Few blockbusters since, well, The Dark Knight have had as much fan anticipation going into them as the third instalment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise. Not only is it the last Batman film the director will ever make but it brings to a conclusion a telling of the Batman legacy so successfully accomplished first with Batman Begins and then with The Dark Knight. The eyes of the film world have been on this project from the get-go and it’s finally here.
Interestingly it takes place some eight years on from where The Dark Knight’s story ended, with Harvey Dent still a memory of the hope and goodness that’s possible for Gotham and the Batman nowhere to be seen, Bruce Wayne now a recluse hidden away in the confines and comfort of Wayne Manor. But when a formidable terrorist-like foe in the form of the mighty Bane arrives to wreak havoc and carry out his plan to destroy the city forever, it’s up to Batman to rise up and save it.
Quite astonishingly Nolan and Co. have managed to deliver on the huge promises of this denouement. The Dark Knight Rises is grand and epic, at once more grounded in reality like Batman Begins but yet feels huge like The Dark Knight. What we have here is a successful blend of Nolan’s previous installments which works on multiple, separate levels while still gelling together as a cohesive whole that feels thoroughly satisfying.
Key to what made The Dark Knight so successful, both as a film itself and at the box office (let’s face it), was The Joker being the villain. How on earth to accomplish the mammoth task of following in the late Heath Ledger’s all-time great villainous footsteps? The Dark Knight Rises has done exactly that with Bane. Though The Joker may be more interesting and dynamic to watch Bane is nonetheless a fantastic villain, brought to life with brilliant ferociousness by Tom Hardy. His peculiar muffled, almost mad scientist-like voice and intimidating appearance make him compelling but Hardy’s performance, driven by the looks in his eyes, make him truly memorable.
Bane represents the first time Batman has had to deal with a physically dominant enemy, one whose brawn outmatches his own and who he feels powerless to stop. Hand-to-hand combat scenes between the two act like centre-pieces to the film, a different kind of fight than what we’ve seen from the franchise thus far and they are supremely effective. Their first such encounter, for example, feeds off of the sense of dread and anticipation, punctuated by an eerie silent break from Hans Zimmer’s otherwise epic score. But what also makes Bane such a great villain is that he’s not just a mindless thug who can fight and nothing more. He is also very intelligent to boot and that combination makes him extremely dangerous indeed. Where The Joker represented pure anarchy, Bane represents total control and brute force. This lends the film a unique atmosphere all its own, setting itself apart from the previous two as much as it draws from them.
Brother screenwriting duo Christopher and Jonathan Nolan do an amazing job of handling a lot of different major characters. Not only do we have Batman and Bane to deal with, as well as the usual suspects like Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius (Morgan Freeman) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), we also have newcomers like Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the heroic police officer Blake, Marion Cotillard as the woman helping Bruce out with the company and, of course, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman. Nolan manages to include the latter rather impressively, grounding that most comic book-ish of characters in the reality he has so meticulously crafted for his iteration of Batman. None of the characters feel superfluous in any way. Quite an achievement when you think about it.
At 164 minutes The Dark Knight Rises is a mammoth blockbuster even by today’s standards where, for some reason, every major Hollywood movie needs to stretch on for days. But it never feels too long or drawn out or like it outstays its welcome. Whatever shortcomings it may have, particularly in its ending and how it resolves the Bane storyline, are nit-picks in the grand scheme of things. Nolan has a set-piece mentality that keeps the pace quick while still allowing for a lot of heady material to chew on with a comic book story that is as compellingly grounded as it is prescient.
The trilogy deserved this sort of conclusion.
So did we.