The Dark KnightRises is likely one of the most obscenely anticipated sequels of recent memory. Legions of Batman fans have been salivating over the culmination of the Nolan/Bale opus. And rightly so – the first big-budget superhero about turn, the re-boot that rung up dollar signs in producers eyes around the world. Batman Begins simultaneously rebuilt a sagging cinematic franchise and legitimised the comic-book adaptation – while crucially constructing the sinew and stress the titular hero should have always had.
The Dark Knight Rises is a scale movie - both in visuals terms and concept. Through the course of the trilogy, Nolan’s familiarity with Gotham’s key locations has allowed him to deliver some expansive and coherent action sequences. And with almost fifty percent of the film shot in IMAX camera, the employment of the full IMAX screen is down right astounding at points. Stuffed full of iconic poses, street battles and Bat-tech, there’s enough on offer to rouse the red-blooded comic fan, without the whole affair feeling contrived for the uninitiated.
But when shit’s not being blown up, there’s a lot to take in. Pitching a new world order story arc residing amongst social and economic collapse saddles the film with familiar baggage in the comic-book world. The result is a city in anarchy, where somebody still sweeps the streets. The pace slows in the middle, giving us more time to question the motivation of Bane - both the politics of his actions and the way the film represents them on screen. Unfortunately we don’t get any real resolution on this, but it seems a bit unfair to criticise a comic book villain for being cartoonish.
It dawned on me about three quarters through TDKR that we see relatively little of Batman’s actual suit. There’s a sense of catharsis here, as the caricature is edged out in favour of character. Bale’s Wayne is having a bit of a midlife crisis. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gary Oldman are staunch in their authority roles. But it’s Anne Hathaway on golden form as an un-named Selina (Catwoman for all intents and purpose) eradicating any memory of Michelle Pfiffer’s S&M-lite costume-jewellery. A bright modern femme fatale, poured into her outfit, slinking about her lines and treading sharpened stiletto heels into all in sundry. She also manages to pick up the few strands of humour in what is generally a uniformly sombre affair.
Poor old Tom Hardy then, saddled with the unenviable task of creating a criminal mastermind in Bane to follow Heath Ledger’s seminal Joker. Veering between a Russian Darth Vader and Kenneth Williams, clenching his lapels like a victorious brigadier - his braggadocio is more arresting than his lines. While more a victim of circumstance with face mask and half-synthesized voice, he still delivers a superbly entertaining turn and is obviously having a ball.
There’s no faulting the Dark Knight on its ambition, but while its narrative is uneven, the power of belief throughout The Dark Knight Rises is a passionate theme. Be it the inspiring myth of the vigilante Batman, Bane’s unwavering faith from his henchmen, or Commissioner Gordon’s trust in the spirit of Gotham, it’s belief compels the film along, from its dense introduction to its rousing final act. And without establishing these characters, they could never establish belief – a great success for the cast.
It’s not a firecracker, but I sense it was never meant to be – more a thoughtful cerebral action flick starring a man with a cape, one that will enthrall the initiated and entertain those who aren’t. Even though it might trip up on its coat tails, each of the films three movement rises to deliver a satisfying conclusion, with enough in-jokes, franchise references and spectacular action scenes. A suitably spectacular conclusion to the trilogy that hammered the final nail into an age of superhero irony. And in that respect, Nolan, Bale and Goyer can bow out with their heads held high.
The Dark Knight Rises is out now in cinemas across the UK – it’s also in IMAX.