Christopher Nolan brings his epic Batman trilogy to an awesome conclusion with The Dark Knight Rises, giving Christian Bale’s brooding vigilante superhero one last hurrah against the forces of anarchy and chaos that invariably beset Gotham City.
To begin with, though, Gotham is at peace, its criminal elements purged after the events of the last movie, which saw Batman taking the rap for the death of Gotham’s crusading-DA-turned-psychopath Harvey Dent while vanquishing the Joker.
Eight years have passed since then and Bruce Wayne has hung up Batman’s cape and cowl to live as a bearded, hobbling recluse behind the walls of Wayne Manor, attended only by doting butler Alfred (a gruff, lachrymose Michael Caine). ‘You’re not living,’ reckons Alfred, ‘you’re waiting for something bad to happen.’
He’s tempted out of seclusion, though, by brushes with two contrasting women – Anne Hathaway’s slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and Marion Cotillard’s silky millionaire philanthropist Miranda Tate; but it takes the apocalyptic threat posed by masked terrorist Bane to get him to resurrect his crime-fighting alter ego in a bid to save Gotham from annihilation.
Signing off on the trilogy with a grim flourish, Nolan stages jaw-dropping set pieces with typical bravura, including the audacious mid-air skyjacking of a CIA plane and an explosive assault on a sports stadium during the sacred pre-match warbling of the Star Spangled Banner.
Not everything Nolan attempts comes off, though. As was the case with its predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises is good, very good in places, but not great.
Tom Hardy’s physically imposing Bane is an incredible hulk, full of brute swagger and malefic charisma, but with his features muzzled and his voice muffled he lacks the mesmeric intensity of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Then there are irksome continuity slips and scenes of hand-to-hand combat that run out of wind, with assorted thugs waiting obligingly for their turn to be thumped.
But the film’s good points massively outweigh its flaws. Nolan gives us dazzling spectacle, shunning 3D, thankfully, but using the large-format IMAX cameras to stunning effect. He gets great performances from his leads, too. Bale is even more impressive here than on his last two outings, the best screen Batman by far, and he’s well matched by Hathaway’s sly Catwoman.
Sexy and mischievous, she gets to purr the film’s best lines and provides most of its rare moments of humour. She also gets to deliver a speech that rings out as a cry of the many against the greed of the one percent. ‘There’s a storm coming,’ she warns Bale’s Wayne early on. ‘You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.’
In the end, though, the film comes down firmly on the side of the establishment. Bane and his followers storm Gotham’s citadels, claiming to be liberating the masses from tyranny. They raid the Stock Exchange and bust open the city’s prison, a latter-day storming of the Bastille. Before long, a kangaroo court is in operation and the fur-coat-wearing rich and mighty are getting strung up. Robespierre would be rubbing his hands. Yet while such scenes might gladden class warriors, the film wants you to root for its billionaire hero, a figure of inherited wealth and privilege, as he strives to restore the status quo.
On general release from Friday 20th July.
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