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The Dark Kight Rises (12A)
Cineworld, O2
18th July 2012

★★★★★

There are so few true trilogies in Hollywood. Sure, it might seem like there's loads, but a film and two sequels doesn't really make a whole. They need to be connected, be a part of a whole, whether that be narratively (Star Wars, Back to the Future) or thematically (Trois Couleurs).

With The Dark Knight Rises, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan has given us an incredibly satisfying end to his take on DC Comics' Batman.

Before I move on, we need to address the elephant in the room - its predecessor, The Dark Knight. Hailed as the greatest superhero film ever on release, it has certainly stood the test of time. Whether that's because it still reflects our fears of terrorism, explores the timeless notion of identity, reunited one of the best directors and casts, came before a glut of comic book films, or simply due to Heath Ledger's chilling performance, it works. The Dark Knight Rises is certainly better than Batman Begins. Is it as good as The Dark Knight? I'm still not sure.

As far as the plot goes, I can't tell you much. Given that this is a spoiler-free review, all I can say is that eight years after Batman (Christian Bale) disappeared, framed for the murder of Harvey Dent, he must return to fight Bane (Tom Hardy) who intends to - surprise, surprise - destroy Gotham. Along the way, we once again meet the established Bat-Family of Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). We also meet new faces Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and businesswoman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

Of course, the curse of threequels, seen at its worst in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 is the temptation to overcomplicate matters with new characters and multiple villains. We then need to celebrate, as Nolan performs the same superb juggling act with his excellent ensemble cast as Joss Whedon did in The Avengers. Every character gets a lot of screen time, each hero gets a true "Hell yeah!" moment, each baddie is as genuine threat.

Whether you like Nolan's work or not, you have to admire his ability to really get the best out of his actors - something clearly on show here. The veterans are as good as ever, with Caine being particularly heartbreaking, and the newcomers more than meet them. It's a benefit that the majority have worked with Nolan before (mostly on Inception), but even Hathaway is truly spectacular. When she was cast, there were a lot of fanboy jeers, usually pointing in the direction of her previous work like The Princess Diaries. Those preconceptions are blown out of the water in Selina's first meeting with Bruce. She's sexy, violent, angry, headstrong and very competent. Personality-wise, she most closely resembles the never-surpassed Julie Newmar, all seductive purrs and slashing claws.

Cotillard is as magnetic as always, Gordon-Levitt totally believable as the finest of Gotham's finest. He's not the charmer seen in Inception, nor the Arthur Dent-style everyman from (500) Days of Summer. He's dedicated, principled, hard-working, but learning to be a detective. If Caine is the heart, Batman the brains and brawn, John Blake is the soul.

As for Hardy. Well. Bane's design is perfect for the film, harking back to the luchador mask of the comics while remaining believable. The snarling mask creates a terrifying vision and even though Hardy stands a good few inches shorter than Bale, he's a hulking brute. The mask itself does restrict a lot of facial movement, but this doesn't bother Hardy. His eyes, his scowl, the timbre of his voice, he's one mean mother. Oh yes, and that voice.

It's an epic in the truest sense, bigger, badder than before. But it retains a purpose, a clarity of vision, that makes it much more cohesive than The Dark Knight and certainly Spider-Man 3. Like its predecessor, it's also remarkably prescient in giving nods to the political issues of the day. The banking crisis, the Occupy movement, all of these things are paralleled explicitly, if not to the extent terrorism was previously.

Set pieces are staggering. If The Dark Knight had echoes of Heat and Taking of Pelham 123, this is Escape from New York or Die Hard, albeit with capes and a hightened sense of intellectualism. The practical effects, editing, lighting, locations and direction everything you've come to expect given the previous entries. The only criticism here is a little bit of dodgy CG. Given its 165-minute running time, it's mostly very lean and really zips by.

There are lots of lovely touches for the fanboys too. Without giving too much away, there are nods to Knightfall (as you'd expect), No Man's Land, Son of the Demon, Year One and a multitude of other tales - and not always how you would expect. Heck, even Selina Kyle's mugshots have echoes of Adam Hughes' iconic Catwoman cover.

Given the quality of Nolan's vision, it's hard to picture a Spider-Man style reboot of the Batman franchise any time soon. If DC Comics decide to go down that route, they will have to consider a dramatic reinterpretation of the Batman mythos. But that's the beauty of the character - whether it be Adam West's tomfoolery, Burton's neo-Gothic avenger or, yes, even Schumacher's overblown be-nippled Camp Crusader, all are valid interpretations. Like The Doctor, he has almost limitless bounds for reinvention within some tiny constraints.

Batman endures. And so, thankfully, will The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises was released in the UK on 20th July 2012.

Nearest tube station: North Greenwich for the O2 (Jubilee)



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