REST EASY, THIS IS A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW
The expectations, the astronomical amount of expectations. The insurmountable hype. How could he deliver? How could anyone? The conclusion the the Batman saga is here. Did Christopher Nolan do it?
The Dark Knight Rises is an art piece of such boundless spectacle, an epic of such scope and scale not seen since the days of films like Metropolis and other works of that era. Except it’s better. This truly is an epic, vast and layered, with an enormous ensemble, whose every beat is impeccable. This is Nolan’s magnum opus.
After the conclusion of The Dark Knight, 8 years have passed and Gotham is living in relative peace. But that’s just the calm before the storm. A storm unlike anything that has ever hit the city and its inhabitants. Christian Bale once again dominates the dual role of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Bale really makes you feel the passage of time, his caped crusading has certainly taken its toll on him, and the implications from the ending of the previous film. He’s often overlooked when discussing The Dark Knight, but the same cannot be said for his performance here. He’s simply terrific, the cornerstone of the emotional core of the film, and a very sturdy foundation at that. He brings the tribulations of the character to life and make you feel them along with him.
Previously, Batman has had battles, but this is more. This is a war. Tom Hardy‘s Bane is a creature of pure menace. He will not only break your body, but your spirit as well. He commands unparalleled loyalty and fear. He’s never come up against anything that he cannot simply brush aside. Batman hasn’t just met his match, he’s met his superior. And with a plan as intricate as Bane’s how can he possibly hope to defeat him?
Much like Heath Ledger before him, Hardy is the character. He’s always Bane. And he’s magnificent. It’s a huge achievement considering he only has his eyes and physicality to fall back on. Through him the fire rises, without him it might perhaps have been little more than a spark. His voice is also never a detractor, it’s a chilling and essential part of the character. Being so terrifying is worthy of applause, and perhaps even awards.
Many had reservations about Anne Hathaway being cast as Catwoman, those turn out to be unfounded. Her Catwoman is utterly convincing, be it her capabilities as a thief or as a fighter. There’s the ever present moral ambiguity that makes her such a compelling character to watch, and she ends up fitting very snugly into Nolan’s Batverse.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s John Blake serves as a constantly interesting parallel to Bruce Wayne. Levitt has long since proven himself to be an extremely capable actor and he’s not about to falter now. This will stand as one of his definitive roles.
The rest of the cast does no wrong. Gary Oldman is as good as ever and Michael Caine is the definitive Alfred, many of his scenes here are absolutely heartbreaking. Marion Cotillard is infinitely more interesting than first let on as Miranda Tate and Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman. Then there’s the titanic amount of side characters, from police officers to tycoons to children to mercenaries, that all perform admirably. If there’s one sour note then it’s the fact that Juno Temple‘s character sort of disappears, she’s effectively used in Catwoman’s characterization and her acting is great but there’s no pay off.
The Dark Knight Rises isn’t just the ending to a large story, it’s an even larger tale on to itself. With its myriad of characters, story elements, plot beats and emotional arcs it becomes a gripping adventure, one that commands every iota of your attention. Just as well as there’s a lot to take in and even though it’s pushing three hours, it moves along at a brisk pace. The film never once comes close to buckling under the immense weight of it all. The screenplay by the Nolan brothers manages to keep track of all (but one) of the characters and pieces of the puzzle. The dialog is fitting and exposition never feels forced, it’s all very natural despite in fact being very poetic and theatrical in nature.
Nolan has gone from strength to strength in the action department. He’s no longer a diamond in the rough, his action is so well constructed, so meticulous, it feels as if the fate of everyone hangs in the balance with every blow. There are two fights in here that affect you so viscerally you feel as if you’re about to explode. Your heart rate rises, your breath grows quicker and your body tenses up. The intensity is mind-boggling. And it all comes off effortlessly. Much of it comes down to the fact that everything that could conceivably be done practically was done practically, it makes it feel so real.
Christopher Nolan stands as this generation’s most accomplished filmmaker. He takes you on a journey with dizzying emotional highs and crushing lows. He’s aided by the nigh on impossible quality of Wally Pfister‘s breathtaking cinematography, Lee Smith‘s fantastic editing and the best work Hans Zimmer has ever done. If these men didn’t work so well together it simply wouldn’t have been the same, not even close.
Final Verdict: It all comes down to this, what feels like a perfect conclusion to what Nolan started in 2005. And that’s another thing that’s so hugely impressive, it’s so cohesive, the three films form a perfect narrative and thematic whole. It feels huge but simultaneously very intimate. Something like The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t grow on trees. Watch it knowing that you’re witnessing some the most impressive film making of all time. Previously, we could only dream of superhero movies of this quality. Now, it’s a reality. Nolan’s Batman story deserved a great ending. This is that ending. He did it.