The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have easily become the most critically applauded and financially successful of the superhero’s long catalogue of film adaptations. Grounding the characters and universe in a semi-realistic manner has brought a “rebooted” look and grasp to the capped crusader. From the camp, safety PSA-type of the Adam West television series to the gothic surealism of Tim Burton’s efforts, Batman arguable has finally found his cinematic footing in the streets of a modern Chicago under the direction of Nolan. With the sheer hype and expectation towards his last Batman film, the question was always going to be whether it would mirror or surpass the “flawless” status The Dark Knight has received.
Set 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham still mourns the death of its hero Harvey Dent yet prospers under his valiant legacy. In comparison Bruce Wayne has become a reclusive cripple and has hung up the cowl and cap. Meanwhile dangerous mercenary Bane has escaped custody and threatens to eradicate the filth and corruption of Gotham through an elaborate yet destructive plan. Rises continues to showcase the prowess and complexity to the Nolan brother’s writing and direction. Pushing the scale, the Joker’s previously hinted chaos in Knight is thoroughly realised through Bane’s brutal plans. Continuing the morbid and deeply unnerving atmosphere of fear and anxiety, the film manages to convey the tumbling descent of both Gotham’s heroes and citizens. It’s an engaging and well-structured story that manages to balance various narratives courses and the introduction of a multitude of new characters. However the writing is by no means perfect with some of the dialogue falling flat, and the conveyance of time never persists from the visual changes in the seasons. The third act falters under its need to answer every question and reveal additional twists and turns without the substance and length to do so, as it did in The Dark Knight. Nevertheless, it’s a smartly written and carefully balanced story, for the most part, that constantly builds the tension and thrills culminating with an ending that’s pretty much perfect.
The grandeur of The Dark Knight Rises is further emphasised by the superb and impressive cast Nolan has coordinated. After the introduction of Two-Face during the rather rushed and overly frantic third act of The Dark Knight and the sheer number of recognisable actors in Rises, there was certain skepticism over the overall integrity and balance of the film. Christian Bale returns to the forefront after Heath Ledger stole the show in Knight. His troubled emotional and psychological state of mind becomes paramount to both the story and his character’s own progression. Some may argue that we’ve seen this before, but Bruce Wayne’s own internal struggles and flaws present a much more interesting and integral affair than the simple actions of Batman. In comparison, as the film’s lead villain Tom Hardy’s intense performance as Bane provides a truly threatening and compelling character that has the substance and context to build from. His voice-work and the subsequent voice modulation, arguably more comprehensible than Bale’s, offers a varied personality that’s almost charming even with his intimidating appearance and crippling conviction. Anne Hathaway’s inclusion in the film as Selina Kyle, A.K.A Catwoman, had been a source of tension and while my personal attachment to the character still rather looks down on her portrayal, she does well creating a sense of chemistry with Bale. Meanwhile Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s considerable screen-time shows his capabilities and growing ability onscreen. While his character Officer Blake may seem too perfect in front of Gotham’s decaying backdrop, Levitt has an interesting depth that holds its ground amongst a strong cast that each manages to leave an impression.
The cinematography continues the greys and dark tones we’ve come to expect from a Batman film. Changes in locations and scenery add a few more colours to the monotone palette, while Batman’s traditional fondness for the darkness is swept away by the questionable over-use of daylight. Cinematographer Walter Pfister continues the slick and gritty visual style of the previous films with some gorgeous shots of the desolate streets of a snowy Gotham or the verticality of the Pit. Yet Rises’ 12A or PG-13 rating have obviously lead to the cutting down of violence, which quite evidently hurts the film’s editing and subsequent flow. Cut-aways seem out-of-place and the sound design rather whimpers at idea of making Bane’s “handiwork” seem a bit more brutal and ferocious. Labelled an “action film” by many, Nolan reaches Michael Bay proportions with missiles and explosions destroying cars and buildings. It’s an abrupt shift from the styles, subtly and vision of the original comic material. However Rises’s set-pieces are intense and impactful. Batman’s sewer fight with Bane in particular is a stunning exchange of fists and dynamic camerawork. Meanwhile Hans Zimmer offer’s a very familiar and tense soundtrack that continues to uses the deep notes and constant drum beat of his recent work.
In the end The Dark Knight Rises is a highly enjoyable and solid conclusion to a truly remarkable trilogy. Is it the best of the three? No, but while I still believe Batman Begins captured the quintessence of the characters, setting and feel, Rises maintains the high standard we’ve come to expect from Nolan’s films. The story and dialogue have a few minor hitches, and holes can be poked at the third act’s revelations, but the performances are fantastic and the general direction culminates in a stunningly engaging and satisfying ending.