Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway • Directed by Christopher Nolan • Age restriction: 13MV • Releases 27 July
Christopher Nolan's epic Dark Knight trilogy concludes in spectacular fashion with The Dark Knight Rises, wrapping up this generation of Batman's tale with flair and heart – even though it doesn't quite meet the standard set by 2008's immense The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight Rises works a lot off the concepts introduced in 2005's Batman Begins: the League of Shadows, Ra's Al Ghul... It's definitely worth rewatching the first two film's in Nolan's trilogy before booking your seats for its conclusion.
It has been eight years since the events of The Dark Knight, and Batman has gone into hiding after taking the fall for Gotham's "white knight", Harvey Dent. His sacrifice – and the continued idolisation of Dent – have led to the introduction of the Dent Act, which allows for harsher sentencing for organised crime, leading to quieter streets and a more complacent Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse after the death of his love, Rachel, never venturing out of the house. But an encounter with a beautiful cat burglar – Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) forces him out of his self-imposed exile and into the spotlight again. But it is the arrival of the masked villain Bane (Tom Hardy) – and his terrifying plan for Gotham – that forces Bruce Wayne to don his cape and cowl once more.
Wayne's return to Batman is an emotional, difficult one. He is a shadow of his former self, a lost boy in a world that he feels holds nothing for him. Bale – who with his performances in Batman and The Fighter has proven that he is an incredible physical performer, – mirrors Wayne's slow recovery, his loss of confidence and his total disregard for his own life in Wayne's movements, expression and voice. It's a strong and riveting performance, with Bale shining as the ailing, aging superhero in a world that has shunned him for so long.
Absolutely outstanding in this film is Sir Michael Caine as Wayne's devoted butler Alfred, who is against his master's return to the streets as Batman, warning him that Bane is more than a match for Batman, having been so long out of the game. "I won't bury you," croaks a visibly shaken Caine at one point. "I buried enough members of the Wayne family." It's an emotional, heart-wrenching performance – like Wayne, time has taken its toll on his witty, stoic butler – now an old, tired man.
There are strong performances, as ever, from Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. But it's the newcomers – Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard that steal the limelight in the film. Gordon-Levitt plays the strong-willed, extremely moral police officer John Blake – who as an orphan himself, knows Wayne's secret identity, while Cotillard as Miranda Tate – scientist and love interest for Wayne – proves that she can hold the screen, even with very little given to her in the first part of the film.
Hathaway is delicious as Selina Kyle – never directly referred to as Catwoman in this film – a mercurial burglar, who is more than a match for Batman. She switches up from sex kitten to wide-eyed victim as needed, and has remarkable fun doing so. If there is one small flaw, it's that Kyle's fight scenes always seem a little too choreographed, slower than one would expect from the feline femme fatale.
But Hardy as Bane is problematic – even though the character himself is fascinating. Bane is solid, immensely large, extremely imposing – and Hardy has done exceptionally well to bulk up. As a villain, he is more than a physical and mental match for Batman – having also trained under Ra's Al Ghul. Their fight scenes are incredible – intense hand-to-hand sequences that have been expertly choreographed and filmed. He is utterly devoted to the League of Shadows' mandate, religiously fervent in his mission to bring Gotham to his knees, convinced that he is a "necessary evil". The problem, however, comes with Bane's mask – and the fact that at times, it is extremely difficult to hear what he is saying. At an early test screening of the film, viewers apparently complained that they couldn't understand Bane's lines. As a result, Nolan cleaned up the voice – and while it may now be clearer, it sounds separate to the rest of the film's sound – almost Darth Vader-like – and after a while, it becomes grating. Hardy also delivers the lines in a deep voice, with an accent that makes some of his lines almost unintelligible. I warn you know – concentrate on what he's saying, or much of the details will be lost.
At two hours and 45 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises is immense. Almost everything about this movie – its opening aerial action sequence, its score, its special effects, its storyline – is on an epic scale, pushing to even bigger than the one before. Hans Zimmer's thumping soundtrack thrums throughout the film, with a familiar chanting beat used insistently throughout. At times its too much, too loud, drowning out the dialogue – but like the rest of the film, it's massive. It's also exquisitely shot and is visually stunning from beginning to end – no corners were cut here: it looks every inch its reported $250-million budget. I would have loved to have seen this in IMAX.
The script – penned by Nolan and his brother Jonathan – is complex, switching between a number of plotlines, and is a fascinating look at a city in the grips of a revolution. For a Batman film, there are long stretches without the superhero as we focus on other storylines: Blake and Gordon's efforts to save Gotham, largely.
While the film has been overhyped within an inch of its life – and while some fans may be disappointed because it's not everything they thought it would be – as a conclusion to the franchise, The Dark Knight Rises is satisfying – as well as leaving the door wide-open for Warner Bros. to explore other potential films.
A fitting, emotional conclusion – although not a perfect film, by any means. Still, one of the must-see movies of the year.