American reviews for The Dark Knight Rises have begun rumbling in and it seems Christopher Nolan has scored another critical hit with his third and final Batman film.
The Dark Knight Rises “ranks as the best of Nolan’s trio”, according to Todd McCarthy at the Hollywood Reporter, who calls the film “a blockbuster by any standard”. Christian Bale gives his series best performance as the caped crusader, says McCarthy. The actor plays Bruce Wayne/Batman as a recluse, beaten by his encounter with the Joker (detailed in 2008′s The Dark Knight) and doubtful of his ability to protect Gotham after eight years of self-imposed exile. “He gives the character such an inescapable melancholy – a certain perseverance in the face of absolute resignation to his fate – that he becomes a more tragic figure than ever,” says Todd Gilchrist at Indiewire.
Batman is pulled back into the fight for Gotham’s soul by Bane (Tom Hardy), a fellow graduate of the League of Shadows – the leader of which, Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) played a key role in Batman Begins. He shares his teacher’s desire to restore the city’s morality by bringing it down to rubble. In harking back to plot points raised in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan delivers a satisfyingly rounded conclusion to his franchise, says Justin Chang at Variety, who nevertheless rates the second film in the trilogy above The Dark Knight Rises. “If it never quite matches the brilliance of 2008′s The Dark Knight, this hugely ambitious action-drama nonetheless retains the moral urgency and serious-minded pulp instincts that have made the Warners franchise a beacon of integrity in an increasingly comicbook-driven Hollywood universe,” he says.
In fact Nolan’s Batman universe gives a certain other super-franchise a run for its money, says McCarthy. “[The] Batman trilogy makes everything in the rival Marvel universe look thoroughly silly and childish,” he says presumably referring to Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie, currently 2012′s biggest box-office earner. “[It's] entirely enveloping and at times unnerving in a relevant way one would never have imagined,” he continues. “Even if it lacks – how could it not? – an element as unique as Heath Ledger’s immortal turn in The Dark Knight.”
While Ledger casts a shadow over The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy’s performance as Bane is solidly scary and at times even playful, says Indiewire’s Gilchrist, while the Bane’s distorted voice – reportedly incoherent to audiences in very early test screenings now “provokes a sort of lower-register duet when pitted against Batman’s own voice-distorted growl”, according to Justin Chang. Hardy and Bale are ably supported by Nolan’s new additions to the roll call, including Anne Hathaway in steely form as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as righteous cop John Blake and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a board member at Wayne Enterprises whose clean energy pet project has left the company in dire financial straits. Series regulars Michael Caine (butler Alfred Pennyworth), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) are on reliable form.
As for hints as to where the franchise might go following Nolan’s departure, the reviews are keeping schtum, although McCarthy suggests that the director’s version of Batman may not be quite as self-contained as we once supposed. “The final shot clearly indicates the direction a follow-up offshoot series by Warner Brothers will likely take,” he says.
• The first UK press screening of The Dark Knight Rises takes places today. Xan Brooks will be posting the official guardian.co.uk/film review around 4pm UK time.
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