|Image: Warner Bros.|
And so Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy draws to a close. It’s made a ton of money and quite possibly won more critical acclaim and fanboy devotion than any comic book movie franchise. But could the filmmaker and his team make a final chapter that would live up to our expectations?
After taking the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has not only retired Batman but has become a recluse in Wayne Manor, neglecting Wayne Enterprises and its charity work. He’s not the only one letting things slip, however, as Gotham is in a similar state of profligate carelessness. But masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy) is building an army underground and plans to bring the city to its knees.
Does it live up to our expectations? Well, not quite. While The Dark Knight Rises is a highly entertaining, ambitious blockbuster, it does have the most immediately obvious problems of the Nolan trilogy. Those expecting things to kick off with the same bang as TDK’s bank heist will be wrong-footed, as the script (by Nolan and his brother Jonathan) sets a deliberately sluggish pace for the bulk of the first half, presumably to allow the viewer to become as relaxed as the characters who are in for a shock. There’s an overall bleakness at work here too, as Bruce isn’t struggling to work through his grief, but not even trying. It’s interesting, but it does drag.
This isn’t helped by a not-particularly exciting (but necessary) focus on the Wayne Enterprises boardroom, with environmentally-conscious Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and scheming bastard Dagget (Ben Mendelsohn) vying for Bruce’s ear and power respectively. Bane flits in and out during these early scenes, lacking any truly great dialogue but making a big impression thanks to his size and Hardy’s presence. On the plus side, the long running time allows Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s beat cop Blake room to develop. Finally, as the film reaches the half-hour mark, Nolan starts to tighten his grip on the audience. As Bruce dusts off the cape and cowl and gets closer to Bane, there’s a definite sense of excitement.
TDKR really finds its wings when Bane’s plan is revealed and the second half of the film begins. As Gotham plunges into chaos, Nolan is following a clear path from TDK and again aims for relevance to the current state of things. It (as well as Bruce’s emotional storyline) will be a little on the nose for some but it’s certainly powerful, with the scenes of devastation stunning in IMAX (enough to ignore the plot holes). While the events of TDK directly feed into this film, it’s nice to see that the script also draws heavily on Batman Begins, a film that occasionally gets overlooked in comparison to its sequel.
In terms of the cast, Anne Hathaway makes for an excellent Selina Kyle, nailing the combination of slinky playfulness and survival instinct. Gordon-Levitt is on predictably good form as the only cop in Gotham who can see what’s coming, and series regulars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and particularly Gary Oldman continue to work well. While their vocal choices will raise eyebrows, Bale and Hardy’s confrontations are absolutely fantastic.
As a final third, The Dark Knight Rises is ultimately satisfying. At its best, it’s thrilling and hugely impressive in its reach. But the first act is undeniably slow and a little muddled in places. For fans of the franchise, this is a worthy finale to a landmark series while still probably being the least impressive instalment.
It’s not the best of the trilogy but TDKR ends the series on a high note. Once it moves past the script issues of the first half, it’s an ambitious, visually stunning and emotionally affecting blockbuster.