Let’s get it out of the way. The Dark Knight Rises is not as good as The Dark Knight. But then that was to be expected. Its predecessor only grossed a billion dollars at the box office and became one of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time. And so Christopher Nolan’s final chapter has the unenviable task of attempting to bring one of the most successful series of all time to a satisfying denouement whilst also living up to the incredible standard set four years previously. But, armed with a reported £200m budget, he’s pulled out all the stops. And he’s got most of the big decisions right.
What Nolan and writer David S.Goyer have realised all along as that there is no problem with a movie being over two hours, as long as there’s enough story to justify it. And, coming in at just shy of two-and-a-half hours, there is. As a matter of fact there is almost too much. To start with, there are several significant characters to integrate, and this leaves the movie a bit top-heavy, with too little incident happening in the first half of the film and too much in the second. The new characters themselves have mixed success.
The Dark Knight’s success was largely down to the incredible performance from Heath Ledger as The Joker, creating a genuinely unpredictable, chilling performance of villainy. And, unfortunately, Tom Hardy’s performance as antagonist Bane just doesn’t measure up. It’s by no means a bad performance, with Hardy’s hulking frame and measured aggression creating a interesting physicality-based foe, but an uncomfortable vocal performance and lack of real scariness means that he never quite freezes your blood like The Joker did. The large percentage of Hardy’s roles are based around his beefcake aesthetic, while is fine, but it just doesn’t live up to the unsettling sensation of what Ledger gave us. At least we have a stunning performance from Anne Hathaway, who gleefully accepts the challenge of regaining Catwoman’s credibility after 2004’s dire spinoff. Sly and intuitive, with just enough moral fibre to retain likeability, this is Selina Kyle as she should be, providing both a love interest and danger to both Batman and Bruce Wayne. There is also an impressively resourceful performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a ‘hothead’ cop, and returning cast members Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman are predictably good. The only wrong turn cast-wise comes in the form of Marienne Cotillard, whose character could completely eradicated without any real detriment to the film- and her character’s VAGUE SPOILER ALERT twist is A) predictable B) dull and C) irrelevant. If she had to be in the film (which she didn’t), please not like this.
Plot-wise, it’s pretty damn good, though. As with Begins, it’s given so much more by the fact that Batman isn’t beating up random hoods in the first scene. We have to wait, and wonder, before Bruce Wayne gets his kit on again- and, even once he does, it’s not a constant costume-fest. We’re also given a plot that largely makes sense- with Bane’s political and social inclinations being a much more convincing motive that the ‘some men just want to watch the world burn’ mantra that The Joker possessed. Equally, though, the unpredictably was what made The Dark Knight so good- we don’t have that WOW factor here. Oh, also, given the budget, the special effects should probably get a mention. And they’re stunningly great. An American football stadium collapsing is jaw-droppingly, sumptuously brilliant, whilst a plane hijacking is almost as great. Everything looks amazing.
The problem is an overly-tied up ending, which attempts to put everything back into a perfect little box and put a bow on it. The whole reason that The Dark Knight has such emotional resonance is because bad things can, and do, happen. A finale which attempts to have poetic completeness just leaves the viewer feeling cheated. The way it nearly ends is fantastic, and a fitting end to a terrific franchise. The way it actually ends just leaves a sour taste. Overall, though, The Dark Knight Rises is a great final instalment of a great trilogy. It just could have been more.