The first film that fully captured the life, times, enemies, associates, settings, style and feel of the Batman’s comicbook world, Batman Begins brought joy to the heart of the nerd who writes these words. The follow-up I wasn’t so crazy about because The Dark Knight focused more closely on its villains that it did the hero of the piece, a cardinal sin of most previous live action Batflicks. Also, it rather dragged in places.
Mostly though, it troubled me because I got a sense from it that co-writer and director Christopher Nolan wanted to distance his film as far as possible from its comicbook origins, almost as if he was ashamed of them, grounding the movie as deeply in reality as the concept would allow. This was not a view shared by the non-geeks in my life, who couldn’t care less about comics and simply loved the movie for the classic that most other people say it is.
The thing I love the most about the current cycle of Marvel superhero movies is how proud they are of where they came from. Of their unbound enthusiasm for the writers, artists, stories and characters that inspired them. Simply put, they’re comicbooks come to life. Vibrantly colourful, epic and exhilarating, joyful, triumphant and fun.
It was with mixed feelings, then, that I wandered into the press screening for the concluding instalment of Nolan’s ambitious trilogy. Convinced that Avengers Assemble had set the standard for superheroic cinema so unfeasibly high that no film would soon challenge it, and troubled slightly by the movie’s near three-hour running time, I adjusted my expectations accordingly but nevertheless hoped for the best.
In retrospect, I feel like a fool for doubting Nolan because what he achieves with this movie is the first superhero film that I am convinced will win a Best Picture Academy Award. Much like Peter Jackson’s concluding Rings epic, 2003’s Return of the King, which walked away with a staggering but well deserved 11 Oscars, The Dark Knight Rises is the drop-dead stunning culmination of many well-spent years of planning and making. I will even go so far as to say that, although the polar opposite of Joss Whedon’s awesome Avengers adventure, Nolan’s Rises is every bit as good.
Kicking off with a daring aerial kidnapping that ably introduces mysterious masked mercenary Bane, imposingly played with booming tones and bulging biceps by Tom Hardy, the movie whisks us off to Gotham, where a war on crime inspired by Harvey Dent’s baffling demise has culminated in the complete eradication of mob activity.
With Batman off the streets, missing believed guilty of Dent’s murder, and Bruce Wayne equally absent, holed up in the new Wayne Manor like a modern Howard Hughes, there’s a distinct shortage of costumed crazies on the streets. It’s a vacuum quickly filled by Bane, whose agenda I won’t reveal, and Catwoman, alias Anne Hathaway’s sexy Selina Kyle, a smooth, cool criminal with killer moves and a past she’d do anything to erase. More than this, regarding the plot, I refuse to disclose. You don’t need a GPS to navigate the resulting twists and turns. Trust Nolan, instead, to see you through to the end.
A tale not just of the Bat, but of the many splendid folk inhabiting Gotham, although the lack of focus on Batman was something that bothered me about previous Batflicks, this third Nolan adventure is packed so full of interesting characters, most of them familiar but some brand spanking new, that I was content to spend time with each and every one of them.
Hathaway’s Cat I enjoyed much more than I expected, her lethal moves, duplicitous nature and inner turmoil erasing the memory of most earlier incarnations of the character. Particularly welcome, for me, among the newcomers is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an honest cop who, though he yearns for Batman’s return, is smart, tough and decent enough to go make a difference himself.
There’s much I’d like to rave on about, but spoilers aren’t my thing. Suffice to say that as the plot builds, the movie takes on the eye-popping proportions of a David Lean epic. With more than half of the film shot using a hefty IMAX camera, the size and scope of The Dark Knight Rises offers unparalleled cityscapes and crowd sequences. It’s the Lawrence of Arabia of superhero movies. A film so grand, it took two mighty blockbusters to build up to it. I loved the little details too, though. Like the way Selena’s night vision goggles flick up to resemble cat ears. And the insanely cool tyre-spinning cornering of the Batpod.
Elegantly photographed with sets worthy of vintage Bond, costumes to die for and gadgets that never cease to amaze, The Dark Knight Rises has surface gloss to spare. The secret to its success though, lies with what’s underneath the hood. Beautifully written with as much heart as intelligence, the dialogue has a poetry to it that’s a pleasure to listen to. The performances too, are uniformly strong, from Christian Bale’s tortured hero to Michael Caine’s noble Alfred. A thought-provoking, emotional experience, much of the movie I’m not ashamed to admit I watched with tears in my eyes.
The reason this movie will quickly and forever be regarded as classic is the passion that fuels it. The passion of the filmmakers to make something special and lasting. The passion of the characters within it, to act on their beliefs, be they good or evil. Truly, there’s no aspect of this film that, dark though it is, doesn’t glow with the passion that burns at its core.
It’s a passion I now share, and one you will too.