The Dark Knight Rises – review

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Cinemagoers have been blessed by summer blockbusters in 2012, in particular comic book capers. Marvel fans finally got to see their ultimate character collaboration in 3D in the Avengers Assemble, getting six superheroes for the price of one.

The relentless Marvel Enterprises machine also churned out a revamp of Peter Parker’s story in The Amazing Spider-Man, which although being a rather premature reimagining of Spidey, still had a new generation of fans flooding the multiplexes in their droves to get an eyeful of CGI wonderment.

Arguably the most fervently-anticipated and talked-about film of the year though has been The Dark Knight Rises, with movie fans awaiting the climax of the greatest comic-book adaptation ever, with posters and trailers in the build up to its release carrying the words: THE LEGEND ENDS. Ever since the first whispers about the final instalment of Nolan’s trilogy, the internet has been awash with hyperbole.

In-the-know fans eagerly awaited the date from which they could book advance tickets, in particular London-based fans looking to get the hottest seats at the BFI IMAX. The film broke the record for most advance-booked tickets sold at the BFI IMAX, advance sales topping £1 million, beating the previous record set by Avatar.

Nolan more than made up for the four-year wait between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, whetting our appetite with the extraordinary Inception and so impressive were performances that he used several of the cast in big roles in The Dark Knight Rises – namely Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.

Hardy’s role as the colossal Bane has gained most attention, as again Nolan has induced an electrifying performance from the main villain. Heath Ledger’s Joker rejuvenated one of the most iconic baddies in comic-book history, taking on a character brilliantly-portrayed by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), raising the charismatically-psychotic clown to another level in The Dark Knight.

We rejoin the action eight years on from the end of the last film. Our hero is in hiding after he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) decide it best for the morale of the city to pin the blame for Harvey Dent’s post-accident (Two-Face) crimes and Dent’s own death on Batman (Christian Bale), to save the former district attorney’s reputation as the “great white hope for Gotham” and a trail-blazer for the justice system.

This controversial decision seems to have paid dividends for the city of Gotham, as we see things have calmed down in the metropolis that was taken to the brink of chaos and anarchy by the Joker. Harvey Dent is a symbol for good and there is even an annual remembrance event to honour him and a piece of legislation to allow stricter control on organised crime has been passed, called the “Dent Act”.

Despite this ironic moral victory for Gordon and Batman, the sacrifice made by Batman and the events of eight years before – including the loss of the women he loved, Rachel Dawes – have clearly taken their toll mentally and physically on Bruce Wayne. He has become a shadow of himself, living as a recluse in Wayne Manor.

Wayne Enterprises is struggling as a result and although the city is in better shape, the decline of a multi-billion dollar business doesn’t go unnoticed and the sharks are circling, especially as some important (and extremely dangerous) people have their eyes on some of the assets that Wayne Enterprise posses – in particular the awesome, cutting-edge technology and resources built up over the years by CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

These sharks are big fish with money, including wealthy and corrupt businessman, John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), who hires professional thief, Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), to steal Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints in exchange for a “clean slate” device, which would supposedly wipe her off the criminal records.

When Wayne finds out, he suddenly finds himself in a vulnerable position and his thoughts instantly move towards a return as the caped crusader, especially when a darker plot at work is uncovered. However, previously ever-faithful Alfred (Michael Caine) will not stay around if Bruce goes through with resurrecting the Batman, as in his own words, he has “buried enough members of the Wayne family.”

Not only is a darker plot brewing, but the figure behind it all is intelligent, super-strong and super-resourceful. The villain is Bane, who is a scary prospect, not least because of his size and his connection with The League of Shadows, but also due to his reputation for having escaped from a seemingly inescapable prison.

Freedom from the prison was granted to any inmate willing to scale its high cylindrical tower, which includes a near-impossible leap. The bait was a trick of the prison, an invention of the incarcerator to provide false hope of freedom. Hope is one of many prominent themes in The Dark Knight Rises. Is it the hope that kills you and grinds you down; is acceptance of your situation a less torturous existence?

Hope was the reason that the truth behind the demise of Harvey Dent was kept from the Gotham public and this questionable decision is put up to debate and there are many sub-plots of be mused over in this brooding blockbuster.

Aside from the complexities of this social-comment vigilante trilogy’s climax, Nolan’s masterpiece packs a devastating, high-octane punch, as the truly terrifying Bane and his posse from the depths of the sewer come out to play and look to bring Gotham to its knees once again and continue the Ra’s al Ghul and The League of Shadows’ work – as seen in Batman Begins – attempting to physically and metaphorically destroy Gotham and rid it of sin, in order to start afresh with a new order.

If the Joker failed to dismantle Gotham eight years before, using anarchy as his weapon, Bane uses ambitious organised terrorism, extreme force and propaganda. What makes this final instalment of Nolan’s trilogy so pulsating and jaw-dropping is that the viewer is forced to feel the weight of the sheer task facing Batman, as it becomes clear early on that he appears hopelessly outthought, outnumbered and outgunned.

Nolan has reinvented the superhero film. He has unshackled it from the burden of 3D and endless CGI wizardry to please the masses and studios. Fight scenes are stripped down and more primal and there is as much scope in the storytelling and sociological depth here, as the rest of his canon of mind-bending work.

There are noteworthy performances from Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate (a potential investment saviour for Wayne Enterprises and a love interest for Bruce), Joseph Gordon Levitt as wannabe hero-cop Blake and Anne Hathaway as the feisty criminal with a conscience.

But the action just goes up a notch whenever the muzzle-wearing Bane and the Dark Knight himself are on screen together and the excitement within the cinema just buzzes, as in the face of Gotham’s greatest threat, Bruce Wayne asks himself one last time how much more can he give to his city and people that have loved, berated, but ultimately needed him, in order to save it.

Whether or not the saga continues in the absence of Nolan at the helm, the three films he has delivered have culminated in one hell of a ride.

The Dark Knight Rises (12A)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Ben Mendelsohn.
Running time: 164 minutes

The Dark Knight Rises is showing at the Rio Cinema until Thursday 2nd August and Hackney Picturehouse throughout August.