Dark Knight Rises to occasion, but don’t expect perfection

The world might be collapsing around him, but Batman has a few more issues to deal with in The Dark Knight Rises.

Christopher Nolan isn’t one to attempt projects half-heartedly. From 2000’s spellbinding Memento to 2010’s mammoth hit Inception, Nolan has attempted the kind of work that would leave most directors crashing and burning.

The Dark Knight Rises is no exception; with a running time of nearly three hours, this third installment to the latest Batman series is a hugely ambitious project.

Creating a decent sequel is hard enough in Hollywood. Backing it up for a third film is a task not many directors can get away with. In recent times only films such as Lord of the Rings and Toy Story have flown the trilogy flag with pride. Meanwhile, big-name franchises such as Spiderman, Star Wars and The Chronicles of Narnia have failed to consistently hit the mark with audiences.

Given the success of the two preceding Batman films, one might have expected Rises to simply make up the numbers. But fitting to its name, Nolan’s third film of the trilogy rises to the occasion.

It’s certainly not a flawless product, but Rises does not disappoint; its riveting storyline is complemented by first-class special effects, a glorious soundtrack and typically strong Nolan production.

Given the titular likeness between The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises – which will no doubt confuse future audiences of the trilogy – it’s natural to draw comparisons between the second and third episodes.

The main difference between them is the ensemble of characters. For obvious reasons, Heath Leadger’s manic villain The Joker does not appear in Rises; indeed he is not even mentioned.

In his place are two likewise sinister antagonists – Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). Neither can rival The Joker in terms of pure evil, but nor do they belong in the same category as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze.

Hardy’s Bane is a physically intimidating character. While his mask occasionally ruffles his dialogue, he is a worthy opponent to the ever-impressive Batman (Christian Bale) and capably fulfils his role as the no-nonsense bad guy.

Anne Hathaway is surprisingly impressive as Catwoman

While Hathaway was a risky choice as Catwoman, she is sly, seductive and surprisingly menacing. At first the sight of Hathaway – best known for her role in The Devil Wears Prada – kicking guys in the face does seem a little odd. Once the novelty wears off, however, Hathaway revels in her role, proving her cinematic flexibility.

Aesthetically Rises is a much lighter film to its predecessor. I mean that predominantly in a literal sense; so much of The Dark Knight was set at night that it was often difficult to follow the action. Much of Rises, on the other hand, plays out during the day, which is important on both a visual and storyline level.

The scenes of Gotham imploding in broad daylight emphasise the scale of devastation; the city’s demise isn’t just a fleeting nightmare but an epic catastrophe.

Rises is apocalyptic in nature and the scenes of Gotham falling apart mimic those breathtaking moments from Roland Emmerich’s cataclysmic trio Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow. Rest assured, though, Rises is a superior film to these in many respects, even if it still belongs in the action genre, a category of film that traditionally doesn’t demand much reverence.

Nolan’s action scenes – the type that involve mid-air aeroplane scuffles and mass-police riots – are arguably far more creative to those evident in Emmerich’s epics or Bruce Willis’ Die Hard series. Nevertheless, there are some cheesy things every action film can’t do without. And unfortunately, Rises has its fair share of these components.

I refer to the one-liners that characters recite to the camera after an unexpected outcome. I refer to lengthy soliloquies that cover important plot points during the midst of a fight. I refer to the prolonged moments of suspense when good guys are held at gunpoint for far too long, giving heroes the chance to save them at the nick of time.

Batman is a big boy now, but Nolan stays true to the character’s roots.

To Nolans’ credit, these touches remind audiences that Batman is a children’s book hero, not a legend of American history. Yet these sound bytes and comic touches do feel a bit out of place with the sombre and serious mood Nolan works so hard to create.

If there’s one major criticism of The Dark Knight Rises, it’s that the plot is far too busy. With Nolan determined to wrap up all loose storylines from the previous two films, he is at times overambitious as to how much is revealed to the audience.

Diehard comic book fans and loyal followers of Nolan’s first two Batman films will probably appreciate the intricate plot points surrounding the Justice League and Bane’s back story. But as an artwork in its own right, Rises could have easily chopped thirty minutes by making Batman/Bruce Wayne the sole focus of the film.

The last hour of the film plays out like an episode of 24, emphasised by the literal time bomb waiting to explode. So much is happening in Gotham at once that it’s at times difficult to keep track of what’s going on where.

With the film’s duration evidently not a concern for Nolan, he admittedly does dedicate time to explaining the various asides. For the audience, it’s simply a matter of keeping track of the umpteen subplots rolling out on screen.

Without giving anything away, the final five minutes of the film are nothing short of phenomenal. There’s no doubt a few three-star reviews out there would have been bumped up a star and a half in those closing scenes.

In those moments, Nolan also opens up the possibility of yet another sequel. Whether he takes this memorable trilogy to a fourth chapter will be open to discussion over the coming years. But even though it’s not a perfect film, one feels that Rises is a fitting finale.

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