The moment has come at last. The speculation and rumour is finally redundant. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has arrived, and it is indeed the epic final act to Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga that many were clamouring for. It’s a titanic film, dwarfing even the sizable scope of the series’ previous chapter THE DARK KNIGHT, and while it does come dangerously close to capsizing under the weight of its own ambition, Nolan manages to right the ship in the second half and deliver a moving, exciting, and satisfying conclusion to his story.
It’s a rare occurrence that a film is this anticipated and discussed, even months before its release. Rewind one year ago, to the time when the first details of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES began to emerge, through Nolan’s carefully calculated drip-feed of information. After Bane (Tom Hardy) was announced as the film’s villain, many familiar with the comic book origins of the character began to ask a key question about Nolan’s plans for Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale). Would the filmmaker, blessed with complete creative control, physically break Batman, as happened in the “Knightfall” comic book arc where Bane was introduced? After seeing trailers with brief shots of Bruce Wayne walking with the assistance of a cane, the evidence seemed to mount.
However, Nolan is a master of playing with audience expectations. Nobody seemed to consider that perhaps he would begin the film with Wayne already a broken man, both physically and spiritually. A near total recluse, crippled by his crime fighting days eight years earlier and emotionally eviscerated by the death of Rachel Dawes at the hands of the Joker. Wayne’s life is fuelled by rage, yet the Gotham of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a relatively peaceful place, with no real need for a vigilante. It’s smart storytelling, allowing Nolan to raise Wayne from his fall, a theme of the entire saga, but unfortunately, this is where the story takes a few mis-steps. The first half of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES under-utilises Wayne/Batman in favour of building the massive story and developing each supporting character and plot thread, understandable given the complexity of the narrative, but the closing chapter perhaps needed to be more Wayne’s story. There’s an overabundance of characters, and as good as Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and John Blake, they do take valuable screen time away from Wayne, and his self-destructive determination is never quite established fully.
Thankfully, the second half brings the goods in terms of epic scale and excitement. Once Bane’s plan is fully in motion, the film becomes a tense and brutal thrill-ride which pays off on the majority of the first act’s seemingly unconnected plot meandering. There are several moments which could have come across as cheesy and ham-fisted (and indeed, on repeat viewings will probably begin to grate before long), but the dark and serious tone of the film keeps some of the sillier beats in check. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is definitely the most comic book-like of the trilogy, and as such some of Nolan’s insistence on realism suffers. It’s also not as consistent as the previous two films, particularly THE DARK KNIGHT, and is unlikely to have the same rewatchability factor. But, even if it is the weakest of Nolan’s saga, it’s still a cut above the vast majority of comic book films that Hollywood produces. Hollywood history is littered with disappointing conclusions to trilogies, yet THE DARK KNIGHT RISES breaks the mould by bringing intelligent blockbuster filmmaking (which is becoming a Nolan speciality), and an unflinching, if not especially unpredictable, final chapter in one of the better film series’ ever created.