Returning to the Batman franchise for the final time Christopher Nolan offers up The Dark Knight Rises. Dredging the emotional depths of Batman Begins and blending in the thrills of The Dark Knight, Batman’s final stand is a muscular epic, which successfully pulls its own monumental weight.
Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Christian Bale) story picks up eight years after his battle with The Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight. Grief stricken at the loss of his sweetheart Rachel Dawes, Wayne has abandoned his playboy reputation and become a mythic recluse to the people of Gotham. When terror attacks rock Gotham Wayne considers revisiting the Bat suit, but his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) fears Wayne’s own self-destructive tendencies may lead him to defeat.
Alfred Hitchcock once said “the better the villain, the better the film”. Christopher Nolan’s challenge for The Dark Knight Rises was to apply Hitchcock’s theory, in the shadow of Ledger’s show stealing Joker. This time Nolan opts for muscular terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), a criminal mastermind constantly pumped with a strength serum via an intimidating facemask. He is a considerable threat to the fragile Wayne, with a deep-seated conviction against Gotham’s culture of corruption. He plans to nuke Gotham city and wipe the slate clean.
While lacking some of the infectious charisma of Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane is wholly compelling. Hardy personifies the character with bulging muscles and an air of worldly wisdom: he is well spoken, yet he phrases with an accent inspired by Traveller and bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman. Hardy’s Bane is an odd proposition, but he is a convincingly vengeful outsider; this makes him all the more dangerous to tattered billionaire Bruce Wayne.
As well as staple characters like Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred, Nolan introduces other characters to ultimately explore Batman’s scarred psyche. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) challenges Batman to delve deeper inside himself to fight Bane. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stands out as a young cop who revitalises Batman’s responsibilities. Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) exploits the corporate weakness of Wayne Enterprises’, while Wayne entrusts the seductive Miranda (Marion Cotillard) to look after his interests.
But all is not perfect upon Nolan’s return to Gotham. In spite of the film’s apocalyptic intentions, there is a sense that it has been heavily toned done to achieve the 12A rating. When Bane and Batman brawl we expect serious bloodshed, but the fight scenes feel unmistakably muted making Batman’s peril less immediate. The script also sidesteps some serious logical concerns, in favour of narrative pace, and key characters are given fatally insufficient screen time for the same reason.
Another aspect that leaves an empty feeling is the complete lack of The Joker. While the character need not have appeared portrayed by another actor, many references to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight occur in flashback; Heath Ledger’s Joker should have too. The character made a sincere impression on Batman and we feel his presence, but cannot acknowledge it.
In spite of its flaws however, The Dark Knight Rises is a true cinematic accomplishment. Christopher Nolan has graced us with a mature blockbuster with a majestic scale reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Nolan has also achieved the essential with this film: he has returned the resonance to Bruce Wayne and to Batman. The Dark Knight’s ironic flaw was that the villain ultimately undermined the hero. With The Dark Knight Rises Batman sincerely captures our hearts and minds like he never has before.