Note: This review discusses this films ending as well as many other plot details. Please return to it once you have seen the film unless you seriously don’t care about having the film spoilt for you.
Each one of Nolan’s Batman films has now succeeded at being very different in tone to one another. This has been well documented already in reviews of The Dark Knight Rises but it needs to be said as it is a major strength of the trilogy. This one, The Dark Knight Rises, manages to conjure up the word epic exactly as it should have done. It feels big, grand and conclusive; for the first time I felt that Gotham was truly and entirely threatened. The film also does make the same mistakes Spider-Man 3 made with too many characters, both with its villains and its heroes. It is a mixed film; for the most part it truly succeeds and as I was watching it I believed it was the best of the Nolan Batman films. A while later, and I have become more aware of why certain elements bothered me during the screening; things such as a weaker than expected script and a tipped balance towards the spectacle rather than the emotional, despite Michael Caine’s impressive efforts to correct that imbalance. Ultimately it’s a better film than Batman Begins, but Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight still manages to elevate that experience above The Dark Knight Rises.
Anne Hathaway was a scene stealer for me as Catwoman, and being up against such a wealth of acting talent, that is quite an achievement. Director Christopher Nolan has been quoted as saying that Hathaway’s work deserved a spinoff series, and whilst I don’t suppose that is going to happen, I would absolutely be there, money in hand if it did. Apart from Hathaway, the rest of the cast all gave decent performances; with Christian Bale succeeding better than ever as Bruce Wayne/Batman and an excellent, emotional turn given by Michael Caine. I thought, and still think that it is within Hardy’s ability to outshine Ledger’s performance, I don’t know how the world feels about that but I will assume that I’m in a minority. Regardless, the fact is that he didn’t manage to. That’s not to say he didn’t give a good performance, he did, but then I expected that – it’s just that he has proven in the past that he can be more menacing than he was here. The biggest problem for me was the voice; I found it to be distracting and hard to understand, plus Hardy can be terrifying with his normal voice, so why change it?
The film’s supporting characters needed to be slimmed down considerably. It felt like it was just sticking everyone in it for nostalgic reasons alone; we didn’t need Ra’s al Ghul’s or Scarecrow’s cameos. By all means refer back to them in order to serve the story, but we don’t need to be reminded what Liam Neeson looks like, which brings me onto another gripe I had with this film; the flashbacks. Unnecessarily reminding the audience of the previous films whilst also ham-handedly trying to elicit emotion from scenes, for example Gordon’s flashback to Bruce as a child, the flashbacks seem altogether very unsubtle and unneeded. It seems to be apologetically explaining why moments should be emotional to audience members who missed the first two films. The film should have instead stripped itself down, leaving these moments as they are so that fans can properly appreciate them and then also have written the film to be emotionally engaging enough that it doesn’t have to rely on external elements. I’m not saying this film wasn’t emotional as an individual film, but it would have benefitted from slimming down and being a little braver and more trusting of its audience.
Although I am complaining about the padding in this film, it does do a damn good job of pacing through it all; almost enough to convince me that it was a tight, albeit long film. Sure there are lots of scenes which are considerably slower than the average action/superhero film but then, this is a longer film and therefore demands these sections. I also found that the action scenes were handled much better in this film than Nolan’s previous Batman films. They were more exciting to watch and far more skilfully executed, even if they had nothing on the over turning truck.
One of the biggest problems I had with the film was its script. Numerous times it pulled me out of the film with obvious plot advancers such as the hand-written speech, which hangs around long enough for Bane to read it out loud and blacken Harvey Dent’s name. It just seemed cheap and poorly written to have obvious plot devices such as this. Easily the weakest scene for me however was the closing one at the cafe. I get why the script had this; anyone can be Batman (theoretically). Wayne has managed to pass the responsibility on and gain a new life, and although I think it would have been a far more emotional ending if he had actually died to save the city, that’s ultimately a personal opinion so OK fair enough, but Selina Kyle? I don’t buy it that her experiences in Gotham taking on Bane rewired her entire personality enough so that she would settle down and talk chitchat over coffee. Also, I’m calling out the semi-popular theory that the ending is open to interpretation because of Nolan’s previous work on Inception. After the screening I actually joked that maybe Alfred only imagined Bruce Wayne sitting there at the cafe. I would feel ridiculous having to argue this out, but with critics such as Mark Kermode discussing it, it has gained more weight than it should have. Just because Inception is concerned with dreams and because you may happen to know that Nolan has a considerable interest in that area, doesn’t give a film completely removed from Inception the ability to include these themes, without having developed them as a device through the course of that film. Check out Kermode’s review*, he doesn’t spend long over this but see if he can convince you, to me it’s just a ridiculous notion.
Although I have been perhaps a little hard on this film, it certainly is thoroughly entertaining. I can’t help but admire a film that had such a ridiculous amount of pressure heaped upon it, and yet still comes out as a decent, well crafted and involving film. It struggles to balance conjuring up the epic scale that it wants to, as well as the emotionally charged intimacy – with the first eventually outweighing the second. Towards the end it staggers a little under its own weight but still holds up fairly well and gives a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy.