The Dark Knight Rises was cursed by unprecedented hysteria surrounding its release: a unique sort of mania incomparable to the hype for a Star Wars or an Avengers. Oh no. The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t just going to be big; it was going to be great. The sequel to the most beloved blockbuster of the century, and Christopher Nolan’s first film since Inception: a triumph of modern filmmaking. So, by all accounts, there were higher hopes for The Dark Knight Rises than any sequel since The Godfather Part II. Hence, when a solid but not-exactly-earth-shattering product arrived on July 20 — with release excitement dampened by the tragic cinema shooting in Aurora — many overhyped Batfan-Nolanites like myself were supremely underwhelmed. But I thoroughly enjoyed the film upon its Blu-Ray release, and — watching it again now — it holds up very well. In the context of the countless comic-book movies that have come since, many of which have plagiarised elements of Nolan’s aesthetic, Rises is a hugely admirable work: substantial and sophisticated, and utilising an ensemble of A-listers with as much grace as Inception. From the perspective of 2017, The Dark Knight Rises is actually quite fantastic.
Nolan’s approach to the superhero film was to ignore every trope of the superhero film. The realism and lack of fantastical elements in his Knight trilogy is only part of the brilliance: Rises begins with a airborne action scene that’s Mission: Impossible meets On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on steroids: there are few opening sequences in recent memory as utterly exhilarating as Bane crashing the plane…. with no survivors!
The film’s pace doesn’t slow down after such a scene; Nolan pumps his film with gorgeous action, from Bane’s Wall Street heist and the subsequent nighttime chase, to Selina Kyle’s assault on Ben Mendelsohn. The film is crawling with superb character actors in bit-roles: Mendelsohn, Matthew Modine, Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Thomas Lennon. Multiple viewings allow for more recognition: Rises is a treasure-trove of high-calibre casting. In the role of Kyle/the unspoken Catwoman, Anne Hathaway is as perfectly-cast as — dare we say it — Heath Ledger’s Joker. She’s seductive and slimy and charismatic at once, and a worthy foe for Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. Tom Hardy’s Bane, who I decried “the least interesting villain imaginable” in 2012, remains significantly less compelling than Scarecrow or Joker — the primary antagonists of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight — but his absurd, operatic loudness has its moments: his speech on the town hall steps is distinctly meme-friendly, while the sillily-political nature of his scheme provides arguably more talking points than anything Ledger’s joker ever planned.
But, ultimately, Rises simply hasn’t as rich a story as the previous films. Nolan’s heart doesn’t appear to be in it; he’s using this shell of a film handed to him by the studio to try out some interesting tricks and create great action, but one feels he had a superior, non-Batman, urban epic that he wanted to make. He backdoored it into The Dark Knight Rises. When moments develop an air of filler and the near-3 hour running time becomes testing, it’s Hans Zimmer’s phenomenally atmospheric score that keeps the momentum going. Like Thomas Newman and Sam Mendes, his working relationship with Nolan is the making of much of the director’s work. This has never been clearer than in the case of Rises. Big, bold, bombastic: Rises remains flawed, but — hell — they don’t make superhero films like this anymore.