Regardless of its own qualities, The Dark Knight Rises has the unwieldy task of having to live up to The Dark Knight, unarguably one of the strongest, smartest comic-book adaptations in the long history of the genre (if not the single best), an incendiary mash-up of super-hero adventure, socio-political commentary and adult, thoughtful moviemaking, driven by Heath Ledger's staggering incarnation of pure evil. Christopher Nolan's closing chapter of his Batman trilogy, therefore, suffers from the start from the heady expectations set upon it, and also from a super-sizing that ill serves its ambitions: bigger (nearly three hours long), louder (in this film, Gotham City itself is in danger), brasher, but not, sadly, better.

     Aware that people expected The Dark Knight Rises to rise to the same level of The Dark Knight, Mr. Nolan tried to have his cake and eat it too, attempting to fuse comic-book action with a topical commentary on the state of the world today: in a spooky echo of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gotham City is taken to the brink of full-scale anarchy and annihilation by the stealthy strategies of villain Bane (Tom Hardy), while throwing Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) into the deep end of a fabricated economic meltdown and still having to come full circle with the events narrated in his opening film Batman Begins. Too much for one single film, burdening The Dark Knight Rises with far too much backstory and layered meanings to make it into an easily digestible meal (unhelped by the much overrated Hans Zimmer's pompous, overblown score that never lets up for a second).

     Expectations do play a part in it, but so does, for instance, the absence of a villain as strong as the late Mr. Ledger's Joker. Mr. Hardy's Bane, a masked mercenary of uncertain origin and identity who seems to be anarchy incarnate, is a cypher that could have been performed by any actor, since he is but a physical presence and a modified voice that is given little or no personality. Also, Mr. Nolan's intimations of apocalypse as Bane turns Gotham City into an enormous death trap are never as chilling or as focused as the equivalent scenes in The Dark Knight (particularly the ferry-boat climax).

     But then, part of what made that film so impressive was the feeling the director was opening new doors and new pathways the comic-book adaptation had seldom explored. In the new film, he attempts to balance that with a more standard comic-book structure - introducing Anne Hathaway's slinky Catwoman as an ambiguous sidekick and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's ramrod straight policeman as a tantalising hint of a future hero, throwing Batman into an apparently despairing, insoluble problem, managing a somewhat disappointing (if conveniently ambiguous) race-against-time finale. It shows just how ambitious Mr. Nolan was for this wrap-up and just where said ambition stumbles and hits a brick wall. Needing to make every piece of the puzzle fit means that The Dark Knight Rises sprawls well beyond what it should, and in trying to be everything to everyone it stands as a good example of a good film that never reaches the greatness it's aiming for.

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Morgan Freeman

Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, from a story by Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Cinematography: Wally Pfister (colour, processing by Technicolor, Panavision widescreen)
Music: Hans Zimmer
Designers: Nathan Crowley, Kevin Kavanaugh
Costumes: Lindy Hemming
Editor: Lee Smith
Visual effects: Paul Franklin
Special effects: Chris Corbould
Producers: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven (Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy)
USA, 2012, 164 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinemateca Portuguesa - Dr. Félix Ribeiro theatre, Lisbon, July 26th 2012. 


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