WARNING!!! This review will contain SPOILERS. The last two paragraphs are very spoiler heavy. I have noted in the review when the major spoilers are coming though.
Well here it is. The final instalment of the Chris Nolan Batman trilogy and the last Batman review I will have to write for some time. Thankfully I didn’t start to feel like I had nothing left to say about Batman, unlike when I did the Harry Potter reviews. That’s thanks to the breadth of variety and styles contained within the franchise. Nolan’s trilogy though is the only series of Batman films handled by the same director over more than two films. The Animated Series films were all handled by different directors and the previous live action series went two a piece from Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Nolan is a smart director and he always said he wouldn’t go back for a third Batman outing unless he felt he had something he could bring to it. He clearly found the right story, but does he have anything to say? Click the link to find out…
One nice little touch with storytelling is to have a circular story. Basically bringing a story around to a point at the end that in some way mirrors the beginning. With The Dark Knight Rises Nolan has brought the finale to his series back to the villainous task of the first film. The attempt by The League Of Shadows to bring Gotham City to it’s knees. Here a renegade faction of The League led by Tom Hardy’s Bane is planning to bring down Gotham city, but not before he’s dealt with The Batman. Bruce (Christian Bale) hasn’t been The Batman for 8 years now having been injured in the process of stopping Harvey Dent in the previous film. But when Gotham really needs it’s hero Bruce must suck it up and become Batman once again. Thankfully he has a magic Bat-knee brace that seems to instantly stop injured knees from being an issue. Meanwhile Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) has gained Bruce’s attention when she lifts some of his fingerprints from his safe. But is she doing this for villainous purposes or is there a greater motive at play?
The Dark Knight Rises is large scale film making, much like the previous film was. But whilst The Dark Knight was a large scale crime thriller this is a film that follows a much larger plot. After Bane has defeated Batman and chucked him in a large pit like prison, leaving him to watch what he is going to do to Gotham on a TV so he can see what his failure means, Bane sets about a terror plot to wipe Gotham off the map. His plan is to take a new neutron fusion device designed by Wayne Enterprises to provide clean renewable energy and re-purpose it as a neutron bomb set to blow after a prolonged meltdown. To add to this all but one bridge to Gotham has been destroyed. Bane decrees that if anyone leaves Gotham or if anyone attempts and assault on him a mystery citizen in possession of a trigger will detonate the bomb. Basically no-one can do anything until this bomb blows. He’s effectively wounded Gotham and left it to slowly bleed to death without the city’s personal villainy doctor Batman there to stitch up the wound.
I have a slight issue with this device though. It’s too simple. Sure Nolan stages the entire sequence and building tension surrounding the bomb well but it’s just a bomb. I expect more from Nolan. In Batman Begins it was a fear toxin gas that was going to send the citizens of Gotham into a state of permanent frenzied rioting until they tore the city to the ground. This is a big bomb. A neutron bomb sure, but it’s still just a bomb. Any method of bringing Gotham down would have been essentially a giant countdown timer counting down to when Batman must save the day, but it’s just a bomb. To be fair though a bomb represents Bane perfectly. It’s a big, brutish and destructive weapon like him, and like Bane it’s built to incite fear first.
The story itself is fine though. Everything flows along with a good, typically Nolan-like, strong arc that involves Batman returning to action, getting broken down and then rebuilding himself. The sequences in the League prison where a very badly injured Bruce must retrain himself and strengthen his body so he may climb out of the pit is a good facsimile for the Lazarus Pit from the comics. In the comics Ra’s Al Ghul is in possession of a mystical pit that can heal the injured and even revive the dead. Obviously that wouldn’t fit in Nolan’s more grounded in reality Batman series so having this pit be a prison that Bruce rebuilds himself in so he comes out a stronger man is a good metaphorical variation on the comic’s pit. The scene where he does climb out is a pretty strong sequence too. Although I was starting to feel like Joe Esposito’s You’re The Best should have been playing.
Joining the fight against crime is a street cop named John Blake played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s a former orphan just like Bruce that shows a lot more potential to fight crime than a lot of Gotham’s cops. Because Gotham has been free of organised crime since Dent’s death it comes across that the cops have kind of rested on their laurels. They may not be corrupt any more but they don’t seem keen on putting themselves at extra risk. Until of course the real danger turns up. Blake isn’t like that though. He describes himself as being angry underneath and he clearly focuses that into being a little more daring than most and as a result gets branded a hot head. He is pretty much the core of the films human element though. It’s him that stays on the streets of Gotham figuring out what’s really going on when Bruce is busy being crippled in a prison. He’s essentially a hero that doesn’t wear a mask, although Batman suggests he does. JGL (as he’s known to his worshippers) probably gives one of the strongest performances in the film and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes a character absorbed into the comic’s canon before too long.
Anne Hathaway does a fine job playing a multi-layered Catwoman, she’s also quite a bit more sane than the Michelle Pfeiffer interpretation. If I’d suggest a rough tone for her it’s a cross between her depictions in The Animated Series and the Batman Year One comic. She also has some brilliant scenes showing just how deceptive and manipulative she can be. She’s the sort of character that will purposefully manoeuvre herself into a dangerous situation so she can pull off a particularly clever escape plan, even switching her manner and tone to trick people on the fly. Tom Hardy makes for a good Bane although that voice can be tricky to interpret at times. He does get one of the few laughs in the film though, commenting on a child’s singing voice shortly before murdering two entire football teams. He lacks the obvious charisma of The Joker but I like that Nolan chose to highlight Bane’s more intelligent attributes which were entirely ignored in the brain dead version of Bane seen in Batman & Robin. He’s got his brute strength sure, but he’s not one for tearing down walls with his bare hands or lifting entire cars. He does punch a bit of a hole in a stone pillar though during one fight. And yes, he breaks the Bat’s back in a similar way to in the Knightfall comic. Although I don’t think you should see this film as having too much influence from that.
Effects are of the sort of standard you expect from Nolan. Lot’s of very well done model shots. A lot less CGI than say The Avengers, and yet it manages to feel like just as big a film. Well, except for the lack of alien invasion of course. The scale of the sequences are quite grand too. Seeing hundreds of actual real people fighting in the streets towards the films climax is such a great sight to see. I love this sort of film making where as little as possible is faked. I like my films to be crafted on the set rather than by someone sat behind a computer. CGI has it’s place of course, and there’s a fair few digital shots here where needed, but it’s used as a last resort. DW Griffiths (despite being a general all round twat) would build massive sets to convey his vision of romantic silent movie era cinema. Scale shouldn’t be something that scares directors off. The Dark Knight Rises feels like one of those films where a director has managed to get everything he wanted to in his head across and he did it mostly in camera, for real. Suck it James Cameron.
Overall the film is a good entry in the Nolan universe that’s a worthy follow up to The Dark Knight. But it’s not better than it. I don’t know if I’d say it was better than Batman Begins but it’s a very good film regardless. It’s at least as good as Begins. I do have one massive gripe though with the films ending which I’ll post after the picture that follows this paragraph. It’s a major SPOILER so if you don’t want the last five minutes of the film spoiled just scroll right past to the comments. Well you could go look at something else on the interwebs but my comments box would really like it if you stayed.
Staying for the spoilers huh? Right, this is your last chance to turn away….
At the end of the film Batman fakes his death and Bruce Wayne leaves Gotham to retire as Batman. He leaves the Batcave to John Blake, who’s the closest we’ll get to having Robin in the Nolanverse, and buggers off to France with Selina. Here’s my issue, Batman should never retire until he physically cannot fight any more. I’m not too fussed that he was retired at the start of the film because he was injured. His recovery from that injury is a little glossed over, apparently a trip to the doctors and a knee brace is all it took, but at least he had a reason for stopping. Although he blames not getting back in the game on Rachel Dawes death which is also bullshit but it’s there for the purposes of the story so I’ll let it go. He just should not retire at all. Through all the films there’s always been that element of Batman saying he’ll be there as long as Gotham needs him. Well last time he felt Gotham didn’t need him any more Bane turned up with a Neutron bomb. After defeating Bane the correct response should have been “gee whizz, I get the feeling evil will keep coming to Gotham. I should probably stick around.”. Or words to that effect. Faking his death isn’t the issue, inviting John Blake into The Batcave isn’t the issue. It’s the fact that at the last minute Nolan took a character he had represented quite well and made him a quitter.
I know where this ending comes from though. It comes from the casual movie goer. See comic book movies are so big now that you have to keep a much larger audience happy. Nolan clearly wanted his Bruce to have a happy ending which casual fan will probably love. Core fans on the other hand are gonna hate this. He has managed to taint all the good will he built up over these three films with this. It’s not a deal breaker as the film itself works very well, especially when it comes to building the tension. But that one decision messes with who Batman is.