Christopher Nolan concludes his dazzling Batman trilogy with a bold finale set eight years after The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne faces his greatest challenge yet.
It isn’t easy following in the footsteps of two of fantasy cinema’s most impressive superhero films. That Batman Begins and The Dark Knight revitalised a film franchise already done-to-death was an even more staggering feat. But then again, neither Bruce Wayne or the millions of now mouth-agape fans in awe of the sheer thrills on show, reckoned upon master filmmaker Christopher Nolan. He concludes his “trilogy” with yet another marvellous tale of good versus evil. It leaves the pretenders – from the Spider-Man’s to the Captain America’s – in an ever-increasing black hole of vacuous cinema that seems happier making everything fuzzily 3D than churning out a decent line of dialogue or a character we care about.
Mercifully, Nolan, along with his brother and co-writer Jonathan, knows how to make these sorts of films tick like a dazzlingly new Rolex. Beginning with a comparably dull period of Gotham City’s history, its damn-dirty streets are relatively crime free. Batman has disappeared amid public outcry that he was to blame for the death of the city’s saviour Harvey Dent. Unbeknownst to everyone apart from a few close allies, Batman saved the life of police commissioner James Gordon’s son in killing Dent who had turned rogue. Sacrificing himself, he instructs Gordon (played again by the brilliant Gary Oldman) to blame Dent’s crimes on him, creating Dent’s image as one of hope.
The Dark Knight Rises sees a reclusive Bruce Wayne coming to terms with his crumbling business empire. Christian Bale, returning as The Bat, hobbles around with a cane and lets dishevelled facial hair disfigure those pearly whites. The scheming con artist Selina Kyle (played by an impressive Anne Hathaway who discovers an alluring mix of sexy and badass) is found by the aging Wayne stealing his mother’s pearl necklace. His quick-witted deduction of her intention to steal his fingerprints – the woman who probably prefers her profession listed as “cat burglar” hence the sobriquet Catwoman – shows he hasn’t lost his marbles even if his body is failing beneath him.
“Nolan, along with his brother and co-writer Jonathan, knows how to make these sorts of films tick like a dazzlingly new Rolex.”
He’s ultimately torn. With Wayne Enterprises faltering he must come out of the shadows to address the needs of the company (and continue the selfless work of his late father), while his best intentions to protect Gotham City are being pulled in alternate directions. The peace the city has known in the eight years Batman has been gone is coming under threat in the face of a new enemy. Bane (Tom Hardy), a disfigured brawler, has come to town seemingly to destroy Wayne Enterprises once and for all, while, in doing so, overseeing the destruction of Gotham City. Patrol officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is promoted to detective after James Gordon is hospitalised following a shootout with Bane, goes to see Wayne at his home. There he reveals he knows his true identity and that Gotham City needs Batman to return.
Perhaps The Dark Knight Rises could be criticised for its length – meaning a few minutes here and there feel a little prolonged – while some of the dialogue has the stilted quality of pre-teen Saturday morning children’s television. You could also argue that Bane’s menace is too one-dimensional for a film that follows in the footsteps of The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s staggering performance as the Joker. But like Bane himself, the concluding part of this finely-tuned trilogy, is loud, bold and earth-shatteringly epic.
Nolan’s trademark action sequences are particularly impressive – the mixture of realism and fantasy colliding with seemingly effortless ease as the director’s camera sweeps across cityscapes and multi-lane highways with feverish yet controlled grace. Bane’s escape from a plane is the one that will have everyone talking but the scenes featuring Batman’s new toy – a flying vehicle inspired by the classic Batwing of Tim Burton’s films – are equally as exciting. Yet, the energy of the film’s intriguing action-orientated battles would count for very little were it not for Bruce Wayne’s own war within himself and the tangible threat emerging in the form of Bane. Bane may not have the idiosyncratic psychosis of previous baddie the Joker but he certainly has the muscle. Coupled with his amplified voice that rekindles thoughts of Star Wars’ Darth Vader though probably has more in common with James Saito’s Shredder from Steve Barron’s Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tom Hardy’s chief villain is every bit the foe Batman needs to test his superhero credentials.
The Dark Knight Rises may be at its best when it ups the tempo but its emotional core is found in Bruce Wayne’s destruction, both of his own doing and through the actions of others. Nolan plays on the notion of a superhero’s capacity to do good, to be a symbol of hope, but in doing so, we see how Wayne has had to make sacrifices along the way, particular in relation to his childhood friend and love interest Rachel Dawes. Now he has shelved Batman and allowed the “hero” to become a symbol of ridicule and hatred highlighting the superfluous nature of Gotham City’s need to find easily definable lines between good and evil. He was there when they needed a symbol of hope, now his legacy lays in tatters when they need somebody to blame. It’s a powerful thematic overture to the necessity of a superhero in society. And, just as Nolan beautifully mixes believable technology with imaginative sensationalism, he brings the idea of “heroism” into everyday life. In a touching moment Wayne reminds the police commissioner of his help in the aftermath of seeing his mother and father’s murder. “A hero can be anyone,” he says. “Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a little boy’s shoulder to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.”
The Dark Knight Rises is the perfect denouement to a brilliant superhero trilogy. Typically, the characters live and breathe with equal shades of light and dark, the action sequences are stylish, energetic and inspired, and the story motors along with enough twists and turns to keep audiences on their toes. Significantly, as the curtain comes down on this chapter in Batman’s theatrical history, we have the greatest fantasy trilogy of the last twenty years to rejoice and relive.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman