If you’ve come here to find out if The Dark Knight Rises is a good film, let me reassure you right off the …uh…bat. The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film.
Christopher Nolan knows his craft. In my view, he’s never made a bad film. Well..The Prestige annoyed me a little but I have only myself to blame there. I read the book first.
With Batman, everyone’s read the book first. Or at least, is familiar enough with the core story. Stripling billionaire loses parents in street robbery, decides to take revenge not on the mugger but on crime itself. Realises criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot and..boom: Die Fledermaus.
Of course this being the third movie in the series we don’t need an origin this time. In fact, Nolan did the origin more thoroughly than anyone ever had before in Batman Begins. That movie’s effectively two films welded together and the first one is all origin.
It’s Batman Begins that you need to have seen to get the best out of The Dark Knight Rises. The second movie is hardly disposable in this elegantly-crafted trilogy but a number of major thematic strands in this latest film link back to the 2005 series opener.
What’s remarkable in this movie is that, for a Batman film, there’s not a whole lot of Batman in it. A number of supporting characters – some from the established Batman canon and some brand new Nolan creations – get an unprecedented amount of time to do their stuff without any flying rodent involvement.
It doesn’t hurt the film, because the cast are so superb that practically any one of them could carry a movie single handed. But it is unusual.
When the movie opens it’s eight years since the events of The Dark Knight. Somehow, Gotham still has the same Mayor and Police Commissioner.
Bruce Wayne is exhausted, physically and mentally, and is a practical recluse in the reconstructed Wayne Manor. You get the feeling he doesn’t like himself all that much. That other billionaire technocrat Tony Stark is out and proud as the Armoured Avenger. He’s a lot of fun. He’s easy to like. With Bruce Wayne you’re not sure which of his identities he dislikes the most.
TDKR isn’t unremittingly grim. There are one or two solid gags. Not as many as you might have found in this Summer’s other superhero blockbusters, but this comic book tale isn’t entirely devoid of comic moments.
There’s an awful lot of stealthy fanservice too. You get the impression that unlike a number of other directors who have taken on the Caped Crusader in the past, Nolan knows the canon. And probably loves it too. There are beats from, and shout-outs to, the No-Man’s Land arc, The Cult miniseries and..if I’m not stretching my imagination too far…the 1966 Adam West feature. There’s almost one to Green Arrow too.
There is also an awful lot of misdirection and playing with your expectations.
I hadn’t noticed from the trailers that Gotham’s football team is called the Gotham Rogues. Cheeky. And the sole survivor of that bravura ‘exploding football field’ set piece is a real player called Hines Ward. Chosen because that’s a little like Burt Ward? Chosen to recall Bruce Wayne’s ward Dick Grayson? Probably neither, but the film is so rammed with Batman trainspotter detail that you can’t rule anything out.
In fact, what I was reminded of most watching TDKR is those proto-Elseworlds ‘Alfred’s Imaginary Stories’ yarns that popped up in Batman annuals in the mid Sixties. Only fifty shades darker.
All of the old Nolan gang are back for this last hurrah. To single out any one of them would be unjust, and to tell you why each member of the cast was individually brilliant would be repetitive and a shade dull. The real revelation for me was Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/The Cat. I was worried when I read she’d been cast in the rôle but she is frankly bloody wonderful in the part.
And you’ll want to give Michael Caine a big hug at least twice.
Tom Hardy is a physically imposing Bane. And you can understand most, if not all of what he says. But then, a few of Gary Oldman’s lines got lost in his moustache too so maybe it was just the sound system of the cinema at fault.
Christian Bale is unchanged from TDK. He starts the movie with a limp that disappears pretty quickly, courtesy of a bat-caliper, and he forgets to do THE VOICE once. But I think that’s just Bruce succumbing to emotion.
The effects – a seamless blend of practical effects and CGI – are flawless. It’s rare to see Bruce Wayne ‘halfway in costume’ in the Nolanverse and we’re still no closer to understanding how that Dusty Springfield makeup gets on and off. The film looks luscious though. And Batman’s new ride is absolutely wonderful.
Because this isn’t a franchise opener Nolan felt no pressure to explain anyone’s origin. Because this isn’t the middle film there’s no imperative to set up another movie at the end. And unusually in a threequel Team Nolan hasn’t run out of creative steam. A few days after seeing Dark Knight I started remembering plot holes that weakened my impression of the film and maybe in a few days that might happen here but right now I think TDKR is the best film of this spectacular trilogy.
Having seen the movie, I now know why Jonathan Nolan was talking about A Tale Of Two Cities. Bane isn’t the grunting wrestler from Batman & Robin. He’s Robespierre.
If the theme of Batman Begins was Fear. And if The Dark Knight was all about Chaos, then the key word for The Dark Knight Rises is Hope.
You’ll come out of this film filled with Hope. And thrilled to the core too. This is a state-of-the-art superhero flick after all.
But yeah, all I really wanted to say is The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film.
EDIT: I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler-free. Some commenters have adopted a different policy. If You want to stay innocent of some major plot points DO NOT read the comments on this story until you’ve seen the film! MM