In 2005, the landscape of superhero films changed forever with the arrival of Batman Begins. It showed us a new take on the caped crusader’s role in the world and freed us from the over-the-top, neon-coated and pun-filled shackles that previous Batman movies had forced us into. Then in 2008, things got even better with The Dark Knight. This movie took things to a whole new level; amping up the action, intrigue and general sense of scale as the Joker’s dastardly plans began to envelop the city of Gotham.
How then, you might ask, does Christopher Nolan follow up on these two great films? It was never going to be easy; The Dark Knight Rises arrives under a crushing weight of expectation; anything short of perfection would be a deemed a failure by those chomping at the bit to see the billed “epic conclusion” to Bruce Wayne’s tragedy-filled story about a rich dude.
The Dark Knight Rises does indeed bring Christian Bale’s tale as the hero of Gotham to a satisfying end, which was perhaps the most difficult task given to Christopher Nolan. Fans will leave the cinema with the final piece of the Bruce Wayne puzzle pushed neatly into place, but it is the build-up to this point, across all three films, which should be celebrated, as well as the skill of Nolan and his team of talented writers, if you don’t mind me musing.
Bruce Wayne’s story began being born into a life of privilege, and at the beginning of this film you could say he is still living that life, though not how you’d imagine it. Held up in Wayne Manor like a billionaire hermit crab, he sits, doing nothing. His alter ego, Batman, gone forever.
It has been eight years since the events of The Dark Knight, and no one knows the saints, eight years since Batman took the fall for the crimes of Harvey “Two Face” Dent. He is viewed as a vigilante fugitive by Gotham’s finest, but as a legend by the children of Gotham City. You crave for something to happen so that Wayne can pull on the famous cape once more. You don’t want to see this grumpy, ageing and walking stick-bound man wither away in his mansion; we know he’s better than that.
It doesn’t take too long for your prayers to be answered, as Bruce is forced into action once more due to the mysterious antics of a cunning cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) and the apocalyptic plans of the masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy).
Right from the off, The Dark Knight Rises sucks you in with an unbelievable introduction to Bane and this sets the precedent for the rest of the film. There is spectacle in abundance throughout this two and three quarter hour epic; buildings explode, bridges collapse and cars roll over as Gotham descends into nothing short of a warzone.
Of course, the chief antagonist Bane is behind all of this and his character is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film. Whereas the Joker was a psychotic villain with a contrived agenda, Bane is much more physical. Heath Ledger’s infamous character lacked any real fight which culminated in that lacklustre final conflict with Batman at the end of The Dark Knight. But here, Wayne is matched both mentally and physically and is forced to reach his own limits by the masked brute.
This separates this film from the previous two and provides a nice change of pace. Bane is not quite as complex as the Joker, but his presence is far more intimidating and forces Batman to take a new offensive direction.
It is this villain’s plan that is the backdrop for the intricate storyline; the devastation provides the bricks, but it is the superb characterisation that brings the mortar. After the credits had rolled I felt more of a connection to each character than I had done in the last two films, it was hard to pick a favourite.
Anne Hathaway is stunning as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) and very nearly steals the show. She manages to sound seductive and in control at almost every opportunity and provides the sex appeal that the other two films lacked. It is her that keeps Bruce in check and her mysterious train of thought runs deep throughout the entire plot and has more effects than you might realise.
Christian Bale and Tom Hardy pull off their roles with real enthusiasm, but Alfred (Michael Caine) is by far the strongest character in the film. His resilience to Bruce suiting up once more provides some of the most emotional moments in the trilogy, with some of his conversations with our hero bringing a tear to the eye. He is terrified of losing the one person he cares about and the film almost becomes his story as he tries to shield Bruce from the horrors of the world outside of his mansion.
The film though is littered with many characters, some of them new, some of them old, and the way Christopher Nolan chooses to balance the action with its direct consequences is a masterstroke. He often retreats from the explosions to show us the tale of the people that are suffering at the hands of Bane and his mercenary army. We see how they change, how they cherish one another and how they’ll give anything to keep Gotham alive.
Despite being laced with awe-inspiring set pieces, The Dark Knight Rises is a human story; one of loss, pain and strife. The film is a chance for everyone to be a hero; from the highest ranking cop to the loneliest orphan, everyone gets their shot at being their own Batman.
Bruce Wayne’s role as Batman has been an intriguing story to follow over the last seven years, and the final chapter is nothing short of brilliant. Everything you could want is here; from the action to the richness of the characters and the struggle that we, the audience, share with them.
The Dark Knight Rises is an intelligent and thought-provoking conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies to have graced the big screen. It has leapt over the impossible expectations and has brought a fascinating end to one of the best stories ever told.