By Andrew Pollard
So, it’s finally here. The Dark Knight Rises. It’s been billed as the perfect end to an epic trilogy. It’s the film that brings to a conclusion Christopher Nolan’s grounded in reality Bat-tale. Its predecessors have been both critically and publicly appreciated, admired, praised and respected. Heath Ledger even got a posthumous Oscar win; something unheard of for an actor in a mere ‘comic book’ movie. Not much to live up to then…
Arguably the most anticipated film of the year (obviously behind Piranha 3DD), there was a lot resting on the shoulders of the Caped Crusader in this one. How would Nolan wrap up his Bat trilogy in a way fitting to the previous two installments? How would any villain/actor be able to follow on from The Joker/Ledger? How could the Bat be pushed to limits that exceeded those that the Rachel Dawes/Harvey Dent story arc pushed him to? How would the Batman-on-the-run story get a fitting climax? All of these questions and more are answered here. With the film missing Heath Ledger and Maggie Gyllenhaal for differing reasons, how would the new cast members step up to the plate? In came Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy amongst others. Along with these additions, we see the return of familiar faces such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and, of course, Christian Bale.
The story picks up 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight. After the ‘honourable’ death of Harvey Dent, Gotham introduces a Harvey Dent Day and also a Dent Law. Harvey Dent Day serves as a reminder of the ‘white knight’ and what he stood for, a symbol of justice. The Dent Law is responsible for locking up 1,000 or so criminals. Due to this, there is no need for the Batman – Gotham no longer needs a Batman, a hero. Bruce Wayne is now a hermit of sorts, hidden away in Wayne Manor. Sure, he is still a billionaire, there are still functions held at Wayne Manor, Wayne Enterprises is still a huge global company. It’s just Wayne himself that stays out of the public eye; a battered down man who’s been savaged by the war he’s waged on Gotham’s criminal presence. He starts the film as an unkempt, unshaven cripple holed up in one of the many rooms of Wayne Manor. He has no need to be anything else. It’s only the impending threat of Gotham’s destruction that pulls back the Bruce Wayne mask and once again brings the Batman to the fore. That impending threat is titled simply Bane.
Firstly, if you’re only knowledge of Bane is from Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman & Robin, forget everything you think you know. That portrayal was a mockery, a disservice to a truly fascinating villain. Bane is a highly intelligent master strategist with the bulk, strength and power of a brute. He is aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman and uses this to expose his weaknesses. In the comics, Bane was introduced in the critically acclaimed story known as Knightfall. He sees Batman’s heart, nobility and determination as his weakness. He knows that the Dark Knight will keep on fighting as long as there is a criminal on the lose. He prays on this by breaking the majority of Batman’s rogues gallery out of Arkham Asylum at the same time, causing the Bat to become worn down in his constant uphill struggle to find and capture said criminals. Once weak enough, Bane strikes, literally breaking the Bat in the process (courtesy of backbreaker that even Bret Hart would be proud of). This causes Bruce to give up the mantle of the Bat, to hang up his cape and cowl.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is portrayed as he should be; as Batman’s intellectual and physical equal, even surpassing him in some ways. He hits Batman where it hurts, he hits Gotham. He bankrupts the city, declaring a state of Martial Law (not the Sammo Hung starring TV series), and waiting for Gotham to eat itself. He does all this whilst also making some very valid points. You almost feel yourself siding with him at times. Before all of this occurs though, Bruce is attacked from another angle. A rival of Wayne Enterprises commits fraud against the company, leaving Wayne without a penny in the process. Bruce is left with nothing, fighting the question of whether he has what it takes to take down Bane after spending 8 years out of the cowl. Is he up to the job?
As well as all of this going on, there’s also Anne Hathaway’s brilliant Selina Kyle looking out for personal interest and playing all sides against each other. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Officer Blake steps up to the plate to be one of Jim Gordon’s go to men. Gordon himself spends the opening of the film troubled by the cover up and lies that he has had to tell about Harvey Dent in order to protect Dent’s image and to keep the hope of justice alive in Gotham. Michael Caine’s Alfred is the emotional rock for Bruce Wayne again, giving sage advice at difficult times, making difficult, life changing decisions and having to do what’s right regardless of the consequences. Caine is brilliant in this, his best portrayal of Alfred to date. After the events of The Dark Knight and the death of Rachel Dawes he is a tormented soul, desperate to see Bruce pull himself away from his reclusive behaviour, to see Bruce get himself a ‘normal’ life, for Bruce to not get into fights that he cannot win. The rest of the supporting cast, principally Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and Marion Cotillard’s eco-friendly love interest, Miranda, are fine for what they are. Freeman’s banter with Wayne is still as sharp as ever, with Cotillard filling her role perfectly.
That brings me to the man himself, Christian Bale. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman picks up from where it left off. If you are a fan of the Bale Bat then you will enjoy his performance. If you are not of fan of his Caped Crusader then you likely won’t have your thoughts swayed by him in this either. I’m a big fan of certain features of his Batman but not such a fan of other aspects. In this film he spends a lot of his time as a beaten down Bruce Wayne, a victim of a monstrous attack to both his body and his mind. It’s a great performance from Bale. I’m sold on him as the troubled Bruce Wayne, the self sacrificing Wayne, the whole facade of the Bruce Wayne mask. The part I still find myself struggling with is his Batman. It’s the same issues I’ve had from the previous two films. It’s something to do with his jaw, mouth, and animalistic Batman voice. I understand the logic behind the aggressive, unnatural voice but it’s merely a personal preference of mine and it doesn’t get in the way of a fantastic film for me. And this is a truly fantastic film.
The story flows just as smoothly as the last two films. The running time is a little under three hours but you won’t notice that. The film has a great flow to it, matched perfectly by Hans Zimmer’s intense, perfect score (again!). The story differentiates slightly from the comics and graphic novels but I’ll let Nolan’s tinkering slide as he does such a brilliant job with the story. There’s one slight problem I have with something towards the end of the film but I can’t go into that without giving away some spoilers. There’ll be a time and a place for that, and it really is only a tiny gripe.
The film has a truly epic feel to it, with the last half an hour cranking everything up to 11. I get goosebumps now just thinking about it, especially the final few minutes. It’s the perfect finish to a truly epic trilogy. Was it worth the wait? Was it worth the hype?
Of course it was. But you knew that already.
On a side note, my thoughts go out to those in Aurora, Colorado who did the same as me and so many others around the world. They’d anticipated an epic film, they’d looked forward to it for months, years even. They went to a midnight showing only to be gunned down horrifically by a lunatic. All they wanted to do was to see Batman, yet many have been injured and several have been killed. Keep those guy in your thoughts.