Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, living out his days pining for what he has lost. He is woken from this slumber by two things, Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) a cat burglar who makes an immediate impression, but more dangerously the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), a new criminal whose brute force is matched only by his sharp intellect. Bruce Wayne returns to the Bat, but finds himself at odds with Alfred (Michael Caine) about the direction his life should be headed.
No real introductions needed on this one, as any person in the western world basically knows what this is. The only real question is whether it could ever really live up to the cultural indentation left by 2008′s The Dark Knight, a blockbuster which took the zeitgeist by the scruff of the neck and beat it senseless leaving almost all who saw it trembling in its wake. While not quite the atomic bomb of that film, The Dark Knight Rises remains an absolute gem of a blockbuster and better than we probably deserve.
To get some quibbles out of the way first though, it’s prudent to acknowledge the fact that the screenplay, which has never been one of the stronger aspects of this franchise, still turns up a little lacking at times. While the ideas of what the Bat can represent for a city which finds a very hard job of being decent are explored well and in different, though just as cynical ways as the previous film, this does suffer from the age old concern of slight narrative holes. Revelations about certain characters feel like they should be more important than they actually are to the narrative, and Bane’s overarching plan feels both convoluted and also under-sketched out. But in a world where films like Prometheus and The Amazing Spider-Man seem to have some people falling over themselves to paper over the cracks, in relative terms there’s little to really fuss about here.
This film also has a problem in trying to represent a threat as large as Joker while also trying to match the Oscar-winning performance Heath Ledger did. The trick played here then is to have Bane go in a different direction. While his presentation is certainly theatrical, his performance is far more physical, Hardy convincing throughout as someone who can out-think you while at the same time kicking the living shit out of you. It’s not the series’ most iconic performance by any note, but it’s also impressive enough to make sure that talk of Hardy will not be drowned out in the chatter on this.
The real win of the new cast comes from Anne Hathaway, whose character has been somewhat undersold in the marketing, playing a much more integral part to the story of Wayne than I was certainly expecting. She combines a sensuality which will be hard to beat this year with an arc which goes places you may not quite expect. Hathaway convinces throughout, showing her acting chops as well as her stuntwork, and she’s a wonderful addition to the ensemble, as is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a new sounding board for Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon. Oldman manages to retain some good character moments, making for a sustained arc which feels totally of this world. Marion Cottilard also serves the story well as someone Bruce Wayne can trust in more ways than one, creating a decent chemistry with Bale and counteracting the rather more “let’s just get naughty” type brought by Hathaway. Her relatively small screen time still manages to create a relationship you can believe in, something important for the overall narrative.
As the architect of the whole thing, it’s also an immense pleasure to report that Christopher Nolan has certainly not dropped the ball in terms of the directorial palette on display here. Successfully weaving elements from both the first two films into a story which combines the emotion of Wayne’s story with his growing confidence and strength as an action filmmaker, resulting in a film which successfully works as drama and action often at the same time. He’s also managed to craft a narrative, along with his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer, which works as a supremely fitting end to the trilogy. It wraps up the story of Bruce Wayne in a way which will be satisfying to all but the most hard of heart (one complaint I do have though may be too much of a clue and so I shall remain tight-lipped).
It’s not perfect, but it’s fucking great. The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to a wonderfully crafted story, closing a chapter of the filmography of one of the world’s most exciting filmmakers in a way which will delight many. They didn’t blow it at all. Thank Jebus.