Dir. Christopher Nolan. Starring Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine. 164 mins.
For those of you yet to see Nolan’s highly anticipated final installment, I will warn you now: this lengthy review contains minor spoilers for the sake of discussion.
Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight. It is Harvey Dent Day in Gotham; a public holiday remembering the legacy of their late District Attorney, built upon the lie orchestrated by Batman and Commissioner Gordon. Under the Dent Act, organised crime is at an all-time low. With the caped crusader taking the fall for Dent’s murderous actions and exiled, Bruce Wayne has hung up the batsuit (or rather encased it underwater in his secret cave). Consumed by guilt over Rachel’s death, he wallows in the East wing of Wayne Manor; a piteous recluse, away from the public eye.
When slinky cat burglar, Selina Kyle (an exceptionally sexy, underused Anne Hathway), steals a pearl necklace and obtains a copy of Wayne’s fingerprints, Bruce is forced out of retirement to conduct some good ol’ fashioned detective work. Meanwhile, a formidable terrorist leader called Bane (Tom Hardy) is headed for Gotham after kidnapping and faking the death of a Russian nuclear physicist in an impressive airborne IMAX sequence.
It is pleasing to see so many from the Gotham character roster sharing screen time in this final entry, but Batman Begins, with its towering, twisting monorail and Microwave Emitter, remains the most superhero-esque of the trilogy in the conventional sense. The Dark Knight Rises is a consciously epic, gritty cinematic opera. At its narrative core, Nolan has constructed a tale of rebellion, self-sacrifice, redemption and love.
Despite its 164 minute length, the film feels rushed due to a very uneven narrative pace: major characters are underused; minor characters are superfluous (Juno Temple’s endearing but pointless Jen); significant moments that warrant lingering are merely glossed over. Nolan’s Dickensian aspirations of having a vast array of characters all come together in one way or another by the end are noble but unfulfilling; it’s a case of quickly tying up loose ends as the curtains begin to fall. I couldn’t help but think how incredible Nolan’s tale of Gotham under siege could have played out, slowly, in a television series where the crepuscular city and its inhabitants are given room to breathe. Nonetheless, Christian Bale delivers a great performance as the frail, broken-spirited Wayne. Michael Caine’s scene-stealing reprisal as Alfred will leave your bottom lip trembling. Anne Hathaway exceeds expectation, drawing on Pfeiffer’s leather-clad sexiness while making the character very much her own; a grounded thief who flaunts a lethal exterior but soon lets her heart, and deep-seated fear, seep to the surface. Gordon-Levitt also gives a solid performance as the honest cop, Blake. A scene in which he discusses his anger over his own parents’ deaths is one of the film’s strongest, resonating with Wayne’s own past at a crucial point in the narrative.
In her vital role, Marion Cotillard delivers a bland, forgettable performance. This leaves us with Tom Hardy’s Bane – a difficult character to discuss. I often found elements of the villain’s plan illogical, but I admire Nolan’s decision to portray him as essentially human, regardless of his fighting abilities and monstrous appearance. Bane and Batman are big chaps – their fight scenes are appropriately clumsy and somewhat slow. Enough has been said about Bane’s voice: either you can hear it or you can’t, although I will say it seemed too loud to me, drawing unnecessary attention to the dubbing. My biggest criticism lies with Bane’s inability to command the same destructive intensity as the Joker, in part due to Nolan’s reliance on spectacle and scale. Even when blowing up a football pitch and subsequently holding the crowd hostage, the tension and terror Bane creates is miniscule in comparison to the claustrophobic menace of the Joker crashing the Dent Fundraiser in The Dark Knight. Bane’s power is most apparent when he is one on one, staring into someone’s soul; not when he’s trading punches.
I have been an admirer of Nolan’s work since seeing Insomnia a few years after its release in 2002 (a hugely underrated film that plays out like a gritty Twin Peaks). At the risk of sounding like a massive film-hipster, I’ve remained hesitant during Nolan’s meteoric rise from cult director to cerebral mainstream filmmaker. It concerns me that his films are increasingly sacrificing a proven ability to incorporate subtly and depth in favour of set pieces and spectacle. Not to mention that journalists prepared to criticise the director’s short-comings receive death threats from deluded Nolanites who believe the man is Jesus Christ with a camera. In the case of The Dark Knight Rises, thematic ideas are no longer carefully inserted into the narrative, but dipped in glue and covered with shimmering glitter. Overt symbolism is welcome, but when there isn’t clumsy exposition there are flashbacks just in case you missed something. Contemporary political and economic undercurrents are slapped in our faces to little or no avail, as exemplified by Selina Kyle, Nolan’s spokeswoman for the 99%: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne…you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
The spoon-fed ending is already dividing opinion. There’s an element of unnecessary clarification; one shot too many. It’s the equivalent of definitely knowing what happens to Cobb’s spinning top at the end of Inception. Some things are just best left to the audience’s imagination.
The Dark Knight Rises is entertaining – still the best blockbuster this summer – but this overambitious final installment aims too high and falls short, resulting in the weakest entry in Nolan’s trilogy. It’s a film full of visceral, impressive action sequences, but ultimately a skin-deep affair that fails to reach the emotional depth, moral intensity and narrative balance of The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight Rises is showing at City Screen York:
Tues 24 – 13:30, 17:10, 19:45, 20:45
Wed 25 – 13:30, 17:10, 19:45, 20:45
Thurs 26 – 13:30, 17:10, 19:45, 20:45
Fri 27 – 13:30, 17:10
Sat 28 – 13:30, 17:10, 20:45
Sun 29 – 13:30, 17:10, 20:45