“No one cared who I was, until I put on the mask.”
It’s dark days indeed forThe Batman. Having taking the fall for the crimes committed by Gotham’s would be saviour Harvey Dent (Two Face) and gone into hiding, The Batman has sank into the life of a rich recluse, more than reminiscent of Howard Hughes, complete with unwashed dressing gown and unkempt personal hygiene. The Batman is a washed up bum; a miserable stubble chinned husk, reduced to skulking around the cavernous halls of Wayne Manor not knowing quite what to do with himself. With only his doggedly faithful steward and official emotion botherer Alfred as company, the empty hours are spent stewing in a sweaty mire of self pity, playing one man games of table tennis, and sneaking in some lonely despair wanks where possible. What this morose teen-like sulk bag needs is a right kick up the arse. Something to make the Batman mean something again. Something to help make him ‘rise’ as it were. And if one ‘rise’ isn’t enough, then maybe a couple more ‘rises’ after that. Well, this just may be the Batman’s lucky year.
While the Batman sulks, Gotham/New York has been over run by an unstoppable revolutionary with a penchant for psychotic and theatrical acts of organised violence. This new scourge of Gotham – the ever subtly named Bane – is a bulky, brainy and oddly accented international terrorist who seems to have a very elaborate plan with which he can overthrow the authorities of the city and force the Batman to come out from his hiding.
This is not an original set up exactly. The idea of a runaway anarchist/terrorist forcing the Batman to rise to new heights having already been done to perfection in The Dark Knight. But this time the terrorism is taken up several notches and by the end of the first act the Batman, despite making a heroic effort, seems to be heavily outclassed in every department.
Following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger’s already legendary turn as the Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane is going to have to do something special to match up to fans and critics expectations. Despite attacking Gotham in a very Joker-esque way, Bane actually achieves some jaw dropping levels of anarchic destruction . Bane favours a direct and hands on approach, preferring to steam in with brute force, but with very defined political objectives driving his work. Where the Joker tried to pose the Batman with complex dilemmas containing hidden lesson in philosophy, Bane prefers to brutally snap somebodies neck. Where the Joker would spend ten minutes dramatically delivering a darkly twisted monologue, Bane mumbles something unintelligible and brutally blows up half the city. Considering that he is required to do most of his acting with his eyes, the ever impressive Tom Hardy manages to bring real depth to what could have been a one dimensional throw away character, creating a charismatic and intellectual foe backed up by physical dominance. Audiences have complained that Hardy’s bastardised ‘King of the Gypsies’ drawl is often difficult to understand, especially when muffled by his mouth piece, but the voice works well in a strange way, veering effortlessly between comical commentary to outright rage. Up until the final act Bane is the catalyst for most of the thrilling action sequences and, after one too many dry boardroom scenes or teary Alfred monologues, he leaves you pining for his return. Sadly the final act needlessly undermines his intersting motives, diminishing the role and everything that has transpired, all in favour of a character of far less interest or impact. Disappointingly Bane is not given the fitting finale he deserved.
The incredible cast brings the usual wide ranging contributions far too numerous to fully cover. Catwoman appears with a surprisingly interesting performance from Anne Hathaway deserving of a more significance role in the story, but comes across as irrelevant other than for a far too predictable moment of reluctant heroism that Han Solo would roll his eyes at. On the other hand, Joseph Gordon Levitt delivers an understated and seemingly irrelevant performance which unexpectedly (if you have avoided the spoilers) evolves into something quite important.
At its best – which is 95% of the time – TDKR continues the solid path laid out for it by the two previous films, exploring multiple complex and intricate plot threads, fleshing out the ensemble cast of characters, while serving up constant and exhilarating action sequences in a gritty and semi-realistic way. Nolan’s ever expert Direction doesn’t even need to be analysed, flawlessy combining artistic camera work with large scale epic action, while never patronising what we must assume is a wide ranging audience including children. But in the very few moments when it is at its worst, it lowers the series into infuriating comic book tropes which the intelligent but accessible writing of the Nolan brothers has up until now risen above, most notably during a bizarre scene which involves a highly dubious medical procedure carried out on Bruce, and that ridiculous Football stadium shot with its ugly CGI. Throughout the villains are handed opportunities to put the Batman into his grave but feel they must prove a point to him first, conveniently giving him the time and inspiration to resolve his own self doubt. The Batman’s gadgets have even been ramped up to James Bond levels, culminating in a Hot Shots stile missile chase sequence involving an unwelcome return of the unnecessary and fan indulging Batwing. The final act edges ever closer to eye rolling ridiculousness but manages, just about, to avoid a complete collapse. Of course, the other films in the series have indulged in similar moments; they are after all needed to break up all of that gloomy introspection and heavy dialogue, but TDKR does occasionally veer too close towards the wacky antics of the old Batman.
As the final part in Nolan’s masterful trilogy TDKR has the unenviable task of providing a satisfying and tidy conclusion to an ambitiously epic trilogy, which it mostly does in a slightly silly kind of way, whilst also being able stand up as a film in its own right – and if that weren’t enough it has to follow in the wake of one of the greatest blockbusters ever created. While not quite able to match the masterpiece of the series which was the Dark Knight, it does significantly outdo Batman Begins, if nothing else than for the sheer enjoyment factor and a highly entertaining villain.
Though each film in the series has its strengths and weaknesses, looking at the trilogy as a whole is an absolute necessity. The incredible feat of Nolan’s trilogy is that we now have three individual films, each of the highest quality, but with highly distinct flavours and styles. The debate over which is the best/worst will go on for a long time but viewed as a whole it is a masterful piece of work which even the non-Batman fans can buy into.