[FILM: Review] The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s previous Batman movie, 2008’s sprawling The Dark Knight, was not only a near-unprecedented financial success, but also proved that the comic book-based blockbuster could have something on its mind other than tights and fisticuffs. Naturally, expectations are riding extremely high for The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan’s third and final tale of the Dark Knight Detective; but those worried by the precedent set by Sam Raimi’s ludicrous Spider-Man 3 can rest easy – Nolan has done it again.
Set eight years after the events of the previous movie, Rises finds the mean streets of Gotham City in the throes of an uneasy peace; after Batman took the fall for District Attorney Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent’s crimes, an Act was passed in Dent’s name allowing the police unprecedented powers of arrest and detainment. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), meanwhile, has hung up the cape and cowl and gone all Howard Hughes, haunting the now rebuilt Wayne Manor and speaking only to his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine, somewhat underused). When a group of terrorist mercenaries fronted by the brutal Bane (Tom Hardy) take over Gotham, claiming to represent the oppressed and disenfranchised, the Batman re-emerges to defend the city he has made his raison d’etre.
As talented as Hardy is, he had some mighty big shoes to fill stepping into the key adversary role previously inhabited by the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s to Hardy and Nolan’s credit that Bane is about as far from a retread of that character and performance as possible. While the Joker was the anarchic ‘yin’ to Batman’s authoritarian yang, Bane is a strictly-disciplined tactical genius, and the first Nolan character we’ve seen who poses a genuine physical threat to Bale’s now ageing, out-of-practice Caped Crusader. Hardy’s hulking physique sells Bane as a genuinely terrifying villain, although his choice of accent and the mask he wears throughout do make him sound distractingly like Darth Vader doing a Winston Churchill impersonation.
Like Nolan’s previous Batman films, The Dark Knight Rises is by no means flawless; it’s overly long and takes itself rather too seriously, although Anne Hathaway’s snidely seductive Catwoman adds some much needed levity to the proceedings. There are so many new and returning characters that some of them get lost in the shuffle, although Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s turn as idealistic cop John Blake makes a particular impression. Nonetheless, as several final-act plot twists bring the series neatly full circle, one can’t help but marvel at what Nolan has managed to do in creating a thoughtful, visually spectacular trilogy where none of the parts feel superfluous.