The Dark Knight Rises is a fitting end to a superb trilogy. With his three films, Christopher Nolan has succeeded where Tim Burton fudged it in the late ’80s and early ’90s with his pair of Michael Keaton features (both now seem more camp even than the TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward). The less said about what followed on the heels of those, the better. Nolan’s Batman is the definitive Batman, the dark half of tortured, lost soul Bruce Wayne. Wayne’s inability to gain control of his own life – shattered following the murder of his parents and again after the violent death of his childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes – despite the mansion, the millions, the fast cars and the beautiful women, is rendered even more sharply when placed against the unswerving drive of his alter-ego. This is a man who has travelled many miles to find a purpose, who has spent years studying other cultures and religions in a bid to unravel the mess of his own heart and start afresh. In The Dark Knight Rises, joints creaking, a smattering of grey in his hair, he finally finds a way to put the mask aside and move forward.
The film is shot through with excellent performances from a number of actors who appeared in Nolan’s previous movie, Inception. Michael Caine, reprising his role as Alfred, has a much meatier role here and shows us that he has lost none of his sparkle (I could forgive him and his writers the early monologue about his trips to Florence, which heavily telegraphs how the film will end). The ever-dependable Gary Oldman plays Commissioner Gordon once more, committed more than ever – since his family left him – to eradicating crime from Gotham’s streets, identifying talent in a Batman-in-waiting Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the whiter-than-white police officer with a past echoing that of the Dark Crusader.
Tom Hardy turns in an extraordinary performance as the fearsome Bane, a hulking, perma-masked intellectual with a penchant for sheepskin jackets, who has spent his entire life until now in prison. Though he is no Heath Ledger, I didn’t feel the film suffered in comparison with its predecessor. Bane is an interesting, compelling, tragic villain. Horrifying to look at, brutally violent, yet leavened by a voice that – although muffled somewhat – contains notes of wonder, humour and an almost childlike curiosity. The story of how he came to be masked leads to one of the genuinely surprising twists in the film, which also involves Marion Cotillard, who puts in a convincing performance as Miranda Tate, a philanthropic and monied member of the Wayne Enterprises board, although the awkward way she enters a moving vehicle in the final third of the film suggests she has lost a little of the athletic prowess she seemed to have possessed as a child…
Anne Hathaway has the ability to switch from ingénue to sophisticate in a moment and is a great fit as the selfish cat-burglar who ultimately does the right thing. She displays a nice line in understated humour and can handle herself with aplomb on Batman’s motorbike.
I have no qualms with Christian Bale, a dedicated and talented actor, who possesses that necessary quality – a fragility, an uncertainty – discernible amid all the muscle mass. That said, I always felt that Batman, this modern, darker, Frank Miller-inspired Batman, ought to have been older and more grizzled (Ed Harris, anyone?). Bale, though, does at least know how to do a mean press-up…
Hans Zimmer’s scores for these films are beautiful, elegiac soundscapes (I use them pretty much all the time while writing), inseparable from the character they herald, a world away from Danny Elfman’s Batman compositions, which reached for the same kind of stature but were always going to be undermined by his natural light touch.
It’s a long film, but it’s pretty well paced, with all the loose ends tied up swiftly and cleanly (no The Lord of the Rings-style multiple endings here). There are some genuinely moving and genuinely thrilling moments throughout, and I came away feeling fulfilled and keen to watch the film again, this time away from the IMAX razzmatazz (the sweet wrappers and the late arrivals) and in more intimate surroundings.
DC seems to be the grit to Marvel’s glitter; I liked Avengers Assemble greatly, but that was pure froth, a Chinese meal: enjoyable, but quickly forgotten. The Dark Knight trilogy is one of those special, sumptuous banquets that occur in your life so very infrequently. Savour it.