Christopher Nolan’s Batman finale is a blockbuster of the highest order, with heart-stopping set-pieces, political and Dickensian facets and an outstanding cast at the top of their game.
Synopsis: When Commissioner Gordon stumbles upon a plot to destroy the city from within, Bruce Wayne gets back into action as the Batman.
Waiting for him is the mysterious Selina Kyle and Bane, a lethal adversary on a crusade to tear apart Batman’s legacy piece by piece.
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn
Seven years ago, Christopher Nolan resurrected a franchise, after lesser filmmakers had tarnished the greatest ever comic book character with gaudy designs, terrible characters and a hero’s suit rendered ridiculous by rubber nipples. Now, after tracking Batman’s beginning, his transformation into a hero a city needs, rather than deserves, and his rise to take down a terrifying foe and save a city in a closing chapter of defiant finality, Nolan has set the Bat bar so high that you can’t help but pity the poor soul Warner Bros inevitably select to reboot the series in the next decade.
While The Avengers created a superhero super-group and The Amazing Spider-Man retold a familiar tale, Nolan’s ambitions are higher. After using agents of fear (Scarecrow) and chaos (The Joker) in the previous two films, here he installs a force of destruction (Bane) into a landscape built on a lie, and borrows from A Tale of Two Cities to pit the underclass against the One Per Cent. But we’ve also got nods to post-traumatic stress, the decline and fall of the modern world and the importance of faith.
And he’s able to pull it off, thanks to sterling support in every department, from Wally Pfister’s gorgeous cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s booming score and a cast without a weak link. Bale is the best he’s been as Bruce/Batman, Anne Hathaway almost steals the show as the lithe and witty Selina Kyle (never once labelled Catwoman in the film) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides added emotional impact as an idealistic Gotham cop with more than a few psychological similarities to Bruce Wayne. Messrs Oldman, Caine and Freeman are as reliable and haunting as ever while Tom Hardy is terrifying as the film’s Big Bad, the actor’s magnetic presence complimenting his immense frame and steely glare.
It’s also a technical triumph, with an aerial heist by Bane and his cronies, the football field explosion seen in the trailers, the Caped Crusader’s use of his new flying toy, and the literal disintegration of Gotham by Bane’s weaponry executed with aplomb, tension and a miniscule amount of CGI.
It’s not a perfect film – the first act establishes so many characters that the wait for the Dark Knight to actually rise feels exhausting, and Nolan’s decision to kick things off with a airborne action sequence, then inflict an excruciating injury on Batman halfway through the film, means an outdoor punch-up between Bane and the Bat is disappointingly underwhelming. And though the much-touted concerns about the audibility of Bane prove entirely unfounded thanks to an obvious new dub for Tom Hardy’s lines (just see the film in a decent cinema, preferably an IMAX, and you’ll be fine), Zimmer’s exhilarating score is often needlessly loud, to the detriment of dialogue.
But as a final piece of a trilogy, rather than just another sequel (*cough* Spider-Man 3… *cough*), The Dark Knight Rises is magnificent. The League of Shadows and the spectre of Ra’s Al Ghul return to Gotham, while the tragic fall of Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s grief for Rachel Dawes inform the city’s fragile peace and, later, the severing of the ties of a lifelong friendship. The young Bruce’s tumble into a well at Wayne Manor in Batman Begins is echoed in the grown man’s attempt to escape from a subterranean foreign prison while the Patriot Act beats of The Dark Knight are mimicked here with hints of an Occupy Wall Street-style revolt, though Bane’s motives in encouraging this uprising aren’t in the slightest anti-capitalist.
This is, conclusively, the last chapter of Nolan and Bale’s book and also their most ambitious, emotional and unashamedly epic. In Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul encouraged Bruce to make himself more than a man – The Dark Knight Rises is more than a comic book film, more than a blockbuster. It’s the end of an era in film we’re lucky to have witnessed.