Christopher Nolan winds up his Dark Knight trilogy with this highly entertaining action epic, told with energy and spectacle. Though it may fall some way short of its predecessors (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), it is nevertheless a satisfying ending to Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise, rescuing it from the scrapheap after 1997’s Batman & Robin and rebuilding it in to what will surely be remembered as a high-water mark for the superhero genre.
The ambition and intelligence with which the director (along with his screenwriter brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer) infuses the caped crusader is a truly remarkable achievement. Raising a number of political and ethical issues within what is ostensibly a comic-book movie (including references to failed states and the Occupy Wall Street movement) and fashioning them in to a cohesive and genuinely exciting whole is little short of a miracle. The high calibre cast add yet further depth: regulars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are all reliable as ever, while among the newcomers Anne Hathaway makes for a suitably slinky Catwoman (never called by that name) and Tom Hardy is formidable as Bane; though unsurprisingly no-one is able to match the late Heath Ledger’s electric turn as the Joker.
Despite all this however, TDKR is for me the least personal of Nolan’s film to date, and the least effective. There is a niggling sense throughout that the director just wasn’t as engaged here as he was with the previous entries. Perhaps he had said all he wanted to say about Batman with the first two films, but felt compelled to repay the trust shown in him by the studio.
It’s the small things that give it away. The flow of the film is choppier here than before: what you might expect to be crucial turning points in the storyline are given short shrift, while the uncharacteristically contrived plot drags a little in the middle, and stretches credibility a little too far at times – something that’s not been a problem in the past. The sound mix is also problematic; dialogue (usually Bane’s, but sometimes Bruce Wayne’s too) is often inaudible or drowned out by Hans Zimmer’s score.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by the characterisation of Bruce Wayne here either – his becoming a recluse for so many years doesn’t seem consistent with the man he became over the course of the earlier films.
Yet Nolan is clearly a consummate professional and doesn’t do films by halves. The opening hijack sequence is more than worthy of a Bond film (something that Nolan would surely excel at), while the breathless final act brings the film together in a much smoother and genuinely exciting way, with the closing scenes especially crowd-pleasing.
In a way, you might call this Christopher Nolan’s own The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: a more expansive (and more expensive) treatment of themes explored in the preceding entries. Though the analogy doesn’t withstand scrutiny because if Batman were the Good and Bane the Bad, then Catwoman would have to be Ugly – something that is self-evidently not the case.
So where next? A reboot is probably in order now – seeing a Batman film that isn’t embarrassed to call Catwoman by her name would be refreshing – but to be honest, I would love to see where a direct sequel takes the series. Plenty of tantalising possibilities…