Difficult Third Movie Syndrome is a plague upon many great series. Just ask a fan about the third instalment of the Alien or Godfather franchises, and they will probably bore you to sleep with an angry dissection of their many flaws, especially in comparison to the previous 2. Luckily, TDKR does not fall prey to this crippling filmic disease and Christopher Nolan’s Batman joins the ranks of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Pixar’s Toy Story (amongst others) as a trilogy that has managed to craft a threequel with as much, if not more, merit as the two films that came before.
It’s been 8 years since the Joker took Gotham apart and forced the fall of Harvey Dent, the city’s White Knight. Batman Christian Bale, still doing his best impression of a blocked drain), being the great guy that he is, takes the fall for the crimes and death of Two-Face (Dent’s evil, maniacal alter-ego) and has not been seen since. Mr Wayne himself has also been largely absent from the Gotham scene (albeit for only three years) in the wake of the failure of his clean energy machine in a joint project between himself and the new big businessperson in town, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). However the arrival of a terrifying new villain in the form of Bane, forcing The Bat back into action. And I do mean terrifying. Bane is raw threat, a physical presence that easily surpasses the Caped Crusader’s with a viciously animalistic intensity in his eyes, coupled with an intellect that is not quite at the level of the Joker, but still enough to organise an army and cause chaos the likes of which the city has never seen.
When Bane’s plan comes to fruition, it is enemy occupation and this fact is made exceedingly clear by Nolan. An impromptu police force roams the streets, backed up by Tumblers stolen from Lucius Fox, fully armed. The citizens cower away in makeshift refugee camps and the old order is nothing. Gunfights pepper everyday life and the influence of the Terror era French Revolution is obvious, particularly in the new court, run by a familiar face of Gotham’s rogues gallery. It is probably most fitting here to admire the technical work done in the film, which is simply extraordinary. The budget for TDKR was $70 million more than for the second instalment and it really shows, particularly in the stunning scenes of the city in the snow, Wally Pfister doing an exceedingly good job on the camerawork, assisted by an array of superb effects. Disappointingly, it is Hans Zimmer’s score that lets the side down a bit here, often overpowering everything else on screen. The music is good, don’t get me wrong, but Williams has cranked the volume up to 11, and that is not always the smartest choice.
The major downside to the overly loud score is that sometimes the actors’ performances are blasted away and become slightly less audible, which is always irritating (incidentally, these points in the film were the only times when I had any trouble understanding Bane, with the fears of him being incomprehensibly garbled swiftly dispelled in the opening scene). This is a shame, as the performances are impressive across the board, once again reading like a dream cast list for many directors. Bale does a fine job as the rusty hero, whilst Tom Hardy positively exudes menace with just his eyes from behind his mask. No-one feels miscast, the trio of father figures (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman) are superb as always and even Joseph Gordon-Levitt puts in a solid turn in his honestly rather stolid role as the good guy cop. I can’t mention every performance here as the supporting cast is enormous, but it says something for Nolan’s skill as a writer that almost every one of these characters has a notable and satisfying story arc, although the attempts at comedy are generally pretty poor (leave that to the Avengers).With an eye on the cast, it is impossible to leave out comparisons between Hardy’s Bane and Heath Ledger’s Joker. Honestly, the Joker remains the more compelling villain, and no-one here quite lives up to the momentous standard imposed by the late actor. That’s not to say that Hardy is poor by any means, but there is only so much you can do with a villain whose threat is almost entirely physical.
Is The Dark Knight Rises a perfect superhero film? Not quite. Is it as good as The Dark Knight? Again, not quite. TDK has the Joker going for it, and the pacing of the film as a whole was better, with the extra length of the threequel feeling a tad unnecessary (even if the fan service is very pleasing). But being second best in the greatest comic book trilogy of all time still leaves Nolan’s farewell to the Batverse as almost certainly the second best movie in its genre. So go the toilet, stock up on food and drink and sit down to watch this action masterpiece, because ‘boy, you are in for a show tonight’.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: The Nolan Brothers
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Run Time: 164 minutes.