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The Dark Knight Rises

Certificate 12A

Eight years have passed since the Joker died and Batman took the blame for Harvey Dent’s death. The
Caped Crusader is long gone and Bruce Wayne has become a rarely seen recluse hiding in the rebuilt
Wayne mansion. Even the Wayne fortune is under threat after a massive investment in a new fusion
energy system that has since been mothballed. Legal reforms introduced in Dent’s name have brought
law and order to Gotham city but it is prosperity built on a lie, and while the city has grown lazy and
complacent a devastating new threat, in the form of the monstrous terrorist Bane, is waiting in the
wings.

This is the superhero opposite of this year’s other massive blockbuster, The Avengers. While Joss
Whedon’s movie reveled in the outrageous good versus evil comic book fun of its sources, Chris Nolan’s
take is a much more brutal and realistic one. Batman is the non-super superhero and it is the questions
raised by this that fascinate Nolan. What if Batman really lived in this world? What would a supervillain
really want? There are no simple black and white answers here. Good and bad are never that clear cut.
Extremists like Ra’s Al Ghul, the Joker, Bane and even the Batman himself try to create certainties in an
uncertain world. Twisted moralities try to achieve a greater good through evil deeds and actions done
with the best intentions can have terrible unforeseen consequences. This is a story that cannot have
a nice, neat happy ending and Nolan leads us toward a conclusion that isn’t easy but certainly rings
satisfyingly true.

As a finale to a trilogy The Dark Knight Rises is firmly rooted in the earlier episodes. The smug
complacency of Gotham that makes the city such easy pickings for Bane is rooted in Batman’s sacrifice
in the final scenes of The Dark Knight and the reclusive Bruce Wayne is a man broken by a dream that
turned sour. However, despite the links to The Dark Knight it is Batman Begins that casts the longest
shadow. Flashbacks and visual nods to the first film are laced throughout and it is the ambition of Ra’s
Al Ghul’s League of Shadows, thought dead and buried long ago, that threatens Gotham again. When
Batman’s arch nemesis Bane comes to the city it is to accomplish what Ra’s Al Ghul failed to do, and
burn the whole corrupt mess to the ground.

Much has been made of Tom Hardy’s Bane with some criticising his character’s lack of charisma
compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker. This is failing to understand what Bane is; a driven, steely-eyed
fanatic with a plan. Hardy is a huge hulking, threatening presence who seems a challenge too far for the
weakened and diminished Batman. Comments suggesting that he is hard to understand through the
mask are also nonsense, if anything Bane’s strange gasping, bubbling delivery makes him seem all the
more monstrous and inhuman.

Hardy’s is just one amongst a huge ensemble of fantastic performances. It’s hard to think of a more
talented stellar cast. Christian Bale remains note perfect as Wayne, particularly in the opening act
where he limps and shambles, his spirit gone and his joints ruined by years of abuse as the Bat. This is
an evolution of the character, questioning his life and festering alone with his guilt and doubt. Morgan
Freeman, Gary Oldman and Michael Caine all return to bring gravitas and new depth to their characters.

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Caine, as always is wonderful, but particularly shines with one magnificent moment when Alfred’s grief
bursts through his meticulously calm exterior in a brief but pitch perfect glimpse into the character’s
soul. Cillian Murphy returns as the Scarecrow, freed from Arkham Asylum to dispense justice in Bane’s
captive Gotham. The biggest gamble though was surely including Catwoman. Nolan had avoided the
more extreme and outrageous options in Batman’s character back-catalogue for fear of the ridiculous
undermining and unbalancing everything. Catwoman could have been a huge misfire but fortunately she
isn’t. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a crucial ingredient in the mix. Her performance is excellent, sexy
and beautiful but also as troubled and divided as Bruce Wayne. Kyle lacks Wayne’s morality, but is also
the perfect foil for him, a soul-mate split personality whose very presence revives him and helps him
find a route back to Batman. Nolan keeps her true intentions hidden for much of the film and, as such,
she is a dangerous and ambiguous figure whose motives and allegiances are unclear.

As for the action, Nolan doesn’t disappoint, and this time it is on a huge scale. When Bane takes the city
bridges fall and buildings burn, armies clash and chaos reigns. It is all handled with enormous skill. The
breathless pace doesn’t drop for a moment whether it’s hand to hand fighting, Batbike chases or aerial
action in the cool new tumbler-style Batwing.

There is a twist before the end but it shouldn’t come as a great surprise to anyone familiar with their
Bat-lore. Nolan won’t be worried about that, this trilogy was never about cheap shocks and cop-outs.
After all the spectacle the big finale is about what the trilogy has been about all along; the hearts and
emotions of characters whose triumphs and failures have touched us so deeply.

The Dark Knight Rises is a stunning film in its own right but also the perfect finale to a masterpiece
trilogy that adds up to seven and a half hours of some of the best movie-making ever seen. There are
lots of rumours flying around about the future of Batman. After enduring the lacklustre and pointless
The Amazing Spider-Man I have just one plea to Warner Bros: please, please no rushing to green-light a
franchise reboot. It would take either a genius or an idiot to contemplate tackling Gotham again before
a lot of dust has settled on Chris Nolan’s astonishing vision.

David Stonehouse

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