"Made and Finished on Film" is the proud boast at the end of the credits of The Dark Knight Rises - a boast that will, I imagine, become rarer in years to come. Of course, that's not to say that "film"-making will be any the worse for that, any more than the advent of sound or colour made for worse films - but it may lead to a different type of film.
Christopher Nolan's film is an old-fashioned type of blockbuster - heavy on stunts, lighter on effects and eschewing 3D - and the intelligent (if far fetched) storyline ensures that you don't come out of the screening feeling like you've just been bombarded with music and images for 2 hours and 44 minutes. Indeed, in a lot of ways the action is downplayed or cuts from intense action to quieter or more dramatic scenes. Even the score, which in many places is as bombastic as you'd expect from Hans Zimmer, is adapted to allow for these periods in the film.
The Dark Knight Rises completes Nolan's vision for his Batman and seeks to bring the story to a natural end - an end I shall not be giving away - whilst leaving open the door for others to take up and run with elements of the story in further episodes of the franchise. More likely, of course, is that another director will step in and a re-boot will result. Unlike when Nolan took over the reins, however, a reboot is not required. Having set a darker tone and re-created a Batman mythology in Batman Begins, Nolan's version of Gotham and it's universe has been consistent, constant and character driven.
The plot of the latest instalment is somewhat contrived although it just about hangs together within it's own internal logic. To cut a long story short - Eight years have elapsed since the previous film, Batman is in retirement and Commissioner Gordon has banged up 1000's of criminals. Bane arrives in Gotham with an axe to grind against modern culture in general and Batman in particular. In amongst it all is Catwoman - feisty, independent and mercurially minded; but on what side will she be?
Whilst the story arc may have its flaws, what fascinates Nolan is what makes people who they are - in this case, the back story of Bane is told and re-told with each telling bringing us closer to an understanding of his origins - and why he wears a mask which distorts voice. The twin characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman are further explored with Wayne having to plumb new depths of resolve and spirit to succeed. The mercenary character of Catwoman is examined with Nolan questioning whether there can be any deeper motivation for action than either money or self-interest.
Once again, Nolan has a stellar cast: Christian Bale is excellent - again - as Bruce Wayne and also as The Batman (as Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon still insists on calling him), although his voice as the latter still annoys me. Michael Caine is back as Alfred before disappearing in one of the less satisfying elements of the plot. Morgan Freeman is back as Fox - Chairman of Wayne Enterprises and confidant of Wayne.
Joining them this time are Tom Hardy (whom Nolan previously directed in Inception), Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Marion Cottilard (who was also in Inception) as Miranda Tait and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake.
I enjoyed Gordon-Levitt's assured performance and Marion Cottilard was also good as Wayne's business associate. Anne Hathaway was intriguing as Catwoman with some wonderful lines and looks. There was something very sexy about the demure-but-assured way she delivered her initial dialogue with Wayne that had me (almost) falling head over heals for her. Hardy's performance I was less sure about, due in a large part to the ever present mask on his face. This meant that his dialogue was either muffled or shouted.
The film falls down in relation to The Dark Knight in that it lacked a character that lit up the screen - in the case of that film, the late Heath Ledger who brought an edgy, nervous energy to the roll of the Joker. Bane, by contrast, is a thug whose party trick is breaking people's necks with his bare hands and whilst Catwoman has some great lines, she doesn't get enough screentime. It also falls down in relation to Batman Begins which pared everything back and gave a context for Batman's activities and motivation.
I don't want to be down on the film, though, because for all it is flawed - the comparisons I've made are with it's two predecessors. In comparison with other Superhero films (i.e. Spiderman), The Dark Knight still rises well above the competition. Made and finished in plain old 2D film it may be - but in an all singing, all dancing 3D world an analogue Batman is still a force to be reckoned with.