The Dark Knight Rises REVIEW

The Dark Knight Rises DVD review: Bale’s Bat’s final flight

The Dark Knight Rises.
Release Date: 3 December 2012
2012 * 12 * 164 minutes * £22.99 (DVD)/£26.99 (Blu-Ray) £69.99 (Bat Cowl Limited Edition Blu-Ray)
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Anne Hathway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

We’ve seen many superhero series begin on the big screen, but until this year we hadn’t seen one with a proper ending. The fact that we get one in The Dark Knight Rises is testament to the strength of Christopher Nolan’s serious, mythic interpretation of Batman, which built a distinct, separate version of the character rather than just carrying the DC brand.

From the start, Nolan placed Bruce Wayne in unexpected situations, often drawn from spandex-free spheres of cinema. In Batman Begins, we saw him swordfight on a frozen lake with mentor Liam Neeson (who cameos in Rises, like an evil Ben Kenobi). Wayne was given a love interest, only for her to be killed off halfway through his war on terror. Then the hero himself took a dive, scapegoating himself for a supervillain. By the end of The Dark Knight, Nolan had claimed the right to take his Batman anywhere he pleased.

In The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan chooses to lift an old arc from the comics – the Knightfall story from 1993, in which muscleman Bane broke the Bat – and do his characteristically ornate overbuilding. We get glib from-the-headlines imagery (the villain, for no very convincing reason, promotes his murderous takeover as an “Occupy Gotham” revolution). We get earnest mythmaking (the Gilliamesque “pit” plotline in the second half is absurd on any literal level, and hardly seems to exist in the same world as the rest of the film). And once again we get a hero who’s far less interesting in costume than out of it, and two costumed adversaries who have all the fun he doesn’t.

Anne Hathaway steals the film. Forget the disastrous Halle Berry Catwoman; it’s abundantly obvious that Hathaway’s Selina Kyle could carry the picture single-handed. She has us at her first faux-naif “Oops!” when she’s caught cat-burgling, which she follows up by kicking Wayne’s stick away. Other priceless moments include her shooting up a bar, then switching into a screaming damsel in distress for the cops; her eye-rolling at callow cop Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s offer of police protection; and killer comebacks that’d impress the Joker. (“Do those heels make it hard to walk?” STAB! “I don’t know, do they?”)

She cheers up Bale’s mansion-mothballed Bruce, and the trilogy to boot. If only Nolan had given her even freer rein. Imagine if Selina had been dropped into the pit scenes to comment on the ritualised, macho environment. We’re also left to imagine her interactions with Bane, whom she barely meets on screen. By the last battle, she’s being draped over Batman’s massive bikes, where she looks as comfortable as a cat in a lake; her balletic body is the only vehicle she needs.

Tom Hardy’s Bane is a highly enjoyable but shallow heavy, with a Predator mask and a voice like a plummy version of the original Davros. He’s at his best stomping through stock exchanges, snapping minions’ necks, and playing the great dictator (“Courts will be convened! Spoils will be enjoyed!”). However, once he’s conquered Gotham, he can only take a back seat to other characters, including a turn from Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow. The final revelations about Bane’s history are clever, but perversely useless; the character doesn’t become any more interesting or convincing if you rewatch his scenes knowing all the twists.

In contrast, the audience already has a huge investment in the relation between Bruce Wayne and Michael Caine’s Alfred, whose decorum cracks as he sees the stunted Bruce bury himself in the Batsuit again. It’s a tremendously moving performance, cementing Caine as the definitive screen Bat-butler. But it feels wrong for Alfred to leave the action so early and so completely, leaving the betrayal/redemption arcs to less weighty characters. It’s satisfying to see Catwoman going good(ish), but it’s by-the-numbers plotting, and doesn’t move us as much as reconciliation with Alfred would.

The film’s worst mis-step is its ending, with ticking countdowns and a fundamentally silly resolution, as if Nolan had opted to troll us by heading into cheesy comic-strip territory at the eleventh hour. Some fans say the end is ambiguous in an Inception way, but that’s not supported by repeat viewings, where it looks clumsy.

But the bombast which comes before that is great: the plane heist over the greenery of Scotland; the “Bat” craft in action, swooping over the streets while Gotham’s cops gawp like grade-schoolers; the earthquake-meets-9/11 detonation of the football field; and Bane and Batman’s last slugfest, mimicked by hundreds of unmasked fighters around them. The Dark Knight Rises is a true summer epic, and for all its manifold flaws, it can only be judged a triumph.

Extras:

Alas, there are no commentary tracks on either format. The DVD (rated) just has “The Journey Of Bruce Wayne”, an eight-minute featurette on Wayne’s character arc. The Blu-ray adds art galleries and another 165 minutes worth of material, comprising lots of little featurettes and one hour-long documentary.

Weirdly, the latter isn’t about Rises or the Nolan trilogy, but the evolution of the Batmobile from the ‘40s onwards. It may not sound promising, but it’s a very enjoyable trip through the franchise, with interviewees ranging from Adam West to Tim Burton.

The smaller featurettes (grouped under the heading “Ending The Knight”) are best in a “how they did it” way, emphasising how much of the film’s action was shot for real. There really were stuntmen on the wing of a mid-air plane in the opening heist scene; the flying “Bat” vehicle was a life-sized prop lifted on wires, vehicles or helicopters; and the final street battle involved 1000 flesh-and-blood extras, all of whom had to be costumed and made up as cops and criminals.

However, the extras are patchier in other respects. While there are enlightening sections on Catwoman, Bane and Batman himself, with comments from the respective actors, other players (Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) get short shrift. The bitty format also means that you don’t get the narrative flow of the cast and crew’s journey through the production. The principals reflect on the end of the trilogy, but there’s too much back-slapping and little meat – and certainly no clues about what form a future Batman film might take.

Andrew Osmond twitter.com/andyozma

See where The Dark Knight Rises came in our updated list of the top 50 superhero movies.
Read our Dark Knight Rises review from the theatrical release.