. What can’t be denied is that it made a lot of money and a sequel was called for. Let’s not forget that Nolan never intended any of this to be a trilogy. He had bigger plans – such as folding Paris in half and dicking about with dreams. So how does it all pan out?
Broken and reclusive, Bruce Wayne (Bale) has spent eight years living solely in the east wing of Wayne manor. With the Batman still wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent and his childhood sweetheart dead, Wayne has chosen to cut himself off from the Gotham elite. At a charity event he is hosting, but not attending, the catering staff swap stories about the potentially disfigured Wayne; the host seemingly not knowing or caring that he is becoming ever more mythical than his own alter ego. For Wayne it’s more about hiding from his past actions. And this theme runs throughout the film, not just with Wayne but with those whose lives he’s touched. From his butler Alfred (Michael Caine) hiding his emotions and the actions he took in the previous film, to the newly appointed Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldham) struggling to cope with the lies surrounding Dent’s death and the subsequent career boost it has given him. Even newcomer Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who is Catwoman in everything but name, wants to keep her past on the low-down.
Throw into the mix uber terrorist, Bane (Thomas Hardy) and salt of the earth cop, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and, as the kids says, shit is going to go down.
Up front, if you’re expecting this final part of the trilogy to be a toe gazing affair, with some of the trailers being less than action filled, then be assured that Nolan’s set pieces are fantastic. The terror Bane unleashes at a football game is awesome. And we mean that in the awe inspiring fashion, not the ‘dude, I bought an iPad and it’s awesome’ kind of affair. To be honest though, we genuinely expected nothing less from a man that gave us zero-G fighting in a hotel corridor. Everything has been so beautifully realised that you wish all movies could be like this, regardless of genre.
It’s interesting that the selling point of Nolan’s Dark Knight Universe has been about keeping everything as realistic as possible – not always successfully, with The Dark Knight’s Two-Face proving to be just a little bit too out there – and yet, Rises is probably the most comic book out of the three. Mixing as it does, the storylines of Knightfall, No Man’s Land and, shudder, The Dark Knight Returns.
And that is what needs to be understood, regardless of who is behind the camera, this is a superhero movie. Is Thor a piece of Shakespearean tragedy because Kenneth Branagh directed? No, we only really remember an Aussie punching a rock beast in the head whilst Natalie Portman looked on doe-eyed. What we’re trying to say is that there are, have and will always be lofty expectations for a film when you mention a director of Nolan’s calibre is on board. Could you imagine what would happen nowadays if Kubrick was alive and shipping Tom Cruise over to the UK for a reboot of Hong Kong Phooey?
Nolan is, without a doubt, a genius. He never looks down at his audience; treating them with respect and making no assumptions about what they can take in. However, to compare Rises to Inception, Memento and The Prestige in terms of story seems unfair. Aside from a few twisty turny points, this is a very straight forward affair, and if that sounds like we’re damning it with faint praise, we’re really not. We’re just aware that some people are going into Rises thinking ‘Nolan, expand my mind damn you!’ and being disappointed that they’ve been presented with nothing more than a story about a man dressed as a flying rat. If you didn’t buy into the other two, then you’re not going to buy into this.
Yes, it’s very linear in its move to the end, but it’s the way Nolan weaves cameos and scenes from the first two into the overall film that make you appreciate that it is one part of a dark, brooding whole. Something that The Amazing Spider-Man clearly wants to do, but frankly doesn’t have the mileage yet.
In terms of cast, it’s probably Michael Caine that rises to the top of the pile. His scenes with Bale are emotional, truthful and show what a class act he actually is. At the bottom end of the scale, we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway doesn’t do much apart from shake her fist at Bruce Wayne, Batman and Bane respectively. It’s fair to say that a lot more was done with the character of Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. A little more time spent giving her a backstory other than ‘I wanna get out of the crime scene, see?’ and there would definitely be a bit more weigh to her role. We love Gordon-Levitt but, continuing his frowning from Inception, he really does very little apart from bounce between the characters, engaging them in conversation and signposting the ending to come.
Finally, we come to our antagonist, the mighty Bane; who we last saw in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Bane, a Latin criminal mastermind and all out badass, was reduced to a cookie cutter henchman in a wrestling mask. In Nolan’s Rises, Bane is introduced through a literal airplane kidnapping scene that goes some way to showing that he is more than capable of standing toe to toe with the Batman. Hardy’s choice of giving Bane an eloquent, reedy voice contrasts wonderfully with the brick outhouse that is his physique. Bane feels like a definite threat to Batman. Whereas The Dark Knight saw the Joker running like an agent of chaos dizzy on lemonade, Bane is a disciplined agent of order who doesn’t see the Batman as an enemy but simply an obstacle to be overcome.
And yes, for fear of receiving death threats and being unable to review on rottontomatoes.com, there are some issues that mean Rises is not completely perfect. In the third act, there is a plot hole so huge that no amount of pub discussion and conjecture will ever successfully fill it. It will only ever be determined in fan fiction, and with Nolan’s attention to detail it grates that he let this slip by.
There’s also that problem of exposition. Sometimes it’s better to show something rather than say it and this is certainly true in Rises. When a character is having their raison d’être explained, it’s a lot more believable if it isn’t spelt out by someone being beaten up by said character. Inception just about got away with it because there was so much going on, you had to have a moment to explain, but here it just grinds the film down to a snail’s pace.
With The Amazing Spider-Man showing what happens when you let the suits control your product, it’s comforting to know that there are people like Nolan who, despite the commercial nature of their product, are willing to put their whole being into something. Nolan will never return to this universe and the sad truth is that DC will want another reboot as they gear up for their Justice League movie. Until then, let us be comforted in the knowledge that this is the tidemark from which all other superhero movies should be measured. Simply a joy from beginning to end.
Agree? Then let us know, or check out the review by @DonDubrow here.