Sunday, 16 September 2012

Film Review | The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It's difficult to comprehend, after the runaway success of The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's iconic performance within that film, that Christopher Nolan originally intended for Batman Begins to be a standalone film. The Joker card tease at the end of Begins was put in as a nod to Batman's most infamous foe, not as the perfect lead into the second film it turned out to be. After The Dark Knight, it was difficult to imagine that Nolan and Warner Bros. wouldn't want to follow things up and make Nolan's Batman franchise into a trilogy. A third film would allow Nolan to tie up thematic and emotional threads, and would allow Warner Bros. to again make a ridiculously large amount of money as they had done with the first sequel. But after creating two of the most important comic book adaptations in cinematic history, the hype for The Dark Knight Rises was through the roof, and the question of how Nolan could possibly better - or even match - the acclaim of the first two installments was on the lips of many.

Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, shying away from both his business life at Wayne Enterprises and the vigilante life of his alter-ego, Batman. However, after a powerful terrorist known as Bane (Tom Hardy) makes his presence known in Gotham, Wayne is lured out to help protect the city once more as the caped crusader.

There's an awful lot to like about The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan feels at home bringing Gotham back to the big screen, producing some of the most impressive cinematography seen in any part of the trilogy. Evoking images of Soviet Russia, a barbaric and mystical Asia, and a bleakly paranoid post-9/11 Western society, Nolan sets a captivating backdrop for both his crisp dialogue and charged action sequences in which to take place. There are set pieces contained within, such as Bane's breathtaking hijacking of an American football match, that are contenders for the best action sequence in any Nolan Batman film.

There is also a strong returning cast, led by Christian Bale's protagonist. Bale, now the actor who has donned the Dark Knight's costume more times on the big screen than any other, is once again a strong presence. Bale feels comfortable and reliable in the dual role, whilst at the same time bringing new dimensions and development to both Wayne and his crime-fighting persona. Michael Caine puts in possibly his strongest performance of the entire trilogy as Alfred Pennyworth; it's just a shame that the plot dictates he be absent from a significant proportion of the film. The same can be said for Gary Oldman's Commissioner Jim Gordon: a strong performance, but necessarily sidelined for much of the first half of the film. It's a truth that can again be applied to Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, always a welcome presence but whose role here is reduced from that in the first two films.

Filling the gaps left by the reduced roles of Caine, Oldman and Freeman, as well as non-returners from The Dark Knight Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart and, of course, Heath Ledger, is a wealth of new talent. Hardy as Bane is a domineering presence throughout; his performance, although not comparable to Ledger's enigmatic Joker, is strong and provides a satisfying physical threat to oppose Batman not seen previously in Nolan's films. That's not to say Bane is all brawn and no brain; his plans for Gotham are meticulous and Machiavellian, and he is arguably the most successful of all the enemies Nolan's Batman has had to face. Anne Hathaway, at least initially a controversial casting decision, is also strong as the ambiguously aligned Selina Kyle, her performance entertaining throughout and fitting superbly into the universe Nolan has created. The character feels slightly underdeveloped in the script at times, but thanks to Hathaway's confidence in the role this can largely be forgiven.

Perhaps the strongest of the new cast members is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as police officer John Blake. Gordon-Levitt continues to carve out a reputation as a strong and reliable presence on screen, here bringing both toughness, emotion and depth to the role, making Blake a welcome addition to the franchise. Less convincing is Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate. Cotillard does well with what she is given, but the character unfortunately receives too little development and screen time to believe or invest in, a problem exacerbated by her elevated role in the film's final act.

The biggest problem for The Dark Knight Rises is, ultimately, the two films that precede it. It's an excellent action film and a confident and assured comic book adaptation. But by following Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, the most significant franchise reboot made so far and one of the most acclaimed action films ever made respectively behind it, The Dark Knight Rises possibly appears more flawed than it actually is. There are flaws: a couple of underdeveloped characters, stemming from Nolan possibly trying to pack in too many characters altogether, being the main issue. The reduced roles of three of the franchise's key players in Caine, Freeman and Oldman is ultimately a weakness too. The film is also a little too long, causing the pace to slow on a few too many occasions. But although this is the weakest overall of Nolan's Batman trilogy, it's still a mesmerising and thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema, and provides a strong and incredibly pleasing conclusion to what is sure to be remembered as one of the best cinematic comic book adaptation series ever made.


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