The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

by Robert Whittaker


Monumental and brooding, The Dark Knight Rises is everything we expected from the the
finale of Chris Nolan’s epic trilogy. It’s predecessor, The Dark Knight, was hailed as one of
the best superhero movies ever made and the first question to ask is, has Rises lived up to expectations?

For me, the answer is yes. But then again, I suppose the answer to that question depends
on what you expected. It’s not as good a film as its predecessor, but it is a fitting end to an
impressive series. Certainly, nothing in it quite compares with Heath Ledger’s Joker whose
intellectual brand of psychopathy was something to behold. Nevertheless, Tom Hardy’s hulking Bane is a menacing foe. Bane’s eccentricity of expression, like the Joker, provides a source ofamusement (although to a much lesser extent – although this is expected given their respective names). Unsurprisingly, Nolan’s direction is as polished and aesthetically pleasing as ever with time given to sweeping cityscapes amongst the mayhem and destruction. The battle scenes are more workmanlike than in the previous films, with the viewer being left to focus on the fighters instead of them bursting out of the shadows. Similarly, it is brawn not brain which is the focus of the Batman (Christian Bale) – Bane brawls, where the reverse was true of the Batman – Joker contest.

Rises asks the same question as the other films in this series: how do we best root out evil in Gotham City? Of course, inherent in this question is another: where does evil lie in Gotham? The film begins with both Bruce Wayne and Batman hidden away from the world. Harvey Dent is held up as the great martyr of Gotham and because of him organised crime in the city has been crushed. Batman is obsolete and Wayne a recluse; this has been the case for eight years.

Enter Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), a lithe burglar who makes off with Wayne’s mother’s pearls and, more importantly, Wayne’s fingerprints. From here Wayne is begrudgingly re-energised and he dons the iconic Batsuit once again in order to tackle Bane and his army of unwaveringly loyal followers. In Rises we see the trilogy go full circle: Wayne is questioning his own identity and purpose, but so is Gotham itself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young cop, John Blake, and is a refreshing presence in the film. After being taken under Commissioner Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) wing he asks whether it is better to enact positive change from within the existing societal structures, even if said change is built upon lies; or whether one should work outsidesuch structures if they are tainted by corruption, even at the risk of achieving nothing.

The film, however, delivers an alternative: Gotham could start from scratch. For Bane, everyone is implicated in Gotham’s moral degradation; nobody is beyond reprieve. Bane’s uprising begins like a modern day October Revolution but the stakes are even higher given the presence of a nuclear weapon. Year zero is the aim of the game and Bane’s taste for wanton destruction provides many of the film’s most striking spectacles. Visions of Ground Zero are also present here and the film’s aesthetic doesn’t shy away from the not-so-distant memory of 9/11. Similarly, the film (and the series) addresses many of the issues of the day: terrorism, elite-level corruption, the undeserving rich. In this sense, Rises is very much a film for our times. But of course, it is a superhero movie and therefore must keep focus on the good-evil dichotomy.
Nolan achieves this with aplomb and never gets too heavily embroiled in the ethics or politics. In this sense it is like Nolan’s previous film, Inception: intelligent but not profound. However, I don’t see this as a criticism. How deep do you want the metaphysics of Batman to be?

That being said, Rises is not flawless. At times it’s corny, generally it’s quite hammy and the soundtrack needs to calm down (I think Hans Zimmer borrowed Spinal Tap’s amp). Although most of the characters are well deployed and well acted, Marion Cotillard feels just a little out of place. The biggest problem with the film, however, is the pacing. Both within some scenes and in certain periods of the film, Nolan lingers a little too long. This is reflected in the lengthy running time. Despite this, Rises is an admirable effort from Nolan and the team to produce a fitting end to a consistently impressive trilogy and arguably this is Christian Bale’s best performance. Just please Hollywood, don’t ruin it by making another. I’m sure there are other movies to be made; we can’t have run out of stories yet.


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