WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
One of the best things to come out of the so-called ‘Noughties’ was the emergence of a new generation of film directors who, as fans of the medium, have taken on epic projects with fanboyish enthusiasm.
The trend arguably began with Peter Jackson, that cult splatter movie helmer, when he was given the green light to turn one of the world’s greatest texts into a multi-million dollar, three film, 10 hour masterpiece. But the impact of another auteur, Christopher Nolan, on today’s movie industry simply can’t be ignored.
A hot property in Hollywood despite having only directed 10 films and still only being 42 years old, Nolan instantly showed a gift for celluloid storytelling with his breakout film, Memento, and it wasn’t long before he was tapped up to relaunch one of the greatest superhero sagas of all time; that of the Dark Knight.
Batman Begins was a stunning introduction to a new, grittier, blacker than tar hero, set in a very real world, albeit populated by lunatics, thus staying faithful to the source material. Casting was nigh on perfect, with Christian Bale’s ‘proper actor’ chops gelling well with his ability to beef himself up and be believable in the more physical aspects of the role.
Although a very good film, the sequel, The Dark Knight was overshadowed, just as The Crow had been, by the death of one of its leads and so after a four-year break, everyone was desperate to see how Nolan would wrap up his trilogy of Gotham City tales.
The Dark Knight Rises is epic. Epic in scale. In ambition. In drawing together everything that had been laid out in the previous two films. It’s equally impressive in featuring over 70 mins of footage in IMAX; the most ever recorded in the format for a single movie. Yet this film isn’t a three-hour balls-out action blast; it’s a thoughtful, morally complicated tale and one which raises as many questions as it answers.
Picking up eight years after The Dark Knight, Batman has been absent from Gotham since taking the rap for the murder of Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent. Bruce Wayne is similarly retired, hobbling around Wayne Manor with a walking stick, a recluse with his back turned on his former billionaire playboy ways.
When a body is washed out of Gotham’s sewers, Commissioner Gordon (a typically brilliant Gary Oldman) and the city’s police raid the underground maze, only to be attacked by a sinister masked villain who is planning something pretty serious for the residents of Batman’s hometown.
The villain in question, Bane, is a terrifyingly real one in many ways. As a modern-day terrorist, gone is the comically weak Bane of (whisper it) Batman & Robin, replaced instead by Tom Hardy’s realistically muscled-up lunatic. His plan to destroy Gotham City via an atomic bomb fashioned from a Wayne Enterprises clean energy reactor is pretty standard of a big movie villain, but the way he cares little about his employees and his employers gives him a terrifying, maniacal edge. There were early questions about the clarity of Hardy’s dialogue whilst wearing the mask and on occasion you do have to work a little bit to pick out every last word, especially with the sometimes over-bearing musical score blasting at you. But largely the beast’s intentions are more than clear and his almost Vader-like utterances come across as brilliantly warped and dictatorial.
One thing this film simply doesn’t focus on is Batman’s detective work, instead leaving Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, to lead much of the investigation. So when Bane has his first encounter with the Dark Knight pretty early on, the result is exceptionally brutal and punishing. Excellent fight choreography proves quickly just what Batman is up against but even so he doesn’t bother with gadgets and toys, feeling instead that matching strength with strength is the only way to go. And when the comic-book fan pleasing “breaking” occurs, it sends more than just a shiver down the audience’s spine too.
Nolan makes one key decision throughout this movie; despite the title, the film is not there to build towards a Hollywood-style resurrection crescendo. In fact on the two occasions when Batman does return from the brink, it is handled so simply and subtly you could blink and miss it. Wayne simply goes back to what he knows, his faith restored, slotting back into the piece effortlessly.
And then of course there’s Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Selina Kyle. Eyebrows were initially raised at that particular piece of casting, but Hathaway pulls off the morally ambiguous role brilliantly, showing just the right balance of sexuality and brutality, without being a ridiculously vamped-up nymph. Her goals are very clear even if her alliances are not, and not only does this work alongside the original comic book character, it also ties in nicely with the parade of shady types populating the film.
The dialogue between the lead characters is sparky and fresh, avoiding too much comic japery or ridiculous shoulder-crying. When Michael Caine’s Alfred talks to Bruce, you can see the passion in his eyes and when Wayne and Kyle meet you don’t instantly presume they’re going to get it on there and then but this doesn’t reduce the impact of their dynamic one iota.
Throwing in cameos from Cillian ‘Scarecrow’ Murphy and Liam ‘Ra’s Al Ghul’ Neeson also don’t distract from the main thrust of the film, they simply tie things up nicely as the plot thunders along. Even during the foreign prison-based exposition halfway through, the flow feels natural and the countdown to destruction more than real.
If there is going to be a criticism of this film it is that the ending could be seen as a little twee. It’s left relatively open to interpretation and the Internet is already a-buzz with opposing theories as to whether it is gloomy or euphoric, but that is the beauty of Nolan’s storytelling – it is up to the viewer to decide.
You could probably also get picky over why Wayne Enterprises crumbles, when it has been pretty obvious to the world that a giant masked terrorist happened to be in the Stock Exchange when it all went down. You might also wonder why Bats keeps up the husky voice even when Kyle knows his true identity, but these are minor and petty issues in a hugely enjoyable climatic spectacle.
The Dark Knight Rises is certainly more than a fitting way to conclude the Nolan/Bale era, and whoever throws on the cowl next certainly has their work cut out.