Christopher Nolan returns to Gotham for one final dance with the dark knight and his Batman trilogy concludes with a satisfying, bumpy ride benefitting from some neat character work woven into the bigger picture while some of the flaws of the previous films are still very much in evidence here.
We find ourselves in a very different Gotham to the one which saw the demise of the disfigured Harvey Dent and the maniacal Joker, not least the effects being felt after The Dent Act was responsible for the imprisonment of thousands of hardened criminals except public enemy number one – Batman. Keeping the secret of Two-Face’s murderous intent and Batman’s true identity is Commissioner Gordon who presides over a subdued city, still fighting a war most people believe has passed them by.
By way of an inventive break from CIA custody Tom Hardy’s Bane is unleashed into the criminal underworld primed to restore chaos to the streets and fear to the hearts of Gotham’s people. In The Dark Knight Rises Nolan retreads some of the ground already covered in the previous films and while he doesn’t have Heath Ledger’s Joker to light up the dour atmosphere there are a number of additions to the world which turn a fairly ordinary story into a mostly satisfying conclusion.
By far the greatest addition to the series lies in those we know little about. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a fun mix of flirtation and fisticuffs and though she fades from view far too often (and too easily) she is an incredibly engaging presence – certainly she’s the only one who has any sort of fun here. For me Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hotspur police officer has the most involving character arc and he carves out a valuable storyline from almost nothing, he also brings a sense of genuine emotion into Nolan’s hollow Gotham. Hardy’s Bane is a far more two-dimensional foe than expected, though the actor does well with what little he has and there is a tangible disquiet in the air as his power grows and Gotham begins to fall under his influence.
But mostly it’s business as usual, with Caine and Bale suffering from a stagnation of character with a troubling tendency to inform the audience of a) what is at stake and b) what’s to be done about it. In spite of an uneven script the actors carry the story forward with gusto and there are some exciting moments to be had, and if you’re a fan of the previous films you’ll fall in line with this one easily.
Spectacle has always been Nolan’s forte, particularly with the Batman films, and there is much to dazzle here, particularly when Bane’s plan comes to terrifying, ground-shaking actuality. Wally Pfister’s command of the cityscape also allows for some striking visuals but the familiar problem remains that logic and narrative sense is often jettisoned for an impressive visual flourish. As was the case with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight there are narrative indulgencies (Marion Cotillard suffers from a Contagion-esuqe case of superfluity for most of the film) and an almost fatal case of doleful humourlessness but there are thrills to be had here as the story is brought to a close.
The narrative sleight-of-hand aside as a finale it satisfies, even for those of us who weren’t enamoured with the previous instalments. The flaws remain, the action is often confused and lacking in energy, cherished characters are reduced to exposition machines and the dialogue still feels as if it were mechanically accurate yet the borrowed emotion of the previous films and the character’s long history do throw a charge through you at journey’s end.
Though it is not much of an achievement in itself Nolan leaves the cinematic Caped Crusader in a far better state than he found it and fans will be satisfied, hungry for more though the reality is that, after this film, this particular iteration of Batman will rise no more.