Before we begin: Given that The Dark Knight Rises is the last part of a trilogy, our overriding advice remains to avoid reviews, even spoiler-free ones like this one. We appreciate that’s, er, a bit self-defeating, but given the number of things we’ve read this week that seem intent on spoiling the film, it’s half-tempting to pull the plug on the Internet for a week. Strong recommendation, then: see it, then read the reviews afterwards. There will be a lot to talk about…
Review starts here:A small favour: do you mind if we get the hyperbole done and dusted right from the start? Appreciating that some of you want to come in, get a general impression, look at the star rating and move on, the basics are this. The Dark Knight Rises is very good as a standalone movie. As the bookend to a trilogy, it’s even better. Either way, it’s not without one or two slight problems, but they’re not massive ones.
We’ll be talking about Nolan’s Batman films decades into the future, we suspect, and whoever has to follow just what he’s managed will have the biggest problem in blockbuster cinema.
The Dark Knight Rises is first and foremost a dark ensemble drama (at its best), with some exquisitely staged action sequences. It’s one that takes a fair amount of time to put its pieces into place, too.
It sets up and positions a collection of new and returning characters (we’re not going into any detail on them here, for spoiler-reasons), while providing a couple of entry points and refreshers from the rest of the trilogy (its commitment to weaving in stands from the previous two films is a very big plus). This takes time and investment, both on the film’s part and the audience’s.
This is no bad thing, of course, but while The Dark Knight Rises is laying its foundations, there may well be a moment or two where you’re willing it to fire fully into life. It’s a tough criticism, and it’s a by-product of the ambition of the narrative here, but there’s a lot of groundwork that has to be got through.
That groundwork has a pay-off, of course, and it’s also part and parcel of this being a blockbuster movie that actually has something substantive to say. Its messages may not be massively radical ones, but Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy has always worked in reflections of real life, and that’s more the case than ever with The Dark Knight Rises. You’d be hard pushed to suggest that it’s a film that dumbs things down at any point, and it’s all the better for that.
It never loses touch with the fact that it’s a blockbuster movie, though, and when Nolan puts his foot down, it’s some ride. He raises the stakes far higher than he has before with The Dark Knight Rises, escalating the overriding threat in the film to sky-high levels.
He’s not done digging into the character of Bruce Wayne, either, and it’s very much a dark, sombre place where we originally find him. This is as much of the story as you’ll get out of us, and it’s what’s been widely trailed: the film picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, with Wayne (and Batman) a recluse. What follows is a series of events to drag him out of his self-imposed exiled. Bane, played by Tom Hardy (making a real impact under his mask) is the catalyst, and a worthy physical challenge. Here’s a foe that you’re never in any doubt can do a lot of damage – remorselessly.
Considering the complaints about Bane’s muffled voice in the exhilarating prologue, screened before Christmas, there’s clearly been work done here to make him more understandable. It’s not been entirely successful, though. As with Nolan’s previous film, Inception, there are moments in The Dark Knight Rises where hearing every word each character has to say proves to be a challenge. We’ve checked other reviews, and most people aren’t reflecting this problem, but considering we got to see the film on a huge IMAX screen in a cinema with an excellent sound system, we figured it worth raising.
One by-product of seeing the film on an IMAX screen, of course, is the stunning visual impact. Both in day and night, Nolan’s Gotham City is astounding. What’s particularly impressive is the sheer level of detail he and cinematographer Wally Pfister fill the screen with. It’s one thing pointing an IMAX camera at a cityscape. It’s another making sure that there are things going on that warrant the effort, and that’s the striking achievement. What’s more, with over an hour of IMAX material here – including many fast-moving sequences – you more than get your money’s worth: this is a bubbling, brooding, living Gotham City.
Furthermore, as the trilogy has progressed, Nolan has also become a better action director. Action isn’t the main reason to see The Dark Knight Rises, in the same way it hasn’t been in the previous Nolan Batman adventures. But that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive. Nolan’s much-reported and cherishable desire to keep computers at bay for as much of the time as possible pays real dividends. The scale of the action, and the execution of it, can’t help but leave you hoping more directors follow his lead in using CG only where necessary.
It’s because of this commitment to physical work, along with the small details, the individual human quandaries of its characters, and the attention given to every facet of the production, that The Dark Knight Rises feels real, even when it brings into play its more fantastical elements.
Where does it sit in the trilogy? It’s too early to say, realistically. The Dark Knight felt more immediately satisfying, but then it told a more concentrated story. The Dark Knight Rises is, however, a really satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole, albeit with an issue or two in the last act. It ties together strands, it leaves things in an interesting place, and there’s a feeling that a three-dimensional story has reached a natural endpoint. No wonder the audience we watched the film with simply applauded at the end. We suspect that reaction will be repeated a lot.
After all, the trilogy is a colossal achievement when taken in its entirety, and in comic-book movie terms, it has nothing to match it. Back when Christopher Nolan was first appointed as the man to revive Batman, we don’t think we had any right to expect the three films we now have.
The Dark Knight Rises may not be the best of the three, but it stands proudly alongside them, ranking alongside The Avengers as the best blockbuster of the year (they’re very different films, of course, but both strong at what they do).
Bottom line: whether you find The Dark Knight Rises the best of the three Nolan-directed trips to Gotham or not, it’ll certainly be a long, long time before we get to see a Batman film this good again.
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