Jacob Tilley once again delves into the murky world of Batman in his review of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Rarely in your life does a film come along that seems to have been made just for you. And even more rarely does a film that you have such high expectations for rise to those expectations, let alone surpass them.
Well, The Dark Knight Rises… rises. And surpasses. Surpasses and smashes. Smashes and annihilates.
We join our (anti)hero eight years hence from the events that took place in The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne is a shadow of the man that he once was, both mentally and physically. The cartilage in his knees has worn away to nothing, leaving him limping around on a cane and the mental scars from the death of his onetime love Rachel Dawes cripple him even more than his knees. He’s been cooped up in the east wing of Wayne Manor after taking the blame for the death of Harvey Dent. He is a man who sees very little to live for.
Then, two things simultaneously persuade Bruce to once again don his cape and pointy-eared helmet. Firstly, the appearance of Selina Kyle, Catwoman in all but name, at a charity event at Wayne Manor where she steals a pearl necklace as well as Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints. Secondly, the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist intent on wreaking havoc and destruction.
Christian Bale gives his best performance of the series as the brooding, broken Bruce Wayne, at the peak of his depression, and Anne Hathaway sizzles seductively as Selina Kyle. Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Michael Caine as trusty butler Alfred reprise their recurring roles with aplomb, with Caine on particularly sparkling form, delivering some of the most emotionally charged moments of the trilogy.
Inception tag-alongs Marian Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt both give accomplished performances as a Wayne Enterprises board member and rookie cop respectively. And then there’s Hardy.
After Heath Ledger’s success as The Joker in The Dark Knight, it was always going to be difficult for whoever stepped into the shoes of Batman’s main adversary and when it was announced that it was going to be Bane and not a more well-known character such as The Riddler or The Penguin that the caped crusader squared off against in the series finale there was some disappointment from a number of fans. How little they needed to worry.
Tom Hardy is fantastic as the brutal man-mountain Bane. Part Hannibal Lecter, part Darth Vader, part WWE wrestler. His sheer physicality coupled with his unrelenting desire to fulfil his objectives make him just as terrifying an enemy as The Joker, if not quite as iconic.
It’s testament to Nolan’s foresight and talent that he’s managed to create two villains of such contrasting characteristics but at the same time emerge with such stunningly brilliant characters. The power, drive and focus of Bane is a direct juxtaposition against the chaos-for-chaos’-sake of The Joker, and for Nolan to have recognised the potential this character had when fanboys everywhere were clamouring for The Riddler shows what a truly special film-maker he is.
Bane’s physicality and power also brings a new dimension to the series that we haven’t seen before. Batman as the underdog in a physical confrontation. The Batman of The Dark Knight would have struggled against Bane’s sheer ferocity. This Batman; with no cartilage in his knees, eight years older, has to cope with a challenge like no other he has experienced and the fight sequences involving Batman and Bane are as brutal and brilliant as you would expect.
But it isn’t only Bane’s physical prowess that makes him such a chillingly wonderful villain. He has some lines to make the hairs on your neck stand up. The moment he places his hand on the shoulder of a treacherous Wayne Enterprises board member and asks ‘Do you feel in control?’ it felt as though Mr Freeze (dear lord, remember him?) was running his icy hand down my spine.
But as fantastic as the cast are, and they are, the biggest kudos from this film can go to one man and one man alone.
When back in 2005 Christopher Nolan decided to rework one of DC Comic’ most prized creations, Batman was in a bit of a slump. And bit of a slump is putting it politely. Monumental Marlon Brando ‘the late years’ style cardiac arrest would probably be more accurate. Batman was on his last legs, and no one seemed to be able to save him.
Following on from the very watchable Tim Burton 1989 effort, each film got progressively worse, until we came to Batman Forever. The moment it all becomes too much and you let out a blood-curdling howl of despair. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a big, blue, shaven-headed ice man. Distinctly homoerotic undertones between Batman and Robin. Nipples on the Bat suit. Bruce Wayne was as good as buried.
Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises have all been critical and box office smashes, and this in no small part is down to Nolan making these films at the heart where Batman was always supposed to live: a world of grit and grime, of monsters and maniacs, of darkness and despair. A world where it is always 3am. A world encompassed by shadows, but laced with the faintest lining of hope.
Thankfully the fans don’t have to hope for a film that finally does justice to the comics anymore, because, as with his previous outings, Nolan has delivered something special once again. For the franchise, the dark night of the 90s is over. Once again, the Dark Knight has risen.
All images used © Warner Brothers