The Dark Knight Rises
Weakest of the trilogy, but still one of the best comic book adaptations ever.
There must be some envy in at least the accountancy division of DC Comics, when stacking up the movie adaptation box office returns against their perennial rivals Marvel. While Marvel Studios, and the assorted other studios still laying claim to rights for Marvel properties, have spent the last decade pulling in terrifying amounts of money by saturation exploitation of their IP, regardless of quality or necessity, DC have contented themselves with flailing around with frequently abortive Superman efforts and The Green Lantern, of which the least said the better. Oh, and Batman, of course.
Nolan's previous two Bat-movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight weren't just high water marks for the ever swelling tide of comic-book adaptations, they were the best movies of their particular years. Expectations were high for The Dark Knight Rises, and to my great relief it delivers on pretty much all of them.
This installment moves us eight years on from the events of The Dark Knight, with Harvey Dent's good name preserved and used as inspiration for sweeping new laws and police powers that has all but eradicated the blight of organised crime that infected the city. No longer needed, Batman has hung up his cowl and a banged-up, limping, disheartened Bruce Wayne has withdrawn to the rebuilt Wayne Manor, seemingly to wait for either death or Gotham's hour of need, whichever comes first.
His interest is briefly, understandably piqued when Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle, a cat burglar better known as Catwoman, takes an interest in Bruce's family jewels. Not in that sense. We mean a pearl necklace. Not in that sense. Jesus. Let's just move on to the main villain.
Tom Hardy, although you'd never recognise him, slaps on a mask as well as what looks to be one hundred pounds of muscle as Bane, a mysterious, feared mercenary that, turns out, is in control of the League of Shadows after Ra's Al Ghul's plan from Batman Begins was derailed. It seems they're out for revenge, and with the first confrontation between a newly re-suited Batman and Bane ending with Bane breaking Batman's back, it looks like they might be getting it.
While Batman's thrown into the hellhole of a prison Bane came from, Bane takes great delight in his efforts to tear Gotham apart by starting a class war backed by threats of nuclear destruction. Bruce must rebuild his body and his mind in order to save his city, giving us a great excuse to indulge in the character and motivation dissections that this series does so well while still providing riveting entertainment.
And entertain it does. While, along with the other films in the series, it's not perfect, and indeed it's a little further from perfection than it's predecessors, it's still more or less the best film I watched in 2012. Even leaving aside the spectacle of the movie, in terms of characterisation, tension, drama and structure it's leagues ahead of anything else. As I've said with the Begins and Dark Knight, it makes the the best of the other comic book adaptations seem rather small and silly in comparison.
However you can't really leave aside the spectacle of The Dark Knight Rises, because there's so damn much of it and it's all so brilliant. It's most obvious recent comparison would be with The Avengers, a very entertaining action spectacle that I enjoyed very much, and the best of the Marvel adaptations. In comparison, it's a ridiculous little CG action reel that would fly away on exposure to a slight breeze. The effects work of The Dark Knight Rises leads the industry, for the same reasons that Nolan's previous blockbusters have - the mixture of a good number of physical effects into the action often makes it hard to see where it's switched to CG, if indeed it has. Given his track record, it's not out of the question that he'd rip apart a jet using a cargo plane for the realism. It also shows that regardless of how good the digital effects for large scale crowd battles have become, there's really no substitute for thousands of brawling extras in the impact stakes.
It's been said that these Batman films are to this generation of younglings as Star Wars would be to mine, by which lazy analogy would lead to Bane being this generations' Darth Vader. Certainly, they're both great, iconic villains, physically intimidating with commanding presence, inspiring loyal followers. Of course, both are also masked, with effects laden onto the vocal performances. While initially it seems that Bane's voice, in comparison to Vader's sinister heavy breathing, is going to be annoying, difficult to understand and always a few minutes away from announcing the next train to pull into platform four, Hardy's vocal performance creates a fascinating character. He looks so hulking and brutish, yet sounds so erudite - indeed, he sounds like the kind of person you'd love to share a pint with. Until Bane realises he can't drink through the mask, then casually picks you apart like a chicken wing.
I said earlier on that this film might not be quite to the level of the previous two, but that's probably being unfair to it. While it's the first of Nolan's Batmans that I wish was a little shorter, gawd knows what I'd cut out. It plays faster and looser with physiology than is suspension-of-believable, although Batman's rehab plan would save the NHS millions. It has larger plot holes and otherwise competent people having attacks of incompetence seemingly entirely out of narrative necessity. Indeed, Bane's entire plan for Gotham seems needlessly esoteric. If this wasn't in part cashing in on a vast reserve of goodwill, and in part being exonerated by the other excellent aspects of this film, these flaws might have been more obvious and impactful.
It's certainly the film that stands on its own the least well, but that's likely the case for all of the third parts of a trilogy in all of the trilogies there has ever been. Certainly, you'll only get the most out of Rises if you've seen the other two, and in fairly recent memory too. As the last part of the trilogy it ties everything together brilliantly, with what seems like throwaway lines in previous films being paid off at critical junctures in this.
Rather like The Dude's rug, Dark Knight Rises really ties the trilogy's room together. It provides a fantastic, satisfying end to the series character arc and story, which you can't say of a lot of films and almost no comic book adaptations. Shows what a bit of planning can do, although arguably it's done it too well. At the minute, I can't imagine another Batman, or another Batman film, being anything other than a grave disappointment , which doesn't bode well for the Justice League film.
I could probably quite happily go on at exhaustive length about this film, but going by the box office I rather imagine you've already seen it, in which case you'll have your own opinions about it. I've already given you my opinions, which is that it's one of the best films of 2012. I can't really give you much more of a recommendation than that.
Michael Caine (Alfie)
Tom Hardy (Bane)