The Dark Knight Rises had a lot to live up to after the superb second instalment in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. While it may not be quite as good as The Dark Knight, the film is a fitting conclusion to the series, tying up the thematic ends and ramping up the spectacle and excitement.
It’s seven years after the events of The Dark Knight and Bruce Wayne is living as a virtual recluse in his mansion. Batman is no longer needed and Wayne is a physical wreck. However when a mysterious figure known as Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham with plans aimed at destroying Bruce and potentially destroying the city, there’s no choice but to bring the Bat out of retirement.
For the first time, Batman has a foe who’s his physical superior and who wants to bring both the billionaire and his alter-ego to his knees. However as the situation escalates, the cowled hero may be the only hope Gotham has.
It’s a long, complex film told on a grand scale, which ensures that it’s often quite breath-taking in its scope. It also means that it’s sometimes a tad confusing and feels like it’s trying to do a little too much, in a way that muddies the propulsive driving force it has much of the time. It certainly works though, helped massively by an amazing cast.
Although it would be pretty much impossible to get someone as good for the villain as Heath Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy does sterling work as Bane; a terrifying force of nature whose humanity is hidden underneath the bulk of his single-minded aims. Marion Cotillard is also very good as a potential new love interest for Bruce Wayne, and while early there are times when it’s slightly difficult to tell why Anne Hathaway and Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake are needed in the movie, their characters earn their places by the end.
Indeed the side characters are given more room to breathe than ever before. There are sections of the movie where Bruce Wayne is hardly around, leaving it to the others to try and sort things out. It means there are often several plots going on at once, allowing the movie to further the idea of Batman being a symbol representing an ideal that others can try to live up to (or deliberately turn their back on).
Many have praised Nolan’s Bat movies for bringing ‘realism’ to the superhero movie. However I’ve always thought that’s wrong. To be honest they’re not very realistic at all, but what Nolan has done better than virtually anyone else is world-building, so that while much of the plot is incredibly outlandish, the Gotham universe is put together in such a well thought out way that everything fits together into one cohesive whole – everything and everyone has a place within it that makes sense. It’s this that sets the films apart from most others. Perhaps the best way I’ve heard it described is the worlds of most science fiction and fantasy films end at the edges of the screen, but the best of them bleed out so that you truly believe there’s an entire universe going on beyond what we see. It’s one of the main things that’s made the likes of Avatar, Lord Of The Rings and Nolan’s Batman movies so special.
It’s not all good news in Dark Knight Rises though. Although its drive, energy and tension ensure you’re with it all the way through to the end credits, thoughts begin to creep in that certain things are a little silly and there are a few plot holes. It’s nothing too bad, but a few little things do grate as Nolan is normally so good at thinking things out, so that they fit seamlessly into his Bat universe and have a logical consistency. However with some things here, the sheer size of the story occasionally gets away from him.
Largely though it’s very entertaining and thematically strong. The film questions and brings a sense of conclusion to ideas that have run through the films, such as the idea of Batman being a symbol, the pain of redemption and sacrifice, and whether a corrupt world deserves being saved. There’s also a rather intriguing strand that brings the League Of Shadows plot from Batman Begins full circle. It plays with the idea that’s run through the series of whether by seeking to solve Gotham’s problems, The Bat ultimately ends up causing more trouble.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you already know all this, as with a billion dollars grossed worldwide the film was a massive hit, and so it’d be pretty surprising if you hadn’t been to the cinema to see it. But does it survive the transfer from big screen to Blu-ray? It certainly does, and as with The Dark Knight Blu-ray, in some respects it’s actually superior to how the movie was seen in regular cinemas.
Nolan is a lover of IMAX and shot as much of The Dark Knight Rises on the large scale format as possible. The result is that parts of the film were shot on traditional film at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, while other sections used IMAX cameras that natively shoot closer to 4:3 (like old style TVs), and use a much larger, sharper film stock. The Blu-ray merges the two, so the traditional film parts are 2.35:1 with black bars at the top and bottom, but when we move to IMAX, the picture widens out to 16:9, filling the screen.
Although that might sounds annoying, it works exceedingly well and most of the time you don’t notice the jumps from one aspect ratio to the other. What you’re more likely to be aware of is that while everything from start to finish looks good, things become remarkably sharp when it’s been transferred from IMAX. The IMAX images look beautiful on Blu-ray. Even simple things like city nightscapes are astonishing, as the way the format handles light is gorgeous.
Nolan tends to use IMAX for the big action scenes. It ensures they look amazing, with absolutely pin-sharp detail and a wonderful sheen that brings an almost 3D feel to the picture. Of course, in normal cinemas you didn’t get this as the whole movie was projected at 2.35:1, and you don’t get it on DVD either. So it really is a bit of a treat on Blu-ray, with a truly remarkable picture quality, especially during the IMAX bits. There are no complaints about the audio either, which is lush, complex and sometime room-shaking.
You’re also likely to be very happy with the special features. On DVD you just get a single Featurette, but the Blu-ray has a whole bonus disc full of stuff. Things kick off with the hour-long ‘The Batmobile’ documentary. Rather than just looking at Nolan’s tumbler, the documentary takes us through the entire history of the vehicle, from the Cadillac used in the 1940s serial, through the classic 1960s TV series car and onto the versions used in Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s films, before we get to the latest Nolan incarnation. There’s even a look at animated Bamobiles.
It’s surprisingly interesting and not just for car fans. There are loads of interviews with people involved in all sorts of different versions of the vehicle, who talk about the conception and creation of the cars, as well as the unique challenges they faced, such as the difficulties of getting the flames to come out of the 60s Batmobile (the jet nozzle is a paint can) to the ridiculous length of the Batman & Robin car.
Beyond the documentary there’s a plethora of featurettes looking specifically at the making of The Dark Knight Rises, all under the title ‘Ending the Knight’. Taking you through Production, The Characters and Reflections, there’s a lot of stuff to get through and it’s all pretty interesting. From Nolan talking about themes he wanted to tie up in the films, to the sheer scope of the project – which spanned continents and called for 10s of thousands of extra – it’s fascinating stuff.
Perhaps most interesting is how much of it was done practically. In an age where everything seems to be done with CGI, Nolan’s film may use plenty of new technology but a surprising amount was actually done in-camera. That includes much of the opening sequence, where they hung the fuselage of an aircraft from a helicopter high above Scottish countryside. They also built a full scale Batwing on a gimballed vehicle, so that they could shoot it ‘flying’ through the streets.
The only annoyance amongst all this is that there’s no ‘play all’ option, so that at the end of every 5-10 featurette, you have to click the button to get the next one. It’s not much of a problem, but it’s strange they don’t allow you to watch it as one long documentary.
Overall Verdict: Although The Dark Knight Rises isn’t quite the masterpiece some claimed when the hype was running full tilt this summer, it’s undoubtedly a very good movie that brings Nolan’s excellent trilogy to a fitting end. And with the IMAX images and loads of featurettes, Blu-ray is the only way to watch it in the home.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac