The Dark Knight Rises Review by Steve Gray


Film Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Rises 12A Out Now

Batman, The Dark Knight Rises
Thanks to Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, those of us who were scarred by the appearance of the Batnipple have finally been able to get some closure.

After Joel Schumacher finished stomping blindly over the franchise, (which had only just finished getting a respectable reboot by Tim Burton), very few fan-boys could hold their heads up and admit that Batman was a great hero for the movies.

Batman, The Dark Knight Rises
Batman admires Gotham City
Batman on the BatPod, The Dark Knight Rises
Batman on the BatPod

The fact that Nolan was even allowed to be the helmer of another attempt to resurrect the franchise shows just how highly he was regarded in Hollywood. As Director and co-writer Nolan not only managed to re-construct the Batman the comic-lovers knew existed, he infused it with the kind of maturity & menace that could rival that of Scorsese.  Watching Batman: Dark Knight, for instance is like watching a Mafioso soap opera. So much so that it all suddenly seems very odd that a man should suddenly run off and dress up as a bat instead of calling Joe Pesci for backup.

Achieving that was due in part to the perfect casting of Christian Bale. Even before Batman Begins stunned the cynics Nolan had already gone on the record to say that Bale had the right mix of light & dark for the role. Bale became the Dark Knight, where his predecessor Michael Keaton was simply Batman with a few laughs. Val Kilmer in Batman Forever was too pretentious & dull to be anything other than irritating & the less said about George Clooney’s Batman & Robin the better.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, The Dark Knight Rises
I have some affection for Tim Burton’s efforts because it came at a time when the overriding perception of Batman was of a stout man in a grey leotard acting too camp for his own good back in the 60s. We were desperate to get it fixed. Hearing in 1989 that Batman would be played by a short, comic actor who had starred as Beetlejuice & Mr. Mom didn’t have people queueing to buy tickets, but the clever advertising campaign did. The casting choice was obviously intelligent. Keaton turned out very well for the role & surprised people by ‘doing dark’ admirably but Burton still managed to retain an element of clowning about that didn’t sit quite right. It was nevertheless an important stone laid in the path towards eventual success, even if it was then dug back up & re-laid as a turd runway by the studio when Schumacher came along. Nolan timed his offering to perfection.

In The Dark Knight Rises the story has skipped forward 8 years. Bruce Wayne is one tired vigilante. He set himself up in Dark Knight to be a wanted man after the death of Harvey Dent but it’s not long before a new threat in the very muscular, Lecteresque shape of Bane comes calling. He is every bit as intelligent and determined as Batman and more than a match for him in a smack down.

Bane on top of the Bat Mobile, The Dark Knight Rises
Bane totally disrespects the Bat Mobile
The Dark Knight Rises, like its predecessor, is a beautifully written, well-crafted bit of theatre. Nolan has upped the ante throughout the trilogy, putting Warner Movie’s money where his mouth is with ever more amazing set-pieces, exotic locations and preposterously jaw-dropping stunts. And this one is no different. He seems to have a thing for aerial stunts, (Batman falling from a great height several times in Begins, the sky hook in Dark Knight and a mid-air scrap between men and planes in this one). But the film rattles along at a much quicker pace. There is a lot of story here and Nolan as co-writer was clearly very keen to not only give the fans what they wanted but wrap the whole thing up as efficiently and ruthlessly as possible. Once again, Bale and Caine (Alfred) root the audience to their seats with their heart-warming dynamic and it is by using this relationship that Nolan is able to reveal to us the depths to which Bruce Wayne’s obsession will sink and his penchant for self-destruction.
 Christian Bale & Anne Hathaway aka Batman & Catwoman, The Dark Knight Rises
Bruce Wayne & Selina Kyle aka Batman & Catwoman
Anne Hathaway smoulders in the way expected of someone playing Selina Kyle. But even though Kyle’s nocturnal alter-ego is traditionally that of Catwoman. 

Nolan has chosen to dial that element down in favour of giving us a talented, athletic cat-burglar who is simply trying to right the wrongs of her own life. Her ‘costume’ as with all costumes in the Nolan films is functional. The designer was clearly under orders to keep it sleek, but not kitten-like. There is no attempt to draw any parallels to her & cats. With the tone of respect that the Batman films have attracted this was a smart move in itself.

 Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
She is recognisably Batman’s villainous opposite, without being the purring psychotic portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns.

Tom Hardy’s Bane, despite being handicapped by headgear which renders him virtually unintelligible, hams the role up amicably & has bulked up enough that he not only looks like a genuine threat to Batman but acts the part too.

There are bone-crunching stand-offs with Bane and gadgets aplenty, but this film has eclipsed the previous two to become more an epic tale of character than a marvel of capes & utility belt fetishism.

If I have any criticism of Nolan’s approach it’s that it’s too rooted in its drive to make Batman as authentic as possible. This might seem like a strange thing to complain about, but like Dark Knight before it there isn’t quite the same sense of wonder, shock and awe about the hero himself. Watching the man discover his true calling in Batman Begins & bearing witness to his elevation to saviour of Gotham was a more engaging and thrilling premise compared to the spectacle of political witchhunts, heroic soul-searching & corporate malfeasance. But this is where Nolan’s greatest magic trick was deployed. His honest, visceral approach to the character has reminded audiences that true heroism & inspiring acts of selflessness are manifested not in gadgets, sweeping entrances & copious amounts of ju-jitsu but in self-sacrifice, triumph through focus, integrity & enduring friendships.  Nolan’s Dark Knight may have begun, risen & ultimately ended but he has left us with something much better: a template for studios to follow for future Dark Knight excursions. 

Nolan has given us Batman Rebuilt.

Steve GrayThis is not Christian Bale this is Steve Gray.  

Steve is a freelance journalist, loves Batman, the opening ceremony of the Olympics & a non watered down Long Island Ice Tea or two.

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