Eight years since the Batman was outlawed as a thuggish criminal who killed police officers and the promising District Attorney Harvey Dent, Gotham has become safe, officials stopping organised crime pretty much entirely, locking away the perpetrators with no chance of appeal on the strength of the new Dent Act, founded, of course, on the lie that Dent died a hero. Commissioner Gordon is living with his guilt, Bruce Wayne is holed away in his mansion, hobbling around on a stick, and the Batman is gone, but the crime figures are great and the public are happy. Things cannot stay this way forever, of course; a mercenary is coming to rock the boat, he is a beast of a man, he is militant in his thinking, unwavering in his conviction, and brutal in his approach. His plan is fairly simple in terms of the end game, and let's say it is not looking good for Gotham's citizens. As Jim Gordon says, the Batman has to come back.
All the principle cast return, and they all bring their A Game. Whilst they are more periphery characters here, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine deliver with both barrels, particularly Caine, whose Alfred faces a devastating and life-changing choice in this final part. Somebody really needs to give Gary Oldman his Oscar now; his turn as Jim Gordon here is incredible, completing his character arc beautifully.
Christian Bale, for whatever issues people may have had with him as Bruce or Batman in the past, really goes somewhere in The Dark Knight Rises that he hasn't had to before. If the growl of Batman has been beyond your understanding until now, perhaps this film will explain it for you, and if it doesn't it's not a problem, Batman gets something like fifty minutes screen time in total. Yes, a Batman movie that is not that far off the three-hour mark is brave enough to keep Batman's appearance to the minimum until the final act. If you think this is skimping a bit, I argue it is by design and there is good reason: Eight years have passed without Batman, and all effort is made to ensure the audience have a taste of what that is like. Bale's performance as the man who struggles with the possibility of having to be the hero again is superb, his interactions with Alfred never more moving, as he is told that putting on a suit won't make him what he was, that he is not Batman anymore, and is destined for failure. This is a Bruce Wayne story, and it is as Wayne that we really see why Bale is known for his dedication to a role; this is a truly vulnerable human being we see. For all the time without Batman, you do not feel the absence of Batman; the storytelling is just too engaging. Of course, when Batman does arrive for the first time it is an epic entrance, cheekily prefaced by an obviously excited cop fans will recognise. It is one of many spine-tingling moments that makes you want to cheer.
How are the newcomers? Marion Coltilard is fine as new Wayne Board member Miranda Tate; I can't say I'm a huge fan of her in general, but she gets the job done. Anne Hathaway destroys all pre-conception within her first couple of scenes as Selina Kyle and owns the role, playing the moral ambiguity perfectly. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays an idealist cop named Blake, a reminder to Gordon of how he once was. He is a little known character from the comic's lore, but is put to great use; to say he presents his arc well is an understatement...and what an arc it is! He is also the star of a couple of my favourite scenes, and he delivers beautifully.
Nolan has become a trawler's fishing net for cast and crew, with a healthy proportion of the people working on the final instalment of the Batman trilogy having worked with him on at least one of his previous movies. Most notable is Wally Pfister, Director of Photography for everything he has done. The movie looks stunning, and it is both a shame, and exciting, to know that he is heading off to make his own movies. I wish him well and, with the slightest touch of fear, look forward to what Nolan will do next....without him.
Hans Zimmer once again brings his genius to proceedings, though here there is a sense of repetition of old ideas in the soundtrack. That being said, perhaps it makes sense, with the film nicely coming back to the beginning of the story, and touching upon ideas and story points from both previous films. Although the music may not be as obviously fresh and exciting as before, the new elements are nicely done, especially those of Bane's, which are thunderously powerful.
I have told as much detail as I am willing to, anything further would spoil. Safe to say it is dark, bleak, even depressing to a point; it is shocking to see just how intent Nolan is on upping the stakes to just about as high as they can get. He is relentless in putting you through a harrowing, chilling experience, and it is incredible how often you find yourself realising his Batman is a trilogy of its time in the real world. His insistence on working in-camera as much as possible, without the aid of CGI, really grounds the action too; you truly feel the weight and intensity of it, because it is being caught for real, with real people and real stunts. It is complex, in-depth storytelling, requiring your attention to detail, and as with all of Nolan's work, repeat viewing actually reveals more treats, rare for what we think of as a superhero film. For that reason, if you are not a fan of the heaviness of The Dark Knight, avoid this. It is long, but from the incredible opening scene, to the perfect final sequence and shot (which was apparently set in stone from very early on and never altered), it pulls the pieces together gradually, upping the pace as it moves along, and builds toward a final forty-five minutes which is undoubtedly due to be some of the most exciting cinema we will see this year. Nolan is able to keep winding up the tension with a "Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse" approach through the whole of the second half; it isn't often we get to use the expression "on the edge of your seat" literally, is it?
I do have my quibbles, issues with moments I think were a tad misjudged, most notably a few "Hollywood moments" that feel forced, and surprisingly un-Nolan, which makes me wonder how much choice he had when it came to the crunch on these things. They are superfluous to proceedings; the characters' arcs would have been perfectly fine without said moments. These, along with a few trim backs that could have been made, keep it from being perfection, but I can forgive him the little indulgences when I consider just what an achievement the movie is, both on its own, and as the exclamation point to close the best vision of Batman ever created, and one of the greatest trilogies of all time! Nolan and his work have been snubbed before, but I must say, if this does not receive the Oscar nod for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography, at least, the Academy's punishment will need to be more severe ;)
So, Chris, what next? I vote an Adam Sandler rom-com!