Last year it was the final Potter film, and this year we have the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Beginning in 2005 with Batman Begins, the series had it's golden moment three years later with the release of The Dark Knight; the inclusion of the Joker, one of Batman's most famous enemies, and the untimely death of Heath Ledger launched the film in complete stardom and racked up it's box office takings to over $1 billion. Four years on, the finale has finally arrived, but can it possibly live up to the already high standards of the trilogy?
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a retired cripple whose legacy as both Batman and himself has dwindled significantly. Gotham has enjoyed a period of peace without severe crime and injustice, but soon a new foe arises: Bane (Tom Hardy), an idealistic terrorist who seeks to destroy Gotham and it's inhabitants. With the aid of burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman), the caped crusader must don his cowl and armour once more to put a stop to Bane's plans before the city he so desperately wants to protect is turned to naught but ash.
As with it's predecessors (The Dark Knight to a greater extent), The Dark Knight Rises orients visually toward the IMAX format which Nolan enjoys utilizing. With over 70 minutes shot in IMAX, the film is without a doubt one of the format's biggest releases, and the quality truly makes a difference to the experience of the film. Images are crystal clear and look extremely polished and refined, plunging audiences into a deeper experience. Footage shot on regular 35mm film can become jarringly obvious due to letterboxing, but it isn't enough to damage the film's appearance. The Dark Knight Rises does not adopt the contemporary 3D format unlike most blockbusters, and with brilliant special and visual effects as well as excellent sets, it's without a doubt one of the finest looking films of this year. The score by Hans Zimmer is wonderfully captivating, atmospheric and action packed, adding another brilliant soundtrack to the renowned composer's legacy.
Where The Dark Knight Rises slightly disappoints me is with it's storytelling, which is far from sub-par but not up to the standards of it's predecessors. Bane is a fantastically menacing adversary, with impressive intellectual and physical capabilities that make him just as sadistic and equally entertaining as Ledger's Joker from four years ago. But, without spoiling, his final few moments in the film downgrade him a lot, culminating awfully. The other narrative issues include a rather abrupt beginning, where Bruce Wayne simply launches back into his Batman persona after so long, which feels very forced and jarring. The film also lacks much excitement during the middle portion, and for a film about Batman, I found myself unimpressed with just how underused Wayne's alter ego really was. The film without a doubt has a fantastic ending, right until the last few moments, when it manages to totally ruin itself. Some twists in the film were also slightly generic and, though surprising, quickly lost their appeal.
Acting wise, The Dark Knight Rises is universally fantastic, with Christian Bale portraying Bruce Wayne just as well as he has done before, and his alter ego Batman as intimidating, dark yet vastly enjoyable. His distinct and infamous voice is really not that bad at all, if sometimes a little slurred. Tom Hardy's rendition of Bane is one that slots into Nolan's realistic universe nicely yet still exudes the terror and sadism Bane is known for; he is skilled, strong, clever and extremely intimidating, spearheading a lot of the film's most intense moments. His only fatal flaw is the god forsaken voice; the mask he wears causes it to become robotic and muffled, and though it was apparently tweaked following complaints toward the prologue released last year, it is still incredibly inaudible at times: particularly in a scene where he addresses a crowd of frightened citizens with the aid of a microphone. The other performances were also generally great, such as Morgan Freeman as Lucius, Sir Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth (who was excluded a bit too much), Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon and newcomers Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), both of which perform entertaining characters who are not forced into the narrative and actually do a great job progressing it.
The Dark Knight Rises is a bombastic and exciting conclusion to Nolan's brilliant Batman saga, but it lacks the punch and excitement of it's predecessors. A lot of it feels contrived or underdone, and the lack of development for certain characters as well as the terrible exits for others sink the overall quality of the storyline. Not just this, but sometimes there can be a distinct lack of focus (like how the lie of Harvey Dent's murders is barely explored). The story culminates satisfyingly until the very, very end, and with universally great performances, fantastic visuals and a still entertaining plot that incorporates some gripping scenes, The Dark Knight Rises is a film fans of the previous two should definitely check out, and does a good job bringing Nolan's vision of the Batman universe to a solid conclusion.