Bane and Batman go head to head in The Dark Knight Rises
Whatever you made of all the thoughtful deliberation, tentative second guessing and borderline reluctance that emanated frustratingly from Christopher Nolan’s camp over the supposedly uncertain future of the caped crusader after the unmitigated critical and commercial success of 2008’s The Dark Knight is almost irrelevant. There was simply no way on earth that a sequel wasn’t going to happen. Moreover, there was simply no way it would happen without Chris Nolan. The world’s greatest detective has finally had a world and story crafted around him that are every bit as nuanced and interesting as the big man himself, and the director responsible for this startlingly grounded reinvention of the superhero opus was never going to leave it unfinished. The only real question that matters, of course, is whether The Dark Knight Rises can actually live up to the almost impossibly feverish degree of expectation...
It can be convincingly argued that Nolan lacks a few key sensibilities in a creative sense, but bravery certainly isn’t one of them. Few other directors would strike upon near faultless thematic and aesthetic perfection, only to all but abandon them for a sequel. Let’s get this out of the way: for anyone expecting a glorified re-run of the Joker’s anarchical presence, and now infamous introduction, prepare to be disappointed. Arch-villain Bane (Tom Hardy) has been smartly brought in to provide both a hulking physicality and calculating precision that Gotham’s protector has been mercifully not called to face until now. Through Bane and his murderous designs, the much touted sense of scale and destructive ambition is escalated dramatically. Set-pieces here are monstrous affairs – no longer the products of haphazard chaos or gleeful disorder – powering through the streets of Gotham like Machiavellian juggernauts. Make no mistake, this is some of the very best action Nolan and his IMAX wielding cronies have ever produced.
Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman
As always, however, the film’s beating heart belongs to Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) himself. Eight years on from the last instalment, he’s something of a broken recluse. Having voluntarily exiled himself within his newly rebuilt manor (Nottingham’s own Wollaton Hall, no less), his body battered by the countless sacrifices made on the city’s behalf, the family company left in financial disarray due to selfless neglect, and his masked alter ego’s reputation in the gutter having soaked up responsibility for Harvey Dent’s crimes, the once indomitable crime fighter/billionaire is almost completely spent. The effort made to explore Wayne’s shattered psyche and bring his emotional journey full circle is one to be applauded and serves as a fitting epitaph to a series that at its very best has completely reinvented the notion and creative limits of the superhero movie.
By once again articulating the inherent psychological complexities of the man beneath the cowl, the unpalatable fact that a suit of high-tech armour and a handful of expensive toys simply can’t shield this broken soul from the unbridled horrors of a world gone bad becomes all the more affecting. Newly introduced to this mad, bad world of course is Anne Hathaway’s super-thief Selina Kyle. Oddly enough one of the most grumbled about prospects of TDKR swiftly and confidently becomes one of its hottest assets. Hathaway is simply superb as the slinky antihero – all pithy remarks and barbed antagonism – and provides a brilliantly executed foil to Batman’s more impassioned outlook on his fair city. Also arriving fresh faced into the Nolan-verse are Joseph Gordon Levitt and Marion Cotillard as copper Edward Blake and Wayne Enterprise’s Miranda Tate respectively. Both are undeniably effective in their respective roles, even if they do exist predominantly to service the plot and all its twisty twists rather too efficiently.
For every genuine triumph though, the final chapter also suffers from a lot of genuine problems. The plot, for all its rampant ambition and irrefutable scope, is a muddy and convoluted affair, riddled with holes large enough for even Bane to squeeze his formidable frame through. And whilst Nolan can aggressively refute any intentional commentary on the Occupy movements and the 99%, the evident inspiration for this very, very serious take on the reduction of Gotham into an isolated and mob-ruled city state does render proceedings somewhat humourless. Even Alfred (Michael Caine) is far more grim-faced these days, still responsible for wilfully dishing out moral counsel of course, but just lacking the slyly comic footnotes that previously made the character such a joy. At least comedy, although unintentional, can be garnered from trying to work out what on earth Tom Hardy is babbling about. Although yes you do quickly tune in to Bane’s somewhat bizarre vocal frequency, it doesn’t do much to alter the fact that most of the time he sounds like an asthmatic Scooby Doo mumbling into a wheelie bin.
So is TDKR ultimately a sensational victim of its predecessor’s phenomenal success? Absolutely. But does it manage to deliver on its unprecedented promises of spectacle and a satisfying conclusion to a truly great series of films? Yes, but only just. Nolan so nearly falls foul of his own legend here, there’s more plot than common sense, it’s roughly thirty minutes too long and the multitude of new characters don’t add anything to what should have been a coherent and convictive tale of redemption. Where it scores well though is with sheer balls out spectacle and deep seated emotional punch. Never before has source material this absurd been treated with this much overwhelming creative reverence. Whilst Michael Mann’s Heat was said to be the inspiration for TDK, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis echoes throughout Chris Nolan’s third tangle with the Batman. And whilst no one would go as far to say that TDKR gets close to the achievements of that film, you certainly can’t say it’s lacking in ambition.
The Dark Knight Rises is showing at Broadway until Thursday 9 August
The Dark Knight Rises official website