Picking up eight years on from the death of valiant Gotham City district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) during the dramatic climax of The Dark Knight, a battered and beaten Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has since receded into reclusiveness. With the streets now clean of organised crime thanks to the Dent Act and with Batman effectively retired after assuming guilt for Dent’s perceived ‘murder’, there seems little need for the Caped Crusader to return. However, when Gotham is suddenly gripped in a new cycle of fear – courtesy of the enigmatic masked mercenary Bane – Wayne is forced out of self-imposed exile to face his final challenge.
Much like the grunting zealot Bane, The Dark Knight Rises is a bolshy blockbuster propelled along by its own distinct mark of belief. Returning to the pomp and pantomime of Batman Begins, rather than the Michael Mann-esque, cat-and-mouse crime thriller format of The Dark Knight, Nolan’s finale positively bludgeons its audience into regarding events on screen as seriously as it does. Batman is no longer simply charged with rounding up mobsters or protecting booby-trapped passenger ferries, but faces a frantic struggle with the anarchic Bane for the ultimate prize – Gotham’s soul. Civil war descends upon this modern metropolis, with barbarians not so much at the city gates but residing within its very infrastructure.
Whilst some may still begrudge him the holy cowl of ‘Best Batman’, there’s seems little contention in proclaiming Bale as the franchise’s most complete and well-rounded Bruce Wayne. Take away the Dark Knight’s modern military chainmail and high tech wizardry and what you get (aside from, as Tony Stark would put it, “A genius billionaire playboy philanthropist”) is that same fragile, fear-plagued boy that saw his parents mercilessly slaughtered in a cold, dark Gotham backstreet. Booted and suited as the film’s titular hero, Batman (as with the newly introduced Bane) still comes across as faintly ridiculous – grumbling line delivery and all – but such is force and impact of Nolan’s high drama that such foibles quickly fall away into the shadows.
It’s easy to see why avid fans of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy found themselves so enamoured with this resounding climax. Set pieces are arguably the most grandly conceived and kinetic of the series (even if the hand to hand combat seems slow and sluggish in comparison with other recent denizens of action cinema), and with a supporting cast that once again includes Michael Caine’s Alfred, Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon – plus welcome new additions Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Mendelsohn and Matthew Modine – Nolan has finally given his shadowy protector the send off he deserves.