In 2008 Christopher Nolan completely changed the comic book movie with The Dark Knight. So it was hard to imagine going into this sequel how he could top arguably one of the greatest films of its genre. The answer he seems to have come up with is to go bigger. So with an extra $50 million dollars to play with he has pulled off the dual feats of improving on his previous effort and managing to bring the Batman trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. What a relief.
Picking up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, the caped crusader (Christian Bale) has disappeared from Gotham city after he was blamed for the death of Harvy "Two Face" Dent, who has become idolised as a white knight. Things are finally looking rosy as the people have unified and crime has dropped; meanwhile Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Lying in wait beneath the streets, however, is "Gotham's reckoning" in the form of Bane (Tom Hardy), a huge, masked terrorist leader and his army of fanatics. Batman has to come out of hiding to face this new threat before the city is destroyed.
The Dark Knight Rises is a triumph of tension. There is a sustained threat for the majority of the film, like a wrench gradually turning tighter and tighter, which makes the near three hour running time fly by. The narrative keeps you guessing, as Batman gets broken, beaten and tested to his limits. Everything happens on such a grand scale that the twists and turns feel refreshingly new and unexpected. Rises also taps into the current climate of instability and questioning of society. As Gotham's underclass strike the stock exchange and go after the wealthy, some viewers may even find themselves sympathising with Bane's mission. The action is pretty awesome too.
The story is big and wide-ranging without ever becoming uneven or all over the place. There are a lot of strands, which are juggled to perfection by Nolan and everything comes together neatly, including events from the previous two films. Hopefully the massive box office takings it will undoubtedly make will not tempt the filmmakers to make a fourth one because Rises really does bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.
Tom Hardy gives an electrifying performance as the villain Bane, which is a worthy successor to Heath Ledger's Oscar winning performance as The Joker. His voice does take some getting used to and at first it comes across as a mixture of Sean Connerry and Brian Badonde from Phonejacker. But the longer he peseveres, the more effective it becomes. It is clear the decision has been made to replace the characteristic rage of the comic book Bane with a subtle menace. Hardy should also be acclaimed for the physicality he brings to the role. Anyone who has seen him in Bronson or Warrior will know he takes a similar commitment to changing his body for a role as Christian Bale, who withered down to eight stone for The Machinist. Also, despite wearing a mask that covers about 70% of his face, he is still able to convey the characters mindset which takes a special kind of actor.
The rest of the cast put in solid performances as well. Christian Bale cements his position as the greatest on screen Batman of all time (sorry Adam West), although that list is not a particularly stellar one. Anne Hathaway is impressive as Catwoman, the morally conflicted thief and Joseph Gordon Levitt's performance as a tough cop makes it hard to imagine him as the kid in Third Rock from The Sun.
After Inception, The Prestige and Memento, critics might be expecting Christopher Nolan to drop a clanger soon, but The Dark Knight Rises is certainly no clanger.