DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

8 years after taking the blame for the crimes of Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent, Bruce Wayne has retreated into seclusion, hiding from the city he sacrificed so much to save. But when the deadly masked mercenary Bane sets his sights on Gotham, the peace begins to shatter, and Wayne knows that the time has come for the Dark Knight to rise from the ashes. But there can be no redemption, without sacrifice…

THE RESULT

It isn’t the sense shocking masterpiece that THE DARK KNIGHT was, but by bringing back the sense of adventure and race-against-time pacing of BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES finds itself sandwiched between the two, both in terms of tone and quality. But when both films preceding it were so incredible, that is hardly a criticism. The first half juggles a few too many characters, and there is quite a bit more plot setup than story, but once the second half comes, it kicks in with a vengeance. Providing action spectacle that would make Michael Bay blush, and a heart and soul built over the entirety of the trilogy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is an example of Hollywood filmmaking at it’s most exciting, ambitious and emotional, and cements this saga as one of the greatest of all time.

FULL EXTENDED REVIEW, AFTER THE JUMP.

When BATMAN BEGINS was released seven years ago, it changed people’s perceptions of superhero movies. Rather than the larger than life, campy, comic booky superheroes that preceded it, BEGINS asked the question, “What would it be like, if this was real?” Superhero films, and Hollywood blockbusters haven’t been the same since. These days, every second film is marketed as ‘realistic, dark and gritty’. Even Spider-Man has been pulled under the gritty lense of realism.

Then in 2008, THE DARK KNIGHT came out of nowhere, with a fire and fury that no one could have possibly seen coming. After the heroic action adventure of BEGINS, we were suddenly assaulted with a brutally dark deconstruction of what makes Batman a true hero, and questions whether or not heroes can afford to live by their morals, when the enemy refuses to fight by the same rules.

Now, the epic conclusion is here. And epic it is. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES takes the action and stakes of the previous films, and turns the dial to 11. This is very much an action blockbuster. Not as psychologically scarred as THE DARK KNIGHT and not as straightforward as BEGINS, RISES actually feels more akin to a franchise that Christopher Nolan has frequently proclaimed his love for: James Bond. It has many of the hallmarks of the best Bond films; a femme fatale with questionable allegiances, a hulking beast of a villain with a doomsday plot, an obvious and convenient plot device to enable it, and a race-against-time climax.

That said, RISES is a loooong movie. Clocking in at 164 minutes, this is a movie you need to go into energized and ready to pay attention. As always with Nolan movies, if you aren’t engaged and paying close attention, the complicated plot won’t make any concessions for you. Particularly in the first half, RISES juggles a few too many characters, sets up some very obviously placed and predictable plot devices, and spouts exposition at every turn. But it’s all for a reason. All of the laboured set up, interconnected character introductions, and the roles they begin to play, are all building up to the second half of the film: a breathless, emotionally charged, race against time to save millions of lives. Any complaints about the first halfs laboured complexity are blown away by just how perfectly every single plot thread, throughout the entire trilogy, comes full circle to a climax that somehow, incredibly, delivers on all the promise and hype. The sheer scale of this undertaking is amazing, and when Batman rises to the challenge to save the day, you’ll want to cheer out loud.

But the film would have been nothing without a strong cast, and every player is on top of their game. Christian Bale gives his best performance yet as Bruce Wayne/Batman, who has nothing left to live for. When the film opens he is a wounded shadow of his former heroic self, broken down by loss. His journey back to the cape, and to his will to live and to fight is executed to perfection by Bale.

Anne Hathaway does an admirable job of donning the iconic Catwoman persona. She isn’t perfect, but then again, Selina Kyle is probably the most difficult role in the film; having to be convincing while jumping back and forth between being mysterious, empowered, fragile, and then back to glib. It’s a tough role and she does well enough.

And Joseph Gordon Levitt is great as Commissioner Gordon’s new protegé, the boy scout police officer John Blake, whose refusal to give in ends up making him a likeable key player.

But the show stealer is Tom Hardy as the masked menace Bane. This guy is a monster; a hulking force of nature that makes the Hulk look like a wimp. This is the first time the trilogy has tackled a villain who is a real physical threat to Batman. Sure, Ra’s Al Ghul was dangerous and well trained, but Bane is the kind of beast who could use the Batman as a toothpick, throwing punches so fast and hard, he’s like a 50′ Cal machine gun made of biceps. It’s scary stuff. Without being spoilery, a scene at the halfway point, under the dripping foundations of Gotham, had me in a cold sweat before jumping me out of my seat. The sheer brutality of it is unbelievable.

Which brings me to another great thing about RISES; of all the trilogy, this film is the one that feels most like it’s comic book origins. The Batman comic faithful will recognize a number of things that are either straight from the pages, or could easily belong on them. RISES works for those whose only reference is the films, but for hardcore fans, there is a whole extra level of enjoyment hidden underneath. A few plot revelations are unsurprising, but executed well enough that they aren’t completely predictable from the get-go.

Also on top form is Hans Zimmer, this time, for the first time in the trilogy, working alone. His score is fantastic. The heroic brass instruments of BEGINS replaced with unstoppable percussion that assaults the sense. Tracks like ‘Imagine the Fire’ and ‘Gotham’s Reckoning’ are the stuff of blockbuster heaven, and the closing minutes of the film made all the more powerful by Zimmer’s beautiful work on the aptly named track ‘The End’.

IN CONCLUSION

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES has its problems. The opening act is weighed down by expositionary build up, a few too many characters with a few too many plot threads, and some very obvious plot devices. But the action packed finale ends the saga so well, any faults are instantly forgiven. RISES brings the entire trilogy full circle, ending the story in an immensely exciting, emotional, and satisfying fashion.

The end is finally here, and it doesn’t disappoint.

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