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Film review: The Dark Knight Rises

And, like the two earlier films in the reimagined Batman franchise, the final part is an operatic affair on a self-consciously epic scale.
Having gone into hiding at the end of the previous film, the story resumes with Bruce Wayne living in almost complete seclusion at his country pad. Gotham is enjoying something of a golden age, with the marked reduction in crime speciously attributed to Harvey Dent’s heroic defeat of The Batman.
However, this peace is disturbed by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a monolithic slab of muscle and leather who is determined to bring the city to its knees.
Firstly, a word about Bane.
Hardy is undeniably imposing as the new Batman villain, and his impressive physique and unnerving breathing apparatus create a decidedly sinister presence.
The character is clearly meant to be Bruce Wayne’s match for strength and speed, and there’s a real feeling of weight during their clunking, juddering fight sequences.
However, I must admit to missing Heath Ledger’s Joker enormously.
Whereas Bane provides an element of immediate physical threat, there was something about Ledger’s quick-witted cynicism that was more insidiously creepy.
As other critics have also pointed out, the Joker possessed the uncanny super-ability of being able to make himself understood.
Bane’s digitally manipulated voice sounds like Darth Vader muttering into a tin bath, and although a certain amount of gravel in a voice can make it appear threatening, much of Bane’s dialogue (especially in the early scenes) is simply indistinct.
But if it’s difficult to make out what Bane is saying, it’s even harder to decipher the message of the film as a whole.
The politics of The Dark Knight were unsophisticated, but clearly and powerfully stated.
The Dark Knight Rises, however, ties itself in knots when it comes to occupying a spot on the political spectrum.
Whereas the previous film asserted the importance of institutions over individuals, the new film seems to suggest that these liberal, democratic organs are essentially flimsy without the strong leadership of charismatic figures.
Similarly, recent events such as the 99 per cent and Occupy Wall Street movements seem to lurk in the movie’s political DNA (there’s a wonderfully ironic scene in which an angry mob calls on a demonstration of policemen to “disperse”), but ultimately the revolutionary impulse is explained away as an excuse for personal revenge or self-enrichment. Comic books have often been a fairly conservative medium, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but after The Dark Knight wore its politics so heavily, I expected something more cogent and insightful from its sequel.
Still, this will be irrelevant to the vast majority of people setting off for the cinema this weekend.
What The Dark Knight Rises does demonstrate is the range of weapons Nolan wields as a director.
This film feels enormous – in scale, ambition, and budget – and yet Nolan manages to round off his series with an irrepressible, irresistible flourish.
The Dark Knight Rises (12A)
Review rating ***

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