We’re trying not to ruin this for you, so we’ll keep this as spoiler-less as possible
The end is here. The wait is over. The epic conclusion is out for everyone to see. Four years after the phenom of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan wraps up his Bat-trilogy with his final film on the Caped Crusader. The hype and buzz has been near relentless, starting with the set photos, casting rumours and supposed plot leaks a year ago, leading right up to the promotional appearances and constant TV spots of the past few weeks. It’d be enough to put some off Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale)’s swansong, but then those kinds of people don’t deserve filmmaking on this level. You’ve gotta feel sorry for whoever takes up the task of rebooting the Batman franchise.
It’s a tough ask to review a Nolan film, let alone The Dark Knight Rises, a film of massive magnitude, without just throwing out a list of superlatives and adjectives. Unless you’re a notoriously hard-to-please comic fan, I don’t think there’s any way to dislike Rises; it has the intesity, the brooding, the heart, the set-pieces, even a couple of zingers thrown in, so as not trip up on the criticism hurdle of being humourless. To put in an easy soundbite (quotation? typebite?), people are going to dispute whether this or The Dark Knight are better in the way that people argue over Godfather Parts I and II.
The first minutes of the film were revealed last year, ahead of showings of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, but to those who missed it, this prologue serves as a perfect introduction to big bad Bane (Tom Hardy). Whereas The Joker’s introduction (similarly in the opening ten minutes of The Dark Knight) showed him to be something of a wild dog, causing anarchy and chaos in a controlled environment, Bane’s first appearance helps play up the fact that the character is both a physical AND mental threat to Batman. This is a man who orchestrated the kidnapping of a scientist by getting captured by the CIA (one agent of which you might recognise as Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen), hijacked the CIA’s plane by having a bigger one flown over it, blowing the wings and tail off, and faking the scientist’s death in the prodceeding crash; in short, Nolan’s Bane is the most dangerous man in the world. And thankfully there’s very little to worry about in terms of his voice; the mask does muffle Hardy’s words maybe two or three times throughout, but that’s all. Bane’s accent comes off as a peculiar mix of Stephen Fry and Darth Vader (the Vader comparison coming up multiple times in my mind), but instead of being distracting, it makes everything he says more sinister and menacing.
Bane’s mid-air hijacking is just the beginning of the biggest film spectacular since Return Of The King. Grand without being grandiose, Nolan verges on both disaster moive and war movie terriorty with missiles flying, armies charging and significant chunks of Gotham being reduced to rubble at various stages of the film, Bane and Bats being the forces of nature bringing about the destruction. The two are more than a match for each other, and their fight scenes are relentlessly hard-hitting; none of this shakey-cam nonsense, each blow landed is there, clear as day and surprisingly realistic. To counteract this level of bone-breaking testosterone, Anne Hathaway provides what will surely become an acclaimed performance as Ms Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman. The casting of Hathaway in such an iconic role drew much ire from pretty much everyone; when you think of someone playing Catwoman, Hathaway is not the name you’d ever expect, but from her first scene, Kyle is electric. Sassy, subtly sexy, and providing a lot of one-liners, Hathaway is pretty much perfect, without needing the camp motifs used for Michelle Pfeiffer or Halle Berry’s portrayals of the character. It might even be sensible to put some money on award nominations coming her way.
As with every film approaching the three hour mark, there are a few pacing issues. There’s that much going on, and that much depth to the subplots, that attempting to give them all equal time was never quite going to sit perfectly, but with the result, it’s easy to forgive something so trivial. John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Comissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the plethora of supporting characters all earn their place in the story and on screen (Gordon-Levitt in particular is superb as hot-headed detective Blake), adding a lot of meat to the big bones of the plot. Oh, and yes, the cameo you were hoping for appear. Various grumbles from the obvious twists (hardcore fans will see them coming, and those who’ve kept up with the internet rumours will guess them after a while) to the lack of Batmobile (and even, ridiculously, the lack of The Joker, as I’ve heard several times) will be heard often, but you just have to sit the people spouting these opinions down and explain to them that they’re wrong.
It’s a superb piece of film and a hugely satisfying trilogy ender; relentless, gripping, heartfelt, gritty, bleak, gleeful, action-packed… I’m running out of adjectives here, but it’s a rollercoaster near-three hours, made of soon-to-be-iconic elements. Many tears, both happy and sad, will be shed during the denouement. It packs one hell of an emotional punch, both in-story, thanks in part to one hell of a performance from Michael Caine (another possible candidate for award nominations) and the sudden realisation that this is the end of the greatest superhero series ever.
Now to go watch all three back to-back, and wait for the DVD release.
Alfred. Gordon. Lucius. Bruce … Wayne. Names that have come to mean so much to me. Today, I’m three weeks from saying a final good-bye to these characters and their world. It’s my son’s ninth birthday. He was born as the Tumbler was being glued together in my garage from random parts of model kits. Much time, many changes. A shift from sets where some gunplay or a helicopter were extraordinary events to working days where crowds of extras, building demolitions, or mayhem thousands of feet in the air have become familiar.
People ask if we’d always planned a trilogy. This is like being asked whether you had planned on growing up, getting married, having kids. The answer is complicated. When David and I first started cracking open Bruce’s story, we flirted with what might come after, then backed away, not wanting to look too deep into the future. I didn’t want to know everything that Bruce couldn’t; I wanted to live it with him.
I told David and Jonah to put everything they knew into each film as we made it. The entire cast and crew put all they had into the first film. Nothing held back. Nothing saved for next time. They built an entire city. Then Christian and Michael and Gary and Morgan and Liam and Cillian started living in it. Christian bit off a big chunk of Bruce Wayne’s life and made it utterly compelling. He took us into a pop icon’s mind and never let us notice for an instant the fanciful nature of Bruce’s methods.
I never thought we’d do a second - how many good sequels are there? Why roll those dice? But once I knew where it would take Bruce, and when I started to see glimpses of the antagonist, it became essential. We re-assembled the team and went back to Gotham. It had changed in three years. Bigger. More real. More modern. And a new force of chaos was coming to the fore. The ultimate scary clown, as brought to terrifying life by Heath.
We’d held nothing back, but there were things we hadn’t been able to do the first time out - a Batsuit with a flexible neck, shooting on Imax. And things we’d chickened out on - destroying the Batmobile, burning up the villain’s blood money to show a complete disregard for conventional motivation. We took the supposed security of a sequel as license to throw caution to the wind and headed for the darkest corners of Gotham.
I never thought we’d do a third - are there any great second sequels? But I kept wondering about the end of Bruce’s journey, and once David and I discovered it, I had to see it for myself. We had come back to what we had barely dared whisper about in those first days in my garage. We had been making a trilogy. I called everyone back together for another tour of Gotham. Four years later, it was still there. It even seemed a little cleaner, a little more polished. Wayne Manor had been rebuilt. Familiar faces were back—a little older, a little wiser … but not all was as it seemed.
Gotham was rotting away at its foundations. A new evil bubbling up from beneath. Bruce had thought Batman was not needed anymore, but Bruce was wrong, just as I had been wrong. The Batman had to come back. I suppose he always will.
Michael, Morgan, Gary, Cillian, Liam, Heath, Christian … Bale. Names that have come to mean so much to me. My time in Gotham, looking after one of the greatest and most enduring figures in pop culture, has been the most challenging and rewarding experience a filmmaker could hope for. I will miss the Batman. I like to think that he’ll miss me, but he’s never been particularly sentimental.Christopher Nolan's foreword for the upcoming The Art And Making Of The Dark Knight Rises, and his farewell to the Batman franchise.