My Picturenose partner in crime, Colin, has very kindly handed over the honours to, ahem, the Boy Wonder, in order that I may offer my thoughts on Christopher Nolan‘s conclusion to his Batman trilogy. I mean, let’s face it, we all *know* what ‘Bat-afficionado’ Col is going to say about The Dark Knight Rises (2012), don’t we, but that’s alright, because I am going to return the favour a little later in the year and step aside from my own cinematic obsession, namely James Bond, and allow the big fella to review Skyfall (2012). Well, variety is the spice, isn’t it? Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the latest Batman film…
…is simply a belter. Rare indeed is the director who manages to buff-up a cracking action blockbuster with intellectual polish, but that’s exactly what Nolan and his co-writer brother Jonathan have achieved with their adaptation of David S. Goyer‘s story …Rises, which is a direct follow-on from the events of its predecessor, The Dark Knight (2008) (read Colin’s review of the same here).
I remember a time when Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and its sequel Batman Returns (1992) were as good as it got for interpretations of Bob Kane’s character, but these are mere light-hearted romps in comparison with Nolan’s evocation, from Batman Begins (2005) to the trilogy’s conclusion, of a man who is fighting a losing battle to keep the beast at bay, to prevent The Batman becoming what he is believed to be, namely a vengeful, murderous vigilante. Thankfully, there are people still on the side of our hero, including determined rookie-turned-detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who has deduced Batman’s real identity and is urging Wayne to come out of retirement, but Alfred, despite his devotion, declares that he can no longer wait “to bury another Wayne”, and leaves. What price must Wayne pay to finally exorcise his demons?
Now, as we all know, the coda to The Dark Knight came with the tragic and untimely death of its star Heath Ledger, who played The Joker better than any actor before him and, given it is unlikely anyone will be redoing the Batman franchise for generations following Nolan’s sublime efforts, will likely be the final word on the character, so good was his take.
But that obviously would make it difficult to provide a subsequent villain, no? Well, you’d have thought so, but not at all – in Bane (Tom Hardy) Gotham must face a new nemesis, a mask-wearing, incredibly strong, articulate and vengeful monster of a man, who begins his campaign of terror with an attack on the stock exchange.
But whither Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Batman, I hear you cry? Both have been in hiding since the actual crimes of Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart) were covered up in the agreement between Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), which meant that the Dark Knight was wrongly convicted in the Gotham City public’s mind as Dent’s killer, with the late Dent lauded as the man who brought an end to the city’s organized crime. Wayne, who had invested in the clean energy project created by his board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), but then shut it down after realizing that his fusion reactor could be turned into a nuclear bomb, and against the wishes of his faithful servant Alfred (Sir Michael Caine), follows a trail left by slinky and very sexy cat burglar Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) which leads him as Batman to Bane, who physically cripples him before casting him into the same prison in which he once languished, from which escape is near impossible, there to watch while he “reduces Gotham to ashes”. And how might he do that? Why, with Wayne’s nuclear reactor, of course, with which he now holds the city to ransom, preventing any access or escape, and gives Gotham “back to the people”. Batman, you’re needed.
There is so very little that’s wrong with this, so we’ll get my minimal carps out of the way – while the narrative has a drive and force that is wonderfully exciting and relentless, some of the exchanges (particularly between Wayne/Batman and Catwoman) do still veer marginally away from darkly witty into camp from time to time. In addition, I had problems with Kyle’s motivation – she is set up as a not-particularly believeable Robin Hood-style character, but we never really find out why this might be, since (despite the set designer trying really hard to make her apartment look a bit untidy), she only ever comes across as a poor-little-rich-girl.
Plus, I still think that an element of mush pervades proceedings ocassionally – notions of how hope is the worst torture are undermined by Blake exhorting that children cannot die without hope in a jarring exchange that somewhat vitiates the excellent tension generated near the film’s climax.
But, seriously, these are mere trifles. Remember when Michael Keaton first said: ‘I’m Batman!‘? Well, with The Dark Knight Rises and its two superb predecessors, we finally have a characterization and a franchise that lives up to, nay exceeds, the promise of Kane’s character. Batman is back, for good.