So Christopher Nolan’s brings his Batman opus to an end with The Dark Knight Rises. The only question left to answer is does the Dark Knight rise to even greater heights in his last film outing (for a while at least) or does he fall into darkness and disgrace?

One of the problems with the internet and social media, at the moment, is that we are bombarded with leaked set photos, scripts and spoilers in some cases months before a film is released. Even if one has the desire to avoid these tidbits it becomes harder and harder to do so. Add to that an endless amount of hype and pre release material and you can end up seeing most of the film before it’s even out. As someone who runs a website about geek culture, I’m just as guilty.

This meant that some of the big action set pieces and some of the twists for this film I could see coming a mile off. However, like the saying goes, ‘it’s about the journey not the spoilers’ (ok changed that slightly) and The Dark Knight Rises is one hell of a journey. Nolan’s vision was to give us a very realistic portrayal of the Batman and Gotham City. Even when the plot takes us to places,in terms of scale, that we have not seen in the previous films it still feels grounded and has that gritty realism that we have come to expect by now.

The performances in this the film are stellar, pretty much across the board, but with a cast like the one Nolan has assembled that was never going to be a problem. Bale’s Batman is still as husky voiced and menacing as ever but it is an assured performance and one that has been honed over the course of three films. It will be interesting to watch all of them back to back to see the evolution of  Bruce Wayne. One of the things I would have liked to have seen is more of Batman’s skills as the world’s greatest detective, although you do get a few scenes with Bale where you realise that he has that ability.

Hardy’s Bane is a brooding force of nature and in his scenes, he’s a dominating and fearsome presence. Sure he’s not the Hulk-sized Bane from the comics but what he doesn’t have in bulk he makes up for in ferocity. This isn’t the mindless brute that Schumacher gave us in Batman and Robin but a cunning, intelligent and ruthless opponent who is devoted to his cause every bit as much as Bruce is to his crusade as Batman. Thankfully a lot of the quick cutting in the fight scenes is ditched when these two enemies finally face off and as a result you feel and see every blow and it’s both brutal and awesome. However there are moments with Bane and with Batman himself where, due to either the modulated voice of Bane or Batman’s permanent sore throat, I couldn’t understand what was being said. Although with Bane that got easier as the film went on. While on the subject of Bane, I hope people won’t compare Hardy’s portrayal of Bane to Heath Ledger’s Joker as these are two very different villains.

Anne Hathaway gives a solid performance as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, which should hopefully silence some of her critics. She delivers some great one liners and handles the action scenes well. Her Selina Kyle is self-assured, brash but likeable and I actually wanted to see more of her in the film. Again Nolan sticks to his grounded guns as even Selina’s catsuit, although a little theatrical, is also practical with even her heels having a use besides being a fashion statement (look out for the cat ears). She and Morgan Freeman, who returns as Lucius Fox also do a great job of handling most of the comedy moments in the film of which, given the nature of the plot, are few and far between.

The standout performances for me in this film were Sir Michael Caine and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a young cop. Even though he has less screen time, Caine gives his best performance as Alfred. When people look up the phrase ‘Bringing your A game’ you’ll see a picture of Caine.  I almost felt sorry for Bale in some of his scenes with Caine as he was just working on another level. Following close on his heels was Joseph Gordon-Levitt who was one of my fave things about Nolan’s Inception and once again he doesn’t disappoint. He gets screen time with most of the cast and isn’t overshadowed by any of them.

Gary Oldman again brings the goods as Commissioner Gordon and shows us a man haunted by the choices he made in The Dark Knight. He shares a lot of screen time with Levitt and the pair work well together almost giving us a buddy cop film all on their own. There’s a great dynamic between Levitt’s idealistic stance and Oldman’s ageing cop/hero who has had to compromise those ideals for a better Gotham. The only weak link in the performances was Matthew Modine  as Deputy Commissioner Foley. His character was my least fave part about the film. He felt flat and just came over as a one trick stereotype. You could have easily lifted his part out of the film and I don’t think you would have missed him.

Hans Zimmer’s music in this series has always been partnered with James Newton Howard’s music but here Zimmer stands alone and he stands triumphant. The score is stunning, haunting and inspiring in equal parts. It manages to give us all new tracks to enjoy while weaving in familiar cues from previous soundtracks. This weaving of past elements is at the core of what this film is about. The Dark Knight rises feels like the final act of a three act story of how a man, haunted by loss and failed by a corrupt system choose to become a symbol of hope for a crime ridden city.

The plot (which I’m not going to spoil) is solid enough with a few twists thrown in. I think in other hands it could feel like something we’ve seen countless times in different films but in Nolan’s it’s less about the plot and all about the characters. In typical trilogy fashion the set pieces and scale are bigger, with stakes that have never been higher for the Bat or the city he protects.

At nearly three hours The Dark Knight Rises is a long film but I never felt the passage of those hours or checked my watch once as I was so engrossed with what was happening on-screen.

Even though there were some things that bothered me in the film, none of them spoiled my enjoyment enough to stop me from giving this film top marks. It’s less about the box ticking and all about the experience. I’m also not going to bother comparing this to other two Batman films (though I daresay a lot of that will be going on). I think it’s a fruitless task as it will come down to personal taste like being asked “What’s your fave Star Wars or Indy film?”. Everyone has a different answer for a different reason.

I feel a great well of sympathy for whoever picks up the gauntlet Nolan, his production team and the cast have thrown down with this trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises has cemented the bat trilogy as a bench mark for a realistic adaptation of a comic book character.

So did the Dark Knight rise? Hell no…he soared.

Rating: 5/5

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