I was giddy with excitement as I sat down at Exeter’s Picturehouse, to watch the unveiling of Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012). All the familiar faces were expected to return -with the exception of one -but was Nolan’s swansong the epic conclusion this trilogy deserved or had he -like our protagonist -grown tired and weary?
We join Bruce Wayne eight years after the death of Rachel, and Harvey Dent. Wayne has hung up his cape and cowl, and retreated to the shadows of the now fully restored, Wayne Manor. He’s a hermit of the social elite class, with bad facial hair and a scruffy dressing gown -with only his faithful butler for company.
Gotham City, once plagued by organised crime has blossomed under the ‘Dent Act’. A piece of legislation created in the wake of Harvey Dent’s death, an act so powerful it gave Police Commissioner Jim Gordon the opportunity to completely eradicate crime from the streets of Gotham.
However, Gotham’s clean streets were built upon on a lie, a lie that Jim Gordon helped perpetuate, a lie which saw the Batman cast out -as the Joker predicted -as an outlaw. But when a new evil rises to threaten Gotham there’s only one man who can stand in the way and so Bruce Wayne ‘suits-up’ and once again the Dark Knight (as we know him) returns to protect his city, one last time.
The Dark Knight Rises was always going to have a tough job following The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), let alone tying up all the loose ends of Nolan’s trilogy, which this emphatically is. But with unsurprising confidence, Nolan concludes his trilogy by bringing Bruce Wayne’s saga full circle.
Let’s not forget what made Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005) both critically and commercially successful -a protagonist who was something more than a mere cipher, unlike the majority of the Batman films which preceded it. The all too important origin tale can often burden superhero adventures, but when done correctly they help establish a connection between audience and protagonist, which is unparalleled. Spider-Man 3 (Raimi, 2007) may have sullied Sam Raimi’s trilogy, but Spider-Man (Raimi, 2002) and Spider-Man 2 (Raimi, 2004) undoubtedly set the precedence for what works and what doesn’t.
With masked vigilantes, duality has always been an issue and this is something which both Raimi and Nolan understand all too well. If The Dark Knight Rises has a theme, then it’s concerning a superheroe’s retirement, and what’s left after you take off the tights. So The Dark Knight Rises rightly returns Bruce Wayne to the film’s centre, Wayne being the film’s entire point of emphasis -and yes almost to the point of Batman’s exclusion.
But fortunately, due to Nolan’s narrative craftsmanship (and not forgetting the other screenwriters) the fact that Gotham’s winged avenger, really only makes fleeting appearances, doesn’t detract from the overall experience. It may be Batman’s name above the door, but really, this a heroic tale told through the eyes of a man, not a super man, but Bruce Wayne. It is a film which wears its heart on its sleeve from the outset, one way or another, this isn’t just Nolan’s swansong, it’s also Bruce Wayne’s. However, there’s a small part of me which did, like Homer Simpson when he’s trapped on the speeding monorail, wonder… “Where’s Batman?”
But despite the majestic filmmaking, which Christopher Nolan demonstrates with apparent ease, the film does have some notable flaws. Flaws which prevent it from reaching the same dizzy and definitive heights as The Dark Knight.
Rather predictably, this film like Nolan’s previous two, is as bloated as you’d expect, although this time the set pieces aren’t necessarily the problem. Instead, there are certain plot points such as Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace and the fusion energy device (borrowed from Spider-Man 2) which both feel rather extraneous. This isn’t helped by the introduction of several new characters, including business rival to Wayne, Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), friend to Jim Gordon and police officer, Foley (Matthew Modine), and of course, Miranda Tate played by Marion Cotillard.
The majority of the new characters introduced prove to be little more than mere cannon fodder, come Gotham’s eventual war -a conflict which bares similarity to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. But were these characters really necessary? The story would have been far more succinct in their absence.
Back to Miranda Tate, a character who (unsurprisingly) has a few secrets up her sleeve in a twist which seemed to me to be signposted for all to see, with the exception of the world’s greatest detective. The relationship between Wayne and Tate has purpose, but when its significance is revealed there’s no real heft because unlike a great many things about Wayne’s story, this hasn’t been given the time it needed to be effective, which was just another reason to ditch several of the film’s dead-weight characters. Also, it should be noted, Marion Cotillard clearly does not have a head for action or awkward superhero love scenes.
Then there’s Batman’s newest foe, Tom Hardy’s Bane. The last time we saw Bane hulking about on screen it was in the terrible Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997) and unfortunately, despite huge improvements character-wise, he still proves to be little more than a lunk-head in love. Hardy does an admirable job with what he’s given, but that dodgy accent and that god-awful mask only make matters worse. It also doesn’t help that Bane’s arguably just a hired thug, a villain for hire without any real master-plan of his own (despite his grandstanding). All Batman and Bane ever do is exchange punches and bruises, but these quickly verge upon tedium and the film’s final scrap lacks the climatic finale that the trilogy deserves.
Hans Zimmer is back for composing duties and he’s brought with him that oh-so-familiar chippy-choppy tune, which I guess is this series’ Batman theme, but as I’ve stated before, it’s far from the success that was Danny Elfman’s definitive theme in Batman (Burton, 1989).
But enough of the quibbles. Ultimately, despite its flaws, Nolan’s epic finale is still the comicbook film of the year, it doesn’t quite have the scale -despite its epic-ness â€“of The Dark Knight, but it is still a satisfying conclusion (kind of). For example, both Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred (Michael Caine) are back and the latter continues to be the heart of these film’s -continuing (on his mission) to guide Bruce through the darkness.
Then there’s the ‘Bat’, which despite some initial fears works remarkably well, despite its farfetched grandeur. Batman has always had great gadgets -provided by this series’ Q -and what with Bane’s mercenaries having their own Tumblers, Wayne needed to up the ante, which is what the ‘Bat’ wonderfully achieves.
The new characters in The Dark Knight Rises were something of a mild irritation, all except two, Police Officer Blake *coughs -watch out for that surname* and Selina Kyle aka Catwoman or the ‘Cat’, who is played with real verve by Anne Hathaway. While Catwoman is portrayed as a grifter/criminal (and perhaps vigilante), Blake is an idealistic young cop, who has a great deal in common with Bruce Wayne, something which is quickly drawn to our attention by a surprising reveal. At that moment, Blake’s destiny is all but written in stone, with his character development sitting front and centre *wink-wink*.
Finally, there’s the returning Cillian Murphy as Dr Jonathan Crane, who sits upon a collection of desks, in a kangaroo court, passing judgement on Gothamites -straw protruding from his suit. While Murphy’s villain floundered somewhat in Batman Begins, he flourished in his Dark Knight cameo and does so here too. But as wonderful as it to see the Scarecrow back, it brings to mind a certain other villain whose absence is felt throughout. Heath Ledger’s tragic and untimely death was terrible and unfortunately its his absence from this film (as the Joker) which casts the biggest shadow. We can only imagine what might have been…
The set pieces and action are noticeably grand, and with explosions and various subterranean lairs, it’s almost as if you’re watching a Bond movie. This is Nolan saying goodbye to his Batman and he has given Warner Brothers a fittingly epic conclusion. While Ledger’s presence is sorely missed, the extent of the emphasis placed (back) upon Bruce Wayne’s narrative arc is the work of a very talented and savvy director. But as for the talk of a reboot, I think it’s more likely to be a spin-off, of the world Nolan has created. This is the end of his and Bruce Wayne’s story, but the franchise is still very much alive.
As for the film’s conclusion, I think it has an air of Inception (Nolan, 2012) to it and that’s no bad thing. Nolan set the benchmark exceedingly high with The Dark Knight, so high that not even he could eclipse that film, but regardless, this is still a hugely rewarding conclusion to the definitive comicbook trilogy.