Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

There’s something gargantuan about The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy. It is stuffed to the brim with ideas and characters — some say overstuffed — and it marks Nolan operating in the epic mode of filmmaking. The ideas are big and the action set pieces are even bigger. After seeing it twice, I feel that it may be the rare conclusion that surpasses its predecessors.

Since Anders, Anton and I will be discussing the film in full detail next week, I’ll keep my thoughts brief and spoiler-free.

The film begins 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman is in retirement, having taken the fall for Harvey Dent, which paved the way for the Dent Act that effectively ended organized crime in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, hiding in his mansion, still grieving the death of Rachel Dawes. However, Bruce Wayne is forced out of retirement by Bane, a masked terrorist who arrives in Gotham to bring the city to its knees and fulfill the cleansing that Ra’s al Ghul began.

As played by Tom Hardy, Bane is a terrifying individual. While the Heath Ledger’s Joker is certainly the most memorable movie villain of the past decade and brings a deranged glee and energy to The Dark Knight, the Joker never frightened me. Bane, on the other hand, terrified me.

In the bravura opening scene of the film, a CIA agent played by Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen escorts two hooded prisoners onto a small plane. When interrogating the two men about their links to Bane, the agent discovers that one of the prisoners is actually the masked man himself, who proceeds to free himself, assault the vessel and capture a Russian nuclear physicist hiding onboard.

Bane is pure physical intimidation and unwavering devotion. He is terrifying because he could effortlessly demolish anything that stands in the way of him accomplishing his fanatical goals. He is the first villain in this franchise that makes you fear for Batman’s life. Although Hardy’s face is mostly hidden by Bane’s gasmask, he gives a terrific performance through his physicality, his eyes, and his vocal work, even if it is modulated and muffled.

If the Joker was Batman’s ideological opposite, Bane is Batman’s shadowy reflection. He shares the same conviction, same physical strength, same cunning and same training as Batman, but employs them to evil ends. Nolan’s films fixate on the duality of the individual, with Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent as the personal embodiment of this duality, and Bane is another extension of this theme.

The film’s other new characters are equally as impressive as Hardy’s Bane. Many fans and film commentators were skeptical when Anne Hathaway was cast as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but her performance in the film should put all worries to rest. While never as iconic as Michelle Pfeifer’s take on the character, Hathaway is a wonderful mix of sly cunning and sexiness. She also brings some much needed wit and levity to this dark film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s is another great addition, playing GCPD police officer John Blake. Echoes of a young Bruce Wayne abound in the character, exploring what Bruce Wayne might have been like had he become a cop and not a masked vigilante.

The characters in The Dark Knight Rises are so varied and many that the film world sometimes takes on a Dickensian feel. Yet, Nolan is as interested in exploring a multitude of themes as a multitude of characters, tapping into the contemporary ethos of civil unrest and economic disparity in Bane’s plot to upset the tranquil corruption of Gotham.

And, as always, above all these other themes and preoccupations looms the legend of Batman, the exploration of why an individual would devote his life to combating evil, and the moral complexities that accompany such an endeavour.

The technical aspects of the film remain as uniformly excellent as in the previous installments. Hans Zimmer’s score is omnipresent and overwhelming, bringing dread to any scene involving Bane (perhaps too much dread for some viewers). Wally Pfister’s cinematography is again gorgeous. The editing brings clarity to a complex plot. The pace is impressive for a film of this size and scope.

Nolan’s action scenes have even improved, with the mano-a-mano fights between Bane and Batman having clarity and raw physicality that were lacking in the previous films. Nolan also brings the Batman scenes into the light of day, which allows us to see the Dark Knight in new, interesting ways.

The film’s conclusion will have an unexpected emotional wallop for people who have even an iota of respect and affection for this series. The theatre may get a little dusty.

Only time will tell whether The Dark Knight Rises is as lastingly fascinating, entertaining and near-perfect asThe Dark Knight. As it is, Christopher Nolan has done the near impossible and matched the brilliance of his past installments, while expanding the world through which he explores Batman. It’ll be quite awhile before we get another superhero film as complex or invigorating as this one.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Directed by Christopher Nolan; written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Morgan Freeman.

10 out of 10