Unless you’ve lived in a cupboard for the last six months, it won’t have escaped you that there is a new Batman movie. Even if you have, you’ll probably have heard about it anyway. You’ll have seen a trailer through the little crack in the door, or just absorbed the essence of it through your pores, like a plant leaching nutrients from the soil.
The Dark Knight Rises is the third part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. Final installments demand bigger, louder, longer, darker. More villains, more locations, more explosions. Nolan delivers on all fronts and still succeeds in making The Dark Knight Rises feel remarkably stripped down. Even the most extravagant set pieces (and there are some very, very extravagant set pieces) feel eerily clinical, giving the proceedings a sinister whiff of plausibility. Nolan isn’t the type to give his characters two words when an anguished grunt will suffice, nor to use CGI when he can just throw a few cars or aeroplanes about.
The script borrows themes from Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, with an older, more jaded Batman forced out of self-imposed exile. This time Bane, a barrel-chested force of nature with a metal gas mask carved into his face, is the villain. While he was never going to match the terrifying madness of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy succeeds in creating a genuinely frightening opponent; Batman’s physical, rather than mental, superior, who speaks like an Etonian Darth Vader (everyone has a different take on exactly what it sounds like. My favourite is “Stephen Fry talking into a yoghurt pot”).
The first two thirds of the film lag marginally behind the second installment, solely on the basis that Ledger provided the greatest ever comic-book villain performance. The bravado finale, though, lifts it above anything we’ve seen before.
Nolan’s trilogy has reinvented the superhero genre and the final part is a fitting way to tie things up. If that isn’t enough to convince you to see it, you should probably get back to your cupboard.
First published in City A.M.