Some films are just too big. The Dark Knight Rises (2011) is, I’m sorry to say, one such film.
It’s been eight years since Batman was last seen, and the city of Gotham is in a state of flux after a strange and ruthless criminal called Bane (Tom Hardy) has emerged from the shadows to take control. Reluctantly Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) dons his black cloak again and, with the help of a feisty thief called Selina (Anne Hathaway) and her feline alter-ego Cat Woman, as well as his trusty old retainer Alfred (Michael Cane), Bruce brings the Batman out of self-imposed exile to save the city before its too late.
From the budget (apparently between $250–300 million – which worked out at $230 million after tax credits), to the box office takings ($1,080,995,984), everything about director Christopher Nolan’s brash extravaganza is bigger, yet not necessarily better, than before. There are just too many elements – not least the gravelly and distorted voice of Tom Hardy’s villain, Bane, which quickly becomes annoying as well as being extremely hard to decipher – that grate on the viewer’s sensibilities.
The real problem with the film is its overall feeling of oppressive darkness. Admittedly none of the modern takes on the caped crusader, starting with Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) starring Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger and Jack Nicholson, have exactly had the vibrant cartoon’esqu qualities of the 1960’s television series which featured Adam West and Burt Ward and its subsequent spinoff film Batman (1966). However most of his recent outings have retained a certain lightness and tongue-in-cheek humour which made them fun to watch, even if they were leavened with a liberal dose of the sinister.
This time round however, from the grim vision of Gotham held under a terrifying and anarchistic mob rule, to the downward spiral of introspection and melancholia which overtakes Bruce Wayne shortly after the film commences and persists for most of its 165 minute duration, everything here is tinged with an air of cloying greyness that soon sets in and barely lifts until the final credits roll.
There some diverting elements present. The set-pieces, particularly the one within a giant stadium during an American football game, leave you speechless by their sheer magnitude. The costumes are also impressive, with Batman and Catwoman beautifully sleek in fetishistic moulded rubber and body-hugging leather, whilst Bane’s face mask is creepily effective, appearing to be melded into him, becoming part of him himself. But this where the problems lie as well as, particularly with Bane, everything leaves you with the feeling that the filmmakers were trying too hard. As said the novelty of Bane’s rasping voice in particular, though effective initially, soon wares off and you wish he’d just shut-up and get on with the regime of murder and mayhem he seems so intent on orchestrating.
The main cast, including Bale, Hardy and Hathaway are, as you’d expect, impressive. But its the performances from veterans Caine and Freeman and a wonderful cameo from Tom Conti, as a prison inmate who befriends Wayne during a period of incarceration, which are most memorable. Something which unfortunately the film, as a whole, is not.