In the years since Gotham's District Attorney Harvey Dent was murdered, apparently by the city's sworn defender The Batman (Christian Bale), he has had his principles applied to a legal process which has seen a zero tolerance towards crime there, with very effective results. But every action has a reaction, and Gotham's hard push against crime has resulted in a tension which one man is going to exploit, knowing all those criminals and gangsters will not stay cooped up in the huge Blackgate Prison forever. That man is only known as Bane (Tom Hardy), and now Batman has gone for good, he will claim his place as the lead agent of organised chaos...
Of course Batman hasn't gone for good, and in most other superhero movies the vacillating of the protagonist over whether he should or should not once again battle the foes he knows he must protect the innocents from would be a real drain on the tension, because the audience knew full well that he would, it was simply a matter of when. However, in this third instalment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, that question was carried over right to the final seconds as the theme of whether you should do your best to stand up to evil no matter what the cost was prevalent in every twist of the plot. For some, this philosophical heft was troublesome when they had turned up to watch Batman beat up the baddies.
But for others, taking what could have been a piece of comic book ephemera and lending it a weight of ethics most of its ilk would balk at was a tonic in an era where blockbuster so often could mean big, loud and shallow. If you had followed Nolan's other work, here as often writing with his brother Jonathan, then it would likely be little surprise: the previous entry had not exactly been a barrel of laughs, and that was even in light of one of its main stars dying, but here Bruce Wayne appears from the start to have buckled under the weight of the responsibility he has taken on his shoulders. Yet being a multimillionaire, it is outright stated he already has that responsibility to do good which goes beyond his dressing up in a bat costume and making with the fisticuffs.
Many identified The Dark Knight Rises as very much a product of the financial crisis afflicting the planet, with Bane focused on as the anarchic, anti-authority spirit of many a protestor and even the grumbling of the man or woman in the street who has to live with austerity measures imposed on him by banks who got them into this mess with outright criminality (they don't come off well here either). However, it went deeper than just decrying world and denying any hope for the situation, for this film was warning that the pessimism afflicting the globe would be the death of us all if we did not have anyone to champion as a force for improvement. In this, that figure was not only Batman but the people he gathered around him and encouraged him: Alfred the butler (Michael Caine making the most of his speeches), Commissioner Gordon (a deadly earnest Gary Oldman), Lucius Fox (quietly reasonable Morgan Freeman) and so forth.
There were more than that, suggesting there were people in the world we could have faith in no matter how often we had been let down, with the main addition Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Officer Blake, a budding Batman himself and the closest the story had to an unshaded hero. On the other side was Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle, Catwoman in all but name, associated with the Bane-fronted League of Shadows but with the possibility her soul may be saved - and also providing a welcome humour and wit to a movie that could have been one succession of dour sequences. As for Wayne, he loses his fortune and status, another trial sent to test him and handily doubling as making him "one of us". By tying all the threads of the previous two instalments together, pleasantly surprising those who were familiar with the comics they were based on, Nolan and his team revealed they were far more canny than even their fans might have anticipated.
With appearances from characters past in small but effective roles, the tone of the source where faces will show up again and again and grudges have enormous repercussions, the genuine feeling of watching an adaptation in the manner of the pages they sprang from was pleasingly faithful. The action was not wall to wall, leaving space for drama, but when that push came to shove the sight of Batman's new toys racing around Gotham were appropriately thrilling, Hans Zimmer's pulsing and pounding music propelling it, and the defuse the bomb plotline may have been as old as Goldfinger and even earlier, but it's a classic idea for a reason, and well applied here. As for the drama, it was really all about what you do to remain good when those who would prefer to take the other path through life do not have the qualms you do. Will you strive to do the decent thing when those dead set on lawlessness are prepared to go to lengths of corruption, vileness and manipulation you know you cannot consider at the peril of your sanity and vital moral code? The Dark Knight Rises hopes you will.
British director specialising in dark thrillers. Made an impressive debut with the low-budget Following, but it was the time-twisting noir Memento that brought him to Hollywood's attention. 2002's Al Pacino-starrer Insomnia was a remake of a Norwegian thriller, while Batman Begins was one of 2005's biggest summer movies. The hits kept coming with magician tale The Prestige, and Batman sequel The Dark Knight was the most successful movie of Nolan's career, which he followed with ambitious sci-fi Inception and the final entry of his Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises. He then attempted to go as far as he could with sci-fi epic Interstellar, another huge success at the box office, which was followed by his World War II blockbuster Dunkirk and mindbending sci-fi Tenet, bravely (or foolishly) released during the pandemic.