The final instalment that had to measure up to an incredibly high bar set by its predecessor. It did its best but didn’t quite manage to match up to the quality of the second film. However what is here is a spectacular visual showcase that is a wonderful example of Nolan’s grasp on film as a medium and a worthwhile conclusion to a terrific comic book trilogy.
Hesitant to return to this franchise and off the back of the hugely commercially and critically successful Inception (2010), Christopher Nolan developed a story for The Dark Knight Rises that he believed would keep him emotionally invested in the production whilst also being a worthwhile addition to the overarching plot as a whole. Drawing inspiration from the 1993 comic book arc KnightFall, the widely popular Frank Miller arc The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and the lesser known 1999 arc No Man’s Land, Nolan sought to establish a scale to this incarnation of Batman that had not been reached by the other two’s insular character driven plot lines. The result is a mixed bag. Several elements work wonders and showcase some of the best moments in the series whereas others come off contrived and forced resulting in cringe worthy and cheesy reactions that were thought to have been left behind in Batman Begins (2005). The outstanding success of The Dark Knight (2008) set the bar incredibly high for this franchise and Nolan’s continuing successes outside of Batman made the movie into an event to rival Avengers Assemble (Joss Whedon, 2012), the other major comic book release of that year and for the most part, it did live up to the hype, tying off the franchise with a neat ending settling the arcs of all the major characters. However it did stumble a few times on the final hurdles.
Set 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight the film opens with a wonderful set piece revealing the main villain and setting the tone for the film to come. In the same way The Dark Knight reveals the Joker and sets the tone for that movie, Bane’s abduction of the nuclear physicist Dr. Pavel ups the scale of the franchise. Kidnapping the Dr. from a moving plane and subsequently crashing that plane is just as exciting as the Joker’s bank robbery and mostly for the same reasons. It is clear that the villain has a larger goal outside of the present conflict, but the audience isn’t given enough pieces of the puzzle in order to figure it out for themselves. What we do have however is a demonstration of the villain’s power and control. Bane’s statement of intent to his interrogator authenticates his authoritative and intimidating physical presence. He is going to crash the plane and there is nothing that anyone on board can do to stop him. The fact that most of this sequence is real and not CGI holds the hyper-realistic setting to account whilst also massively upping the stakes of this franchise.
The rest of the overall plot is where this film starts to let itself down. On a fairly steady decline to the end, the story is full of contrivances and convenience that keep the plot moving along quickly so as not to give the audience enough time to ask what is actually going on. Whereas The Dark Knight had a wonderful and natural pace to it, Rises moves too fast at times, with characters seemingly falling through their arcs rather than naturally developing along them. In its defence there is a sequence in the plot that is supposed to take place over several months but it lacks any clear indications throughout of how much time is passing. As a result this sequence ends up as little more than a montage of Bruce Wayne’s recovery and Bane’s occupation of the city. This insanely fast pace really highlights the central issue with this franchise that had otherwise been disguised very well in the first two films. You don’t care about these characters. There is no real emotional tie to any of them because of how the film is presented. Batman Begins features some incredible action scenes and a believable Gotham City, but as Rachel is within seconds of losing her mind to Scarecrow’s toxin, there’s no emotional reaction from the viewer. It is exciting yes, because of how this moment could influence the plot, but we are not sad that Rachel is in trouble. Similarly Rachel’s death in The Dark Knight has exactly the same problem. It’s exciting for sure and the revelations of Dent’s character due to his survival really push the thriller element of the plot to its limit because of how this particular moment impacts the overarching story, but I don’t feel sad Harvey Dent lost half of his face or that Rachel is dead. My interest is kept because of how this moment is going to affect the immediate plot. Unfortunately for Rises the plot moves so fast that it is difficult to become truly engaged with the action on screen. This emotional disconnect is so prevalent that by the time the credits roll and the characters have all finished their arcs I don’t feel as though I’ve been on an adventure with these characters. I feel as though I’ve watched an essay on how to make a comic book thriller. It’s formed and written impeccably, but lacks the key emotional depth that could have made the story great.
The visuals as mentioned are fantastic and easily the most well formed and fully realised of the series. Bane’s costume design, whilst odd, does impose a certain level of intimidation akin to Batman’s. Obviously as audience members we don’t quite experience the fear that Batman brings to his enemies but with Bane as the antagonist, we are given a taste of what that must be like.
It is the scale of what is going on that really comes through and is the most impressive element of Rises. Watching the football field collapse behind the fleeing player, the solemn tumbler tanks roaming the streets of Gotham, Batman’s reveal in the tunnel during the Stock Exchange heist. All embody perfectly the exact idea they want to portray and are successful in drawing out the intended reaction. Bane breaking Batman’s back is an iconic moment in the history of comic books and is done justice here. Batman flying over the terrified Gotham police force fills the audience member with the same sense of hope that gives those charging Bane’s gates the courage to fight. Since the beginning of his career Nolan has consistently pushed the boundaries of the visual presentation of his films. Inception and Interstellar (2014) are prime examples and he achieves what he sets out to do here wonderfully. In the contrast of how Avengers Assemble (released the same year) delivers on its action with mostly CGI fights and villains, Rises creates a comic book universe in the real world which in a lot of ways gives the audience a much better sense of the stakes.
The Dark Knight Rises is not the perfect conclusion to this series. What it is however is a monumental visual achievement that ups the scale and raises the stakes of an otherwise relatively small scale comic book universe when compared to the MCU. Nolan’s Batman will without a doubt go down as one of the greatest film trilogies of all time even without the emotional weight that films like these tend to need in order to set them apart from the rest. The story that these films tell is that of one man trying to save his home from fear, corruption and hopelessness with each film exploring one of the individual themes with professional expertise. That’s what these films are. Professional. Emotionally indifferent with a high level of technical quality. What they lack in character chemistry they more than make up for in character presentation. These films will stand the test of time and will likely be taught to students for decades to come. A showcase of Nolan’s impeccable style and grasp of the subject matter and all three are just as enjoyable today as they were when they released.
Written by Alfie Smith
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Entertainment.