Back in 2008, Batman (with a healthy assist by Heath Ledger’s definitive, punk, anarchist Joker) swung in and changed the face of an entire genre. Intelligent, exciting and wildly unpredictable, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was an irresistible bat-movie for the ages, coming off as not only one of the best Batman movies ever made but certainly the most profitable by a country mile. A trilogy capper was surely only a matter of time and Nolan – super-hot after coming from the incredible Inception – looked like he was going to effortlessly nail the three movie hat-trick (bat-trick?) by adding to his already impressive cast Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway.
So he obviously succeeded, right? Well… that depends on who you talk to, as The Dark Knight Rises ultimately turned out to be quite divisive, with differing opinions raging about almost every aspect of the movie even to this day.
It’s been eight (EIGHT!) years since Batman took the rap for Harvey Dent’s, Joker assisted, Two-Face rampage and thanks to this sacrifice, all of Dent’s convictions have held, all the crooks stayed in jail and the streets of Gotham have been safer than they’ve ever been. During this time, Bruce Wayne has become a virtual recluse, cultivating both a stiff limp and cinema’s most upsetting goatee while Comissioner Gordon (also complicit in the Dent cover up) struggles with his conscience as higher ups get ready to move him out of office. Bruce gets a diverting wake up call by mischievously duplicitous jewelry thief Selina Kyle who is planning to steal a special component in order to get her crimminal record expunged. It’s a good thing Wayne is getting those detective muscles working again too, as the hulking, masked terrorist known only as Bane has staked a claim to “liberate” Gotham by detonating every bridge and tunner in or out of the city and declaring it a nation of the people. With Batman’s comeback cut cruelly short thanks to his spine having an impromptu pow-wow with Bane’s knee and then thrown into a remote prison in another country to watch Gotham tear itself to pieces before getting obliterated by a neutron bomb stored in a secret location. Can Bruce make the comeback of all comebacks to thwart this self-styled liberator or is there a deep plan at work here, one that dates back to Batman’s very origin?
If The Dark Knight Rises has a major problem, it seems to be a slight lack of focus. Batman Begins was a rollicking good comic book movie which played up the comic part to a nice degree, while The Dark Knight portrayed things in a more, hyper-real way with all the bat-gadgets and what-not portrayed in a very feasible sort of way. The threequel, however, seems to want to have it’s cake and eat it and tries to combine a world where the outlandish plot devices of the original – a massive destructive device has a month long fuse and massive spinal injuries can cured in days after a left jab to the vertebrae by Tom Conti’s crusty prison doctor – sit awkwardly with the harsh, cool realism of the sequel. The balance just doesn’t feel right and leaves the tone of the film somewhat lopsided where scenes that evoke the Occupy Wall Street movement at dulled because you’re too busy wondering where Bane found a crash helmet big enough to cover his breathing mask.
Ah, yes… Bane. Tom Hardy’s latest foray into cramming a silly voice into whatever performance he’s currently in is an entertainingly mixed bag and while following up The Joker was always going to be a hard sell, he creates a decidedly memorable Nolan-ized version of a classic Batman character. Whether or not he’s memorable for the right reasons is entirely up to you but you can’t deny he makes a highly quotable impact (YouTube was rotten in 2012 with Bane impersonations), but it’s Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman who is the real gem here. Slinky, fiercely intelligent and utterly unimpressed with Batman’s strict moral compass she lights up the screen whenever she gets the chance to shine.
The real issue (for me at least) that stops me from embracing this bat-finale as much as the first two is that for a director as innovative as Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises is horribly similar to other movies – James Bond movies in particular. A vocal fan of the franchise you could excuse the legitimately impressive opening which involves a mid-air hijacking of a plane as a ramped up homage to the beginning of Licence To Kill where Bond tows a plane behind a helicopter but later on something much more peculiar happens. Without giving too much away, The Dark Knight Rises’ chief twist felt oddly familiar to me at the time and that’s because I had seen it nearly thirteen years earlier in The World Is Not Enough which is virtually identical right down to a bald villain with a injury that makes him stronger being revealed as not the true threat, but is in fact a loved up henchman working for a mastermind who is a French woman who has slept with the hero. That can’t just be a coincidence, can it?
However, in the plus column the film has the balls to riff heavily on concepts you don’t normally see in comic book movies, such as a “foreign power” successfully conquering a city on American soil using the rich/poor divide, or – most gutsy of all – giving The Batman a definitive and conclusive ending.
If you’re the kind of person who calls bullshit on a super-knee brace which allows the hero to kick a hole through concrete with his lame leg then The Dark Knight Rises will likely wind you right up.
But despite some uncharacteristic wobbles of tone from it’s director, the movie still closes out the series with some style and can still legitimately lay claim to being one of the greatest trilogies of all time even if this particular winged mammal doesn’t quite stick the landing.