If there's a message in The Dark Knight Rises
, it's that the truth will set you free. In this case, the truth is there's no way I can objectively review this movie.
I never had a chance, you see. My mum was buying me Batman toys before I was born. I learned to read with Batman comics. I proudly wore a Robin costume before graduating to a (hastily sewn) cape and cowl. One of my earliest memories is of watching Michael Keaton fly the Batwing on the big screen. This
was my first board game; this
was my first record; this
was my first car. They're all long gone, but I never broke free of the programming. I never wanted to.
With that disclaimer out of the way, however, there's no doubt in my mind that this is a great film by virtually any standard. It's an impeccable action flick, for starters, besting The Avengers
for spectacle (the one department Joss Whedon looked to have Chris Nolan beat) and offering up the most brutal fights of the series.
Most of those come via arch-villain Bane, played in a stroke of counter-intuitive genius by Tom Hardy as an old school Bond villain with the medical record of Darth Vader and the body of a Hulk (sans CGI). In fact, Hardy's performance is such a testament to Nolan's Bond fetish that it's almost surprising he never utters the phrase “no, Mr Wayne, I expect you to die” while administering one of his beatdowns.
Anne Hathaway, who had looked to be the series' first real casting misfire, is similarly strong as Catwoman, stealing scenes (and pretty much everything else) with ease. It's a slightly more subdued performance than the role's previous caretakers have offered, and although she's not as clear an improvement over Michelle Pfeiffer as Heath Ledger was over Jack Nicholson, I'd have to award the decision to the newcomer on points.
Elsewhere, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are valuable additions to the supporting cast that fit in immediately. Michael Caine is still the series' emotional anchor, sharing nearly all of the film's most powerful moments with the soulful Christian Bale; Gary Oldman is still Gary Oldman; and Matthew Modine does his best to stay out of the way.
Hans Zimmer's score, as prominent as any of the leads in The Dark Knight
(and deserving of at least a portion of Heath Ledger's Oscar), is no less powerful here, complimenting Nolan's cohesive trilogy by revisiting leitmotifs from the first two films while still staking out new territory. His overt reliance on synths this time around, combined with Daft Punk's Zimmer-esque Tron: Legacy
score, leaves the German composer and the French dance duo closer together on the colour wheel than anyone could have imagined a few years ago.
Much like its predecessor, Rises
pulls off the neat trick of reflecting modern trends and concerns without being set in any particular period. In the same way that The Dark Knight
about the Patriot Act (except when it definitely was
), Rises definitely isn't
about the Occupy movement (except when it definitely is
). Still, it's best not to over-think it, lest you end up with the impression Nolan is pushing a conservative barrow.
The primary inspiration here is still the comics, and Nolan once again improves on that source material. The story is lovingly patched together from comic book arcs like The Cult
, Dark Victory
, The Dark Knight Returns
and The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne
– none of them exceptionally satisfying reads on their own, save for the latter two – but doesn't follow any of them slavishly. Nolan, as always, is able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Most endearingly, he zigs where so many have zagged. After kicking off a string of grim'n'gritty reboots, Nolan's Batman story concludes with an embrace – a celebration, really – of the lighter aspects of the character's mythology, presenting them as the endgame of almost eight hours worth of merciless darkness.
I'm not throwing the word 'mythology' around lightly, as superhero fans so often do. For the most part, superheroes actually make for pretty shitty myths, for the simple reason that their stories don't have endings. The Dark Knight Rises
, however, leaves Batman as the one major superhero to get a fitting send-off; a final adventure that puts the rest of his story in perspective.
shouldn't be compared to Spider-Man 3
, Superman III
, X-Men 3
, Batman Forever
etc. – its closest contemporaries on the pop culture landscape are Return Of The Jedi
and Return Of The King
, and I'd say it's better than either of them.
Having said that, it's not perfect. It wouldn't be a Nolan Bat-film without tech that stretches credibility and bears the faint whiff of deus ex machina
, after all.
The film is perfectly paced, for the most part (although some will arbitrarily complain that it's too long at 165 minutes), but the build-up to Batman's first clash with Bane feels like a bit of a cheat. Alfred's inexplicable knowledge of all things Bane-related is almost lazy, a term you can't often apply to a Nolan production.
Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway, as impressive as they are, don't completely fill the charisma chasm left by Heath Ledger's death, which helps to create the impression that Rises
doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor.
Zimmer's score is also a little too
powerful this time around, occasionally to the detriment of dialogue. And, yes, I'll admit there were moments when I couldn't quite understand what Bane was saying, though it was nowhere near as bad as reactionary critics and inevitable memes will make it out to be in coming weeks.
All that stuff pales in comparison, though, to the sheer force of the emotional haymakers Nolan and co. are able to land in this grand finale. I admit to a heightened sense of attachment to this franchise, so I don't know if it'll resonate with you the same way it did with me. I do know, though, that I saw it an hour ago and I'm still shaking.
A Batman movie is never just
a movie to me. It's a reminder of how charmed and carefree my life has been, to have spent so much time getting so much enjoyment out of a fictional character. It's a reminder of how much I love my parents for making that possible (and if there's any franchise that reminds you to appreciate your parents, it's this one). But that doesn't mean a Batman movie is an automatic home run.
In 1997, I left the theatre feeling physically sick after watching Batman & Robin
. 15 years later, Chris Nolan's daring rescue mission is complete. Out of the ashes of a train wreck, he's crafted one of the most thrilling trilogies in cinematic history.
Just thinking about that makes me giddy. I hope you'll feel the same way.Five StarsThe Dark Knight Rises is released on Thursday July 19.