In 1997 Batman was dead. With Joel Schumacher at the helm, George Clooney under the cowl and Arnie as the villain the franchise was brought to a premature end with Batman and Robin. Such was the silliness and childishness in the way that the series was handled, it was seen as a franchise killer, and talk of another Batman movie was considered outlandish. Enter Christopher Nolan.
His take on Batman in Batman Begins was the complete opposite of Batman and Robin. Grounded, serious and well……..good. Better than good, great. He successfully rebooted the franchise and the word reboot become the common buzzword of Hollywood studios. So good was Batman Begins it was thought impossible that it could be topped. But Warner Brothers insisted and Nolan tried. And succeeded. Such was the brilliance of The Dark Knight, a dark, brooding, crime thriller at its core that showed Hollywood and the film world in general that a “comic book” movie could achieve widespread acclaim both critically and commercially. The only question that remains is could Christopher Nolan be able to achieve a trifecta, three films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, each one better than the last. The answer is almost.
That is not too say that The Dark Knight Rises is not a brilliant film in its own right, it is. Its epic in scale and length contains excellent performances and has an emotional complexity rarely seen in a “blockbuster”. It is however, not as good as The Dark Knight, but the difference is minimal, inches. Where the Dark Knight Rises succeeds is in its ability to finish off a three part story and that is why the trifecta has been completed.
Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Gotham City has been cleaned up, and crime has become a non-issue. Enter the masked vigilante Bane, who unleashes is plan on Gotham’s citizens and forces Batman to come out of retirement. That is the basis of the plot, as much as should be revealed beforehand. Unsurprisingly it is much more complex once character motivations enter into it. But to avoid spoilers that’s all that will be revealed.
What can be discussed is the performances, which are excellent across the board. Christian Bale gives his best performance of the trilogy in this edition as Bruce Wayne/Batman. His Bruce is a broken man, a recluse who wants nothing to do with the world that surrounds, so caught up in his misery that his return in the cape and cowl is a thrilling moment. He is the emotional core of the film that would not work without his presence.
In support of Bale are the regular trio Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman, all excellent, all relevant. Caine in particular, who gets some of the most emotional scenes in the film and nails them perfectly. The newcomers also do well. Anne Hathaway was an unconventional choice for Catwoman (never called that in the film), but upon seeing the film was an excellent choice. She nails the toughness and sexiness in a complex role that could look silly in another actress’ hands. Tom Hardy, meanwhile is unrecognisable as Bane, but is a hugely physical presence and more than a match for Batman. His voice, while unorthodox and at times hard to hear (but not as often as you would think’s) is just the right side of menacing. Joseph Gordon Levitt is a fine addition to the cast as optimistic beat cop John Blake and Marion Cotillard does well with her scenes as Miranda Tate.
The action is also excellent. Nolan’s too good and to clever to let it overshadow the plot but rather to aid it. The set pieces pack a punch and work well because they tie into the story. Despite its excellent qualities, there are a few miss-steps, the score being the main flaw. While Hans Zimmer is an excellent and Oscar winning composer, there are times when the music gets so loud that it becomes a struggle to understand dialogue. The second act drags a little but not long enough for it do any real damage.
These small problems aside, Christopher Nolan and his team have created a fantastic, epic, action film that will require numerous viewings to take it all in. The Dark Knight trilogy taken together both individually and as a whole is the pinnacle of what comic book movies can do. The only problem now, is how the hell can they top it when they decide to do the inevitable reboot?