With expectations sky high and delirious anticipation hanging heavy in the summer air, Christopher Nolan's third and final Batman movie finally closes the curtain on his Dark Knight saga. The film's not perfect, but there is plenty of bangs for your buck in this bombastic comic book caper.
Many years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne (Bale) has hung up his cape and become a recluse. Jim Gordon (Oldman) is enjoying a time of peace in Gotham while the rest of the city celebrates and remembers the false idol that was Harvey Dent.
Gotham is never too far away from violence and destruction however, and a storm starts to brew in the form of a masked terrorist named Bane (Hardy), a man obsessed with giving Gotham back to the people by unleashing hell throughout their not so fair city. Meanwhile, a slinky cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Hathaway) intrudes on Bruce's isolated self-imprisonment at Wayne Manner and eventually leads the Dark Knight to the city's new nemesis. As Gotham comes under siege from Bane and his army, The Batman must come out of retirement and save his city.
Of course, The Dark Knight Rises was never going to live up to its predecessor (it had the best Batman villain after all). Heath Ledger's performance and subsequent death gave The Dark Knight direct legendary status, but the film raised the bar for comic book movies across the board, from its dark and menacing tone to its breath-taking action.
The Dark Knight Rises tries to reach those same highs, and sometimes it does. But despite the grand scale bombardment of deafening action and special effects-laden warfare, The Dark Knight Rises still feels a bit underwhelming.
Plot wise, the film suffers similar problems to Nolan's previous Batman films. It's convoluted, there are subplots that are dull and unnecessary and dialogue that's questionable at best. But while Begins had the newly-introduced dark and brooding tone to see it through its shortcomings, and The Dark Knight had the charismatic Joker to keep things sparkling, Rises has neither the freshness nor the fascinating characters to disguise its bloated approach.
As a result, Rises feels painfully overlong at times. The first hour or so is particularly hard going as the film finds its feet, but even when things build towards the final act, where Bane unleashes chaos and destruction on a scale that the Joker could only dream of, things still feel a bit underwhelming, and the long-winded climax doesn't deliver a finale as exciting or as engrossing as its predecessor.
But that's maybe because Bane isn't nearly as interesting as Joker. Hardy does a terrific job in the role and radiates an unsettling madness behind the mask. He has a villain's voice (though sometimes difficult to understand) and a complex backstory to boot, which makes him a fine final villain for Batman to contend with. That said, there's only so far you can go with a masked bruiser, (as Bale's Batman proves) and after the epic build up, Bane just kind of fizzles out.
Anne Hathaway has a few good lines and looks predictably sexy and sultry in the cat suit, but she makes for a pretty dull Catwoman; not really that interesting nor indeed crucial to Nolan's saga. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings a human element to the proceedings as rookie cop John Blake, and fans may balk in terror or wet themselves with excitement at the character's last-minute surprise.
Old pros Bale, Oldman and Freeman hold their own and Sir Michael gets in a few more lip-quivering speeches to Master Wayne before the day's out, while Marion Cotillard, the new shady love interest for Bruce, is just one character too many in the already-overloaded roster.
As a standalone film, The Dark Knight Rises gets the job done and has more than few great moments, but it's seriously flawed. As part of the big picture though, it works a lot better, coming full circle and bringing Nolan's saga to a close in loud and proud fashion. You'll want to revisit Begins and Dark Knight after watching this, and it's when watching Rises as part of one gigantic, multi-layered story arc that you get a sense of how ambitious, impressive and important Nolan's saga has been for the Batman character. Indeed, an epic Batman tale for our times.
Overall Verdict: The final instalment of the saga may have its flaws, but it brings Nolan's Dark Knight saga full circle and closes the book on Bale's Batman with style.
Reviewer: Lee Griffiths