It might be cheating in a review to say that a second viewing of The Dark Knight Rises is required before fully appraising it, but so be it.
Plenty of critics already appear to be providing definitive judgements to a movie that is mammoth, and of such magnitude that it will require plenty of time to settle in before its relative strength and place among Christopher Nolan’s superlative Batman trilogy can be found.
It runs to well over two and a half hours, yet there’s still so much contained that it seems tricky to take it all in on first showing. So much is packed in that some of the scenes and the plot-pacing feel rushed, with a complex back story also inserted that may cause extra confusion.
However, there’s such bombast that The Dark Knight Rises is still a wonder to behold even during those moments where you may not feel entirely sure what’s going on, its set-pieces all the better given its lack of CGI compared to other big-budget movies. (Helping the action feel more grounded, and of greater consequence.)
Nolan masterfully manages to set the follow-up to The Dark Knight in such a way that it makes sense that the main characters are eight years older than in Batman Begins, though doesn’t make the audience feel as though they’ve missed any important pieces of the puzzle.
Broken spiritually and hobbled physically due to his altercation with the Joker, it’s a very different Bruce Wayne that we meet at the beginning of the movie – with other trilogy mainstays Commissioner Gordon and Alfred also struggling to contain their inner trauma.
Its with these touches that TDKR locates and firmly grips on to a true emotional core – making events resonate much more than they have done in pretty much any other superhero movie. Talk of wider political points being made seems besides the point – the director and his collaborators Jonathan Nolan (script) and David Goyer (story) want to focus our attention firmly on those who exist within the trilogy’s own universe, rather than drawing attention to the actions of those who operate outside it.
As opposed to the likes of Watchmen – where a lack of empathy with ordinary inhabitants meant that the destruction of a city could be greeted by a shrug of cinemagoers’ shoulders – those behind TDKR deftly ensure that the fate of Gotham citizens means something, not least to Wayne himself, who already has enough responsibility to bear from previous events.
The main threat comes from Bane (Tom Hardy), who has both the intellectual and physical might necessary to break Batman – providing the perfect foil for a film in which the superhero needs to rise up against an ultimate challenge, even if he seems incapable of doing so.
Constricted by a mask it’s impossible for Hardy to come close in terms of charisma to the riveting, unforgettable performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker, but by being more unknowable he also becomes a more fearful presence, again ideally suited for this particular instalment of Nolan’s Batman saga.
Rather than having a villain steal the show, TDKR becomes very much about its protagonist and his journey (nicely tying into the events of the two prequels), with those who care for Wayne providing the film’s heart. Once again Michael Caine (as faithful butler Alfred) delivers a superb performance, providing some of the most tender moments of the film. By any rights he should rack up some Best Supporting Actor nominations come the next awards season.
But such recognition isn’t really what’s important: what matters is that Nolan has delivered (what is almost definitely) his final Batman film in just the way he intended, having set a new high watermark for blockbusters, meaning that they shouldn’t feel the need to pander to the lowest common denominator. (Even if they often continue to do so.)
The Dark Knight Rises is at times a brilliant and breathtaking movie (at the very least), part of an amazing trilogy which revitalised and redefined one of the most important fiction characters of our times. While more subtlety could perhaps have been utilised, it seems only fair for Nolan to go out with a bang.
Just 15 years after the execrable Batman & Robin, the Dark Knight has risen to an almost insurmountable summit – and long may he remain there. However, it will take another viewing or two to figure out how easily he may be toppled by those who follow in his footsteps – or who decide to take them on...