It’s been a summer of great expectations. First there was The Avengers, which ticked all the right geeky boxes and made a truckload of dosh. Then Prometheus, which disappointed most but still managed to ring a few tills. Now here comes the biggie. Can Christopher Nolan see out his Bat trilogy in style? Can he make that so-far-elusive five-star superhero movie, the one which gets the blend between action, emotion, plot and character just right? Can he at least live up to the eyepopping standard he set with 2008’s The Dark Knight?
The answers are yes, no, and mostly. As its running time suggests, The Dark Knight Rises is a sprawling, epic feast of a movie, stuffed to the gills with side characters, subplots and diversions. So if the balance skews in favour of grandstanding action rather than emotional resonance, of statuesque icons rather than real people, we can let it slide. There’s nothing here to match the intensity of Heath Ledger’s Joker, and the movie feels weaker for it. But that was a one-off, and the show must go on.
We’re reintroduced to Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (Christian Bale), living as a recluse, holed up in the east wing of Wayne Manor while Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) presides over a relatively crime-free Gotham City. But when marauding, mask-wearing psycho Bane (Tom Hardy) muscles in with the intention of kickstarting a popular revolution, Bruce must don the cape and cowl once again.
This is just the central thread in an increasingly tangled story: there’s also Anne Hathaway as a slinky, burgling Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a square-jawed beat cop and lots of confusing financial shenanigans with the shareholders of Wayne Enterprises. As in the previous films, Nolan and his co-writer, his brother Jonathan, draw on real-world issues to spice up the fantasy, and with dubious results: with its rampaging Occupy Gotham anarchists, philanthropic billionaires and decent cops who ignore due process, this is so staunchly right-wing it’ll thrill all those Fox News anchors outraged by The Muppets.
But when the Bat flies, such considerations go out the window. Sublimating CGI in favour of real crowd scenes and massive cityscapes, Nolan creates a grand, dirty, engrossing world, and his action sequences just hum. The way the various strands tie up is a mite predictable, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. And as our heroes swoop off into the sunset, we realise we’ve been witness to something truly impressive: a seven-year cinematic adventure which combined the epic and the personal in dizzying, inventive, sometimes perplexing, often enthralling, always imaginative ways.