Hype for new films is a wonderful thing, it allows us to look forward to certain releases and allows us to create marquee events around the release of big-name films. Too much hype can be damaging however. 2012 saw the release of each of these moments, The Avengers set box office records and became on of the biggest talking points of the year, while Prometheus suffered a backlash for being overhyped. Both remain great films and history will look equally kindly on them in years to come, but this is the minefield that all big releases must contend with. Concluding one of the most popular Comic Book Trilogies of all time, director Christopher Nolan takes his incarnation of Bruce Wayne out for one last, explosive spin in The Dark Knight Rises, hoping to match the quality and success of the previous two installments.
Set eight years after the events involving The Joker, The Dark Knight Rises finds Gotham City in a state of peace. Organised crime has all but dissolved under the 'Dent Act' and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) having taken the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes has become a recluse, suffering from a broken body and broken heart. Everything seems to be fine, when makes terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) appears and launches a full-scale revolution against the wealthy and elite, promising to destroy Gotham if his demands for returning power to the people aren't met. Wayne must don the cape and cowl one last time to try and stop the masked maniac before Gotham is reduced to ashes.
We spend a lot of time with Bale's billionaire playboy, emotionally and physically regressed from the events of The Dark Knight into a broken, beaten and selfishly miserable character. Loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) desperately tries to help, but realises that it is now, at last, out of his control. These moments of characterisation between Caine and Bale form some of The Dark Knight Rises most memorable scenes, with both men excelling in what could be seen as a rehash of the themes of Batman Begins. The supporting cast are given the meat of the action in the middle portion of the film and while Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman and Anne Hathaway all give very good performances, it's left to two newcomers to make the biggest impact.
Tom Hardy as the muscle-bound maniac Bane, provides The Dark Knight Rises with its inherent villain. Where Heath Ledger's Joker was all dialogue and chaos, Bane is an unstoppable juggernaut of physical destruction. Much like his predecessor, his motives are dressed up as one thing, in this case the forced collapse of capitalism, but are in fact just an opportunity to see Gotham burn. Much was made before release about audiences inability to understand Bane through the mask, but regardless of audio clarity, he lets his actions do the talking in a series of brutal scenes. When he does speak, it's simple to follow and he even has time to squeeze in some zinging put-downs.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as idealistic cop John Nash provides The Dark Knight Rises with its true hero though. Given the unenviable task of being the voice of the old school comic book hero, he plays it straight and in the Nolan Batverse of twisted anti-heroes, he stands tall as a dashing, heroic hero of the Golden Age of Comics. Much like pre-fall Harvey Dent, Nash is the man who should be responsible for the well-being of the citizens of Gotham, but finds himself frustratingly side-lined during some of the key scenes.
Concluding the Nolan Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises does not have the element of surprise inherent in Batman Begins and had to follow the near-perfect The Dark Knight. To its credit, it almost succeeds blending state-of-the-art direction techniques with astounding action and poignant moments of character. What is surprising though, is how little Batman there is in this Batman film. Whereas Batman Begins took relish in teasing the creation of the character, The Dark Knight Rises feels reluctant to give its audience a fully-fledged Bat-suit outting. It is, as they remind us in the film, a retired image that has been used to stop organised crime and this is the final installments in a trilogy about Bruce Wayne, not The Bat.
Nolan's direction is slick and polished as you'd expect and the scenes filmed specifically for IMAX are beautiful and engaging. With the help of long-time collaborator Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight Rises is the most beautifully shot of the trilogy, with just as much time given to daylight hours, rather than being shrouded in the darkness of night. Colour saturation helps to create a grimy and dour effect, and it becomes clear with each scene that despite the incredible characters populating the streets, this is a series of films where the central location, Gotham City is a star in its own right.
Despite The Dark Knight Rises threatening to be drowned under the weight of its own history, as so many comic book third installments have in the past, especially in a long middle section, it manages to right itself. Where Batman Begins relied on its surprise and The Dark Knight relied on its central villain to impress, The Dark Knight Rises remains determined to present a comic book film with more character than any other. Nolan has claimed that this will be his final Batman film and he has managed the seemingly impossible, by holding all the disparate elements together to create a more than fitting finale to his Bruce Wayne. The weakest of the three, The Dark Knight Rises is still an emotionally dramatic and thoroughly satisfying end to the greatest comic book trilogy of all time.
Rating: * * * * *