FILM REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises

It's been eight years since Gotham last saw the Batman, wanted for the murder of white knight Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne is shut up inside his manor and peace reigns in the city. However, a mercenary by the name of Bane has other ideas and sets about reducing Gotham City to its knees.

Christopher Nolan's vision of Batman has been revolutionary from its very beginning, transforming not only the summer blockbuster, but also the superhero movie, reaching dizzy heights with The Dark Knight. A resounding success with audiences and critics alike, the sequel was helped in no small part by Heath Ledger's anarchic performance as a truly terrifying Joker. Anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises then has been marked by the fact that it has to follow one of the best superhero movies ever and that it has to provide a satisfactory end to a fascinating exploration of the Caped Crusader. Thankfully, Nolan and his impressive cast rise to the challenge, providing us with a truly memorable ending for the Dark Knight Trilogy in what is easily one of the best films of this year so far.

Following a broken and emotionally worn out Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), The Dark Knight Rises charts the return of the Batman after the manhunt that was launched at the end of The Dark Knight when he is believed to have murdered Harvey Dent. Still mourning the loss of childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, Wayne has hung up his cape, seemingly for good and his neglect has led Wayne Enterprises down a dark route with board member Daggett (Ben Mendolhson) planning a hostile takeover. Slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and masked man mountain Bane (Tom Hardy) are key players in Daggett's plan but both have their own agendas to carry out. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and police officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are watching over a seemingly peaceful Gotham City. But, as Kyle wryly observes, a storm is coming and no one is prepared for it.

Worries that this film would go down the same route as previous superhero threequels Spider-man 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand are thankfully unfounded and despite the many characters, new and old, and various plotlines, Nolan keeps a steady hand over the proceedings. A couple of characters fail to make a big impression, especially Matthew Modine who is easily forgotten in the wider spectacle of the film. Likewise Marion Cotillard delivers a fairly bland performance for the first two acts before suddenly shifting into gear later. However, the rest of the performances more than make up for it. Gary Oldman is as dependable as ever while Christian Bale delivers his best Bruce Wayne to date, giving us a very mature look at the physical and emotional tolls upon a man with two very distinct identities. Both Wayne and Batman have a very clear character arc over the course of the film and Bale handles both well with a more emotional connection available than there has been in the previous films. Michael Caine's Alfred is again the moral centre of the proceedings and his scenes with Bale brought out the best in both actors, delivering a nuanced pseudo-father/son relationship that felt very real.

But the outstanding performances belonged to the newcomers to the franchise with Anne Hathaway pretty much stealing the show right from the beginning. Catwoman has always been a mercurial figure, ambiguous to the end and Hathaway pitches it perfectly, switching emotions in the blink of an eye with a welcome sense of humour. Continuing the current run of excellent portrayal of female characters in superhero films, it's great to see another heroine who can not only look good in a catsuit but physically and mentally match her male counterparts with relative ease. Her chemistry with Bale is excellent, ensuring that any scene with the two of them is a real highlight and something to look forward to. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's idealistic John Blake is another standout and further proof that the man is yet to deliver a bad performance.  As a villain, Tom Hardy's Bane had a tough act to follow with Ledger's Joker and delivers a worthy performance, every bit as terrifying as his predecessor but in an entirely different way. Whereas the Joker was shocking in his unpredictability and sheer desire for chaos, Bane is all physical intimidation powered by an intense belief in what he's doing.  Hardy's vocals took a little getting used to but gave Bane a unique voice and his speech about giving Gotham back to the people was imbued with a delicious sense of irony.

The action sequences also benefit from this emphasis on character-driven storytelling. Any scene with Catwoman (though she is never referred to as such) and Batman fighting together has an inbuilt sense of humour with the two working in collaboration almost immediately and whilst going for all-out spectacle, Nolan still manages to create a sense of intimacy with those involved. Perhaps the best example of this is the first confrontation between Bane and Batman, a brutal and intense fight sequence that is designed to make you wince. Stripped of any music, all you can hear are the blows connecting with the two bodies and the grunts of physical effort. Nolan also holds the shot just long enough to make it slightly uncomfortable and the slow cuts add to the tension of an already suspenseful scene. Important for both plot and character development, this is a moment that stays in the memory long after the credits have rolled.

The characters are where the film's true strength lies, carrying you through a plot that, at times, is both a little difficult to follow and some slow moments early on. The first two acts in particular were a little plodding and occasionally it did feel as if the pace had slowed too much. There are enough twists and turns throughout to keep you interested and thanks to the great performances, you find yourself swept up in each character's journey. But then there's the third act. Awesome from start to finish, the last forty-five minutes of the film is a triumph of cheerworthy, fist-pumping moments and an ending that was just perfect for the trilogy as a whole. Without going into details, I sat in the cinema for the last two minutes of the film with the largest grin on my face. Providing a satisfactory resolution to this incarnation of Bruce Wayne's journey was always going to be tough but Nolan passes with flying colours, staying true to the character he and Bale have crafted whilst also providing plenty of crowd-pleasing moments.

After the success of The Dark Knight, it would have been easy for Christopher Nolan et. al. to all rest on their laurels, knowing full well that the hype surrounding their final film would have been enough to net them a decent box office. Thankfully for us, they do no such thing and deliver what is easily one of the best blockbusters of the summer and a fitting end to one of the greatest trilogies of all time. I don't think I'm alone when I say that I'll miss the incarnation of the Batman universe but the ending is just so brilliant that I wouldn't want anyone else but Nolan to come along and mess with it.


- Becky

You can find more of Becky's writings here or follow her on Twitter @beckygracelea

TV REVIEW: The Hollow Crown - Henry V

TV REVIEW: The Newsroom So Far