Seven years after the Batman was rebooted and revolutionised in the eyes of the audience, Christopher Nolan’s saga of Bruce Wayne has come full circle, resulting in a spectacular and emotional finale that occasionally loses its footing, but what a finale it is. Breaking the supposed curse of the third film, Nolan and his team have given us something special.
Eight years have passed in Gotham since the Joker’s reign of terror. Hunted for the murder of Harvey Dent, the Batman has vanished, and Bruce Wayne (a fine Christian Bale) is now a recluse upon whom stories of Howard Hughes style eccentricities now revolve and is in danger of losing his company to an aggressive board member, John Daggett, who in turn does not realise the threat he is unleashing on Gotham in the guise of his hired mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy), an irredeemably focused terrorist with a mysterious past and an agenda of his own.
Into this also come Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Wayne’s supporter on the board and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar with an instantly recognisable look and morals more grey than any fifty shades. This combination spurs Wayne to bring the Batman out of retirement, into the waiting arms of Bane and an appointment with a very bad back indeed.
Fans of the comic will remember Bane’s introduction into the DC universe as the man who broke the Bat, severing Wayne’s spine and almost killing Batman in the process in the storyline Knightfall. The brothers Nolan have borrowed from this storyline a little but have also used elements from other events, most notably the No Man’s Land tale, where Gotham is reduced to rubble by a devastating earthquake, to fashion an almost fitting end to their take on the Dark Knight. In fact, their determination to have this sense of finality works against the film and events seem rushed towards the final third of the film.
Maybe we’re just sad to see Bale’s Bat leave our screens and there is a sense that we did not see enough of him. More time is spent with Wayne out of the cowl than in the two previous instalments but perhaps that fits with the idea that Nolan has been telling the story of Bruce Wayne, not necessarily Batman. In Nolan’s world, Wayne is more the Batman than the billionaire playboy, regardless of what he is wearing. A little too much time is also spent by an excellent Michael Caine’s Alfred repeating through tears Wayne how worried he is about Wayne return to fighting crime. And while it’s clear what kind of role Gotham cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is playing, a moment towards the end regarding his name seems shoehorned in for the fans.
While 2008’s masterful Dark Knight had the Joker play harder cards for Batman each time, challenging his morals and resolve to their very limit, The Dark Knight Rises has no such set of tests for Batman and the film seems lesser for it. After his first bone crushing encounter with Bane, Wayne finds himself in a distant prison where Nolan has him find new strengths within himself, deriving true hope (the film’s strongest theme) by re-discovering fear. A strong idea that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be played to its full potential, but one area that does come across well is how Bane plays both sides of society against each other.
This film is not about Capitalists or the 99%, as much as some commentators would have you believe. It is about a far greater force that sees everyone with equal contempt, regardless of social station, and is willing to use our propensity for not truly seeing each other for who we are in order to toy with us before our complete annihilation, a dispassionate view, separate from any conventional politics, which is an eminently more terrifying prospect.
However, these quibbles aside, this is a powerhouse of a film that, while long, never outstays its welcome. There is much giddy fun to be had watching Batman and Catwoman fighting together. Although never named outright as such in the film, Hathaway gives the most definitive take on the character yet and one closest to the modern comics’ take on the character. Playful, determined and unpredictable, she obviously has a lot of fun with the character and so do the audience.
Hardy’s Bane is less defined. Thankfully not the outrageous hulk of the comics (see Batman and Robin on how to do that literally for poor results), he is a grim figure of brute force and a horrible determination. While there is not much to the character on screen, Hardy nevertheless manages to play it as scarily as he can without falling into moustache twirling, with Bane’s eyes and voice giving what window to his soul that there is and there are some moments of tragedy to the character towards the end. His voice is a distracting element that, while mostly audible, is inconsistent in accent and sounds like an odd mix of James Mason, Darth Vader and Pantera’s Philip Anselmo. The rest of the cast all perform admirably, especially Gary Oldman, whose Jim Gordon seems to have been the character from the comics who has never been given such respectful treatment on screen before. Christopher Nolan has a gift with ensemble casting, especially effective when creating a story around such a singular and indelible character as Batman.
The tension never quite attains the edge of seat heights of The Dark Knight’s climax but the final twenty minutes of the film bruise along like a juggernaut, and this end to Nolan’s spin on Batman has enough action and emotional wallop to keep it all together and there is more humour there than many would like to admit, particularly concerning Selina Kyle. A consistent sense of tone and character development, never before granted to a superhero on screen before, lifts The Dark Knight Rises above most other examples of the genre and seen together the entire trilogy is head and shoulders above any other attempts at the genre.
Perhaps it would have been fun to see this incarnation of Batman in further films but this is Nolan’s world and he only tells the stories he feels are worth telling. The next person to bring Batman to the big screen has a monumental task. They’re going to need the resolve of the Bat himself to step into those boots.