Harvey Dent’s two faced shadow looms large over The Dark Knight Rises. Before even the awesome aerial escape of Bane in the opening scene, Commissioner Gordon stands in front of a huge banner of Dent and reminds us that he believed in the former white knight of Gotham. The Nolan brothers’ script rewards fans of The Dark Knight trilogy so far with frequent references to relish from the previous films. It is a fitting finish to the trilogy that fans will treasure.
While it is the death of Dent that hangs heaviest over Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon, it is the demise of Rachel Dawes that weighs Wayne down the hardest. All the characters are haunted by the past even though this is a film that opens with Gotham at peace. It is a film about the cost of peace and the cost of keeping secrets, whether it’s Gordon and Wayne’s secret about Dent or Alfred’s secret about Dawes’ letter to Wayne.
The Dark Knight Rises is the end of Bruce Wayne’s story. Echoing the Bat-less first hour of Batman Begins, it is 45 minutes before Wayne dons the Bat-suit again. As the film opens, Wayne is a crippled recluse; bearded, limping and not even present at the Harvey Dent Day function held on his own grounds. As Gotham is threatened by new villain Bane and a mysterious cat burglar enters Bruce’s life, we witness the emergence of Wayne from confined loner, back to Bat in black and finally to freed man come the climax.
In a trilogy full of funny voiced heroes and villains, Bane’s is easily the silliest vocal delivery with a strange posh accent and high pitched voice that is regretfully all a bit muffled thanks to that mouth-covering mask. However Tom Hardy’s eyes and sheer physical bulk go a long way to making the character menacing and certainly a more than worthy adversary for Christian Bale’s gruff-voiced Batman.
The Bat Cave is still active and is the lure for Wayne to start getting out of bed in the morning again. However Alfred is less than happy as Bruce begins digging for clues as to the identity of the mysterious cat burglar who has stolen from him. The relationship between Alfred and Bruce is a touching focus of the first half of this final film in the trilogy. Michael Caine’s performance is brilliant, rising above his noble support in the previous films to become the most emotive in the trilogy. His care and concern has caused him to lie to Bruce and cover up the content of Rachel’s letter but again, this lie, like others in the film may have done more harm than good.
However despite stellar performances from the old-guard of Oldman and Caine, the newcomers get their fair share of screen time to impress. Anne Hathaway’s performance has her flip-flop between naive and innocent and confident, cocky and vicious. She purrs her lines perhaps less theatrically than Michelle Pfieffer’s incarnation of Catwoman but still silkily seduces and ass kicks her way to an iconic rendering of a classic character.
An interesting addition to the mix is Inception-alumni Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Officer Blake. His sudden admission early in the film that he knows that Wayne is Batman is shocking and ridiculous but allows for his character to become more than just a detective protégé of both Gordon and Wayne. Marion Cotillard also graduates from Inception in taking the role of the mysterious Miranda, emerging from love interest to something far more interesting.
Avengers Assemble might have been the biggest blockbuster of 2012 beating the Bat at the box office but Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises will become the undisputed classic. While the Avengers had more colour, more comedy, more heroes and more disposable CGI villains, The Dark Knight Rises has a real city threatened by real people rising up to fight against the very real problem of injustice and ridiculous levels of inequality in society. It is darker, moodier and injected with vital doses of realism. The all-action climax is a thousand times more urgent and more visceral than anything the Avengers could muster with the Gotham streets being filled with real people battling it out for the sake of the city.
The mid-way fight when Batman and Bane come to blows is one of many action highlights of the film with our hero finally meeting his match in the physically far superior form of Tom Hardy’s hulking nemesis. However it is the second half of the film where the stakes are raised in a simultaneously more personal and more epic scale. It is one of the biggest strengths of Nolan’s Bat films that they balance the story of Bruce and the Bat with such perfection. Similarly the threat to Gotham is infinitely more real than any other number of comic book films where a city is threatened with annihilation. So while Bruce faces his biggest fears at the bottom of a deep, dark hole, Gotham also faces its greatest despair. The football field explosive set piece is just the beginning of Bane’s plan and as summer turns to winter; the entire city is faced with a terror beyond their control.
Like the previous two Nolan Bat films, there is a strong conservative agenda here. Whereas The Dark Knight found it necessary for Batman to monitor the masses through severely dodgy surveillance techniques, The Dark Knight Rises finds the powerful elite lying to the people of Gotham in order to keep peace in the city. The Dent Act founded on a lie and a good man who turned evil allows the city authorities the power to keep organised crime off the streets. Of more concern is the insinuation that the revolutionary Occupy movement is organised by violent thugs who really only want to see the world burn. There is much talk of inequality and redistributing wealth but the villain’s real intent is far more sinister and far less noble.
There are a few moments of painful exposition, one or two cringe worthy moments including a fire side love scene, and the odd gaping plot hole but all in all this is a thrilling, perfectly fitting conclusion to an incredible trilogy. It ends with unexpected emotions emerging from a genre that too often repeats itself and fails to really make audiences care for the characters. These heightened emotions are no doubt aided in no small part by the beautifully haunting and stirring score of Hans Zimmer. Where the Avengers never had any chance of failing to beat the bad guys, the outcome for Batman, Bruce Wayne and Gotham itself is never certain.
The Dark Knight Rises stands as the pinnacle of comic book movies. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy towers above the competition and we can only hope that rumours of a reboot remain in the dark, failing to rise from the pits of studio greed for some time.
An hour long documentary on the Batmobile explores the evolution of the iconic and ever changing vehicle from the original comics and television appearances right up to the beast that is the Nolan films’ Tumbler. This feature is a dream for fans with contributions from Nolan, Tim Burton, Adam West, Christian Bale and Joel Schumacher. Spending almost as long on the Adam West Batmobile as it does on later incarnations, there is a great level of detail here and some fascinating insights from those who designed and built the cars. Seeing the key personnel involved in creating these truly iconic machines and hearing from them in interviews gives a clear idea of the dedication and thought processes behind building the right Batmobile for each new manifestation of Batman. Test footage of the Tumbler is the absolute highlight here with driving and jumping footage then followed with behind the scenes footage of it in action for the Nolan trilogy. It is great to see a real vehicle in action, performing fantastic stunts for real, particularly after being reminded of the computer generated Batmobile stunts in Batman and Robin. It all ends quite emotionally with footage from all the Batmobiles brought together for fans to see and a particularly touching visit to a children’s hospital for the Tumbler. This is a must-see for all Bat-fans.
The production featurettes cover numerous specific sequences and are beyond fascinating. The special effects and stunts teams explain the techniques for creating the most thrilling scenes in the film. Christopher Nolan’s focus on realism shines through in behind the scenes footage of the opening aerial assault where Bane escapes. Tom Hardy appears to discuss the scene and director of photography Wally Pfister shows up repeatedly to discuss creating the look of the film. Other short production featurettes cover the creation of the Batcave and Bane’s lair, production designer Nathan Crowley pointing out the similarity of their underground setting but also the differences between the natural elements and industrial elements of each. One of the most interesting and challenging parts of the production is the filming of the Bat. Though some of this had to be created digitally, the effort put into creating a real scale prop and having it ‘flying’ through the streets is another fascinating part of the process. From construction to digital tinkering to sound design, it’s an exhaustive look at Batman’s newest vehicle.
Other highlights of the production featurettes include a look at the Bane and Batman first fight with contributions from Buster Reeves the fight arranger as well as Bale and Hardy. Also there is a great look at the football stadium sequence, not only covering how they managed a huge crowd of extras but also how they created such an extraordinary special effect for the destruction. So much of the production is detailed with the repeating mantra of creating something that felt ‘real’, they are a fine testament to not only this film but also Christopher Nolan’s vision for the entire trilogy.
The short character featurettes are another treat for fans with Bruce Wayne and new characters to the Nolan universe Bane and Catwoman being the focus. Particularly the eight minutes on Bruce Wayne are captivating, highlighting the journey of the character over the whole trilogy and the themes that Nolan has explored better than any other previous Batman director. However there is also much to devour on Bane’s costume, mask and even his voice with insights from Bale and Hardy. Hathaway pops up to discuss Catwoman, revealing that she watched Hedy Lamarr films for inspiration. Hans Zimmer’s work on the score and character themes is also touched on. What all three character featurettes again emphasise is how a reality was brought to iconic comic book characters.
There is a very technical five minute featurette covering the reasons for using IMAX cameras and the scope of the film and a further featurette that focuses on the cast and crews reflections on the trilogy. Michael Caine and Gary Oldman even pop up briefly to share their thoughts and both the editor and director of photography speak of their children growing up while they worked on these films. There is a fair amount of back slapping but this team seem genuinely moved by their experiences and the reception that the films have received.
Finally, there is a trailer archive that reminds of the thrilling marketing campaign that ignited such high expectations for the film and also a gallery of the print artwork. After such exhilarating promotion it is perhaps no surprise that some were disappointed with the film, but nor that for many more it exceeded expectations.
The special features are a fitting finale to an epic trilogy. Watch them to appreciate the awe-inspiring achievement of Christopher Nolan and his cast and crew, to delve deeper into what makes these films so great and to see the magic of how they were created. For fans or budding filmmakers, this is essential!
The Dark Knight Rises is released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from 3rd December