Batman could be anybody.
This simple premise is what lies at the heart of The Dark Knight Rises, and mirrors one of the main reasons for my own love of the character.
Whilst my high level of investment no doubt skews my view to a degree, I still feel confident in stating that this film can stand proudly alongside its predecessors, both as an entertaining movie, and a technically brilliant film.
There are of course no spoilers to be found here, so please read on!
The cast, including several Academy Award winners and nominees, has to be one of the best assembled for any film, and new members Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt more than hold their own.
Christian Bale gives his best performance yet as Batman/Bruce Wayne. From eccentric billionaire and tortured soul through to enraged Batman, he captures each face of the character perfectly. What is most impressive is his ability to convey emotion through just his voice and eyes. Depending on who he is talking to his voice changes from the deep growl through to a much softer almost Bruce Wayne voice. This is my Bruce Wayne and Batman brought to life, and I don’t envy whoever takes over the cape and cowl next.
From his first scene to his last, Bane is a beast of a man and Tom Hardy provides us with an extremely interesting version of a character that most will only have the misfortune of knowing through 1997’s Batman & Robin. This version couldn’t be further from that. He is clever, calculating and truly menacing. His mouth may be covered but Hardy uses a voice that is surprisingly effective and chilling. This is the most convincing portrayal of Bane I’ve seen in any medium since his first appearance in 1993 and hopefully a watershed moment for the character.
Many people argued before the release of the film that Anne Hathaway would be a terrible Catwoman. But this isn’t the same actress seen in The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, with Hathaway’s Selina Kyle seamlessly shifting into whatever persona will help her in a given situation. She is the biggest surprise of this film, and I found myself wanting to see more. Her chemistry with Bale is striking, far better than with either Katie Holmes or Maggie Gyllenhaal and the scenes including both are high points (both in and out of costume).
Returning characters Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox are still represented by Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, and continue to bring real quality to their roles. Gordon is heavily weighed down by the lies he concocted alongside Batman, and though they have brought great prosperity to a once decaying city, the personal cost has been high. Fox again acts as this franchise’s ‘Q’, and still manages to raise a few smiles in his exchanges with Bruce.
Special mention must be made of Michael Caine as Alfred, still present as Bruce’s butler, surrogate Father and partner. He shines, and his scenes are overall the most emotionally charged of the whole trilogy.
After the quick cuts of the fight scenes in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Nolan opts to pull back the camera this time, giving us a great view of both Batman and Bane as they duke it out (their fights being the most brutal and visceral of any Batman film), as well the climactic battle. Cinematographer Wally Pfister works wonders with every scene, from the white mausoleum like feeling of the rebuilt Wayne Manor, to breath-taking views of Gotham as we see the results of Bane’s machinations.
Gripes are minor, and really come down to personal opinion. If you haven’t bought into Bale’s gruff Batman voice by now, nothing here will sway you. At times it is at its most severe, and in one scene verges on becoming a parody of itself. However, this is the final film in a trilogy, and really by this point you should know if you’re going to be on board. Bane can also be hard to understand at times, though I found that you tune into this voice as the film progresses.
There are points where you may need to ‘go with the flow’ and just accept that these characters are capable of things we can’t imagine being possible. It’s a Batman film, and to quibble over such things is to miss the point somewhat. Nolan may have crafted a grounded world for these characters to inhabit, but it’s still ultimately based on a superhero story, and he doesn’t miss that fact.
I do feel that this film is so rich in content that it needs at least two viewings to fully appreciate what is going on. All the information is there, you just sometimes have to listen/look for it which can be a bit much the first time. Also, please try to watch this film in its intended IMAX format if you can. It was the first time I’d visited such a screen and it was extremely impressive.
Perhaps the biggest strengths of this film (and the trilogy) are that it respects the source material whilst also forging its own path, plus it knows who this story is really about. Previous films concentrated on the villains to the detriment of Batman, but here they are engaging characters, and the challenges they present to Bruce and Gotham are used to show us how far he is prepared to go and what he will go through to save his city.
Though it has its faults, this film is fantastic and a fitting end to what is now my favourite film trilogy. Christopher Nolan and his team have taken my favourite character, whom I have followed since before I can remember, and treated it with intelligence and respect. The Dark Knight Rises avoids the ‘third movie curse’ with style and emotion. Bittersweet is the fact that whilst we have another brilliant entry in the series and a great conclusion, we will never again visit Nolan’s Gotham and the wonderful characters it has been populated with.
The fire rises? It has risen far higher than I ever dared imagine.