Out of all the superheroes, Batman is easily the one that has had the most up and downs in cinema. Even though the first two films were successful, the character’s potential was never fully realized until Christopher Nolan came along. Assembling a new trilogy kicking off with Batman Begins, Nolan presented us with the most grounded, humanistic and interesting Batman the big screen has ever displayed. That film started the legend and it was magnified beyond everyone’s expectations with the stellar masterpiece known as The Dark Knight. The sequel not only proved to be better in almost every way, but it also allowed for a more intelligent and emotional story that set the standard for all comic books films. Now with the culminating entry firmly upon us, Nolan has delivered an end to the legend that is as fulfilling as it is mind-blowing.
Taking place 8 years after the events that led Batman (Christian Bale) to take the fall for Harvey Dent’s death, Gotham is in a state of peace as the various laws being passed have decreased the crime considerably. Since Dent’s death made him public enemy number one, Batman has not been seen for years and this has left a void on the people that believed in him like police officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), but more importantly on Bruce Wayne. Wayne, who has been out of the spotlight for years, finds himself knew deep in melancholy and without any desire to continue on living without his alternate persona. During an event in the newly rebuilt Wayne Manner, Wayne catches a thief by the name of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) stealing his fingerprints but upon losing her Wayne is propelled to investigate further. Becoming the Batman once again, he gradually discover that a storm is coming in the shape of a mercenary called Bane (Tom Hardy) who wastes no time in both recking havoc on Gotham and annihilating the Batman.
Even though I absolutely love The Dark Knight and hold it as the epitome of comic book films, it contained one flaw that has always bothered me. This flaw is the fact that Wayne/Batman is a supporting character posing as the protagonist. His storyline, while brilliantly presented, was overshadowed by both The Joker’s and Harvey Dent’s. Nolan rectifies that flaw in this latest entry by placing the focus exclusively on Wayne/Batman. The Dark Knight Rises is Wayne/Batman’s film through and through, as it both presents us with a broken and hopeless hero’s journey in finding his purpose once again and fully becoming the legend he set out to be in the first film. This journey is presented as distinctively and emotionally affecting as only Christopher Nolan can. He also places our hero in situations drenched in danger so much so that there are various moments where you genuinely believe that Wayne/Batman will falter. This iteration of Wayne/Batman has always been different, but the placed where Nolan takes him in this film are without a doubt the most compelling, fulfilling and frightening.
Right there making all those story and character points even more powerful is Christian Bale’s performance. This is the best he has ever been in the whole trilogy, as he delivers us a Wayne/Batman that is succumbing to his own failures, choices and self-loathing. Bale’s Wayne/Batman is as melancholic and shattered as we have ever seen him, and it is because of all those elements that his gradual rise becomes as exciting as it is inspiring and as majestic as it is sincere. Similarly to the first film but to greater effect, there is much more physicality in this performance ranging from Wayne’s limp to Batman’s fights with Bane. There is a scene where Batman fist fights Bane and it is arguably the most frightening moment in a film full of them. The way that Batman struggles to stand up to Bane is devastatingly real, and the way Bale conveys all that desperation and hopelessness through his body is both impressive and heart-breaking. This performance here is truly the Wayne/Batman performance to end all Wayne/Batman performances.
That previously mentioned scene also demonstrates why Bane was chosen as the prime villain of the film. Bane, who was criminally portrayed before in an abomination of a film, is reinterpreted here in such a way that fits the lore of these films and poses an even bigger challenge to Wayne/Batman. Tom Hardy who bulks up similarly to the way he did for Bronson, delivers a performance that is increasingly menacing, frightening and destructive. If The Joker was a psychotic agent of chaos then Bane is an increasingly calculative agent of chaos. Bane could’ve easily been portrayed as a brute, but Hardy instills such a life into the character that I honestly don’t see anyone else tackling him. I loved the way Ledger made the Joker’s voice so distinctive and I love even more the fact that that sonic differentiality is carried through to Bane. He sounds like a cross between Darth Vader and a British accented Joker, which depending on the person will either excite you or annoy you. I’m part of the former as I relish every moment Bane spoke even though sometimes it was difficult to understand him. Visually Hardy turns Bane into the most menacing physical presence we’ve ever seen in a Batman film and while a lot facial nuances are missing because of the mask, Hardy’s performance still shines through. Bane is a such a cool character and the way his backstory become so integral to Wayne/Batman’s journey adds even more layers to an already realized film. Whether Bane is better than Joker should not really enter the conversation, as he is different from the Joker but nevertheless possess a great challenge to Wayne/Batman which I think is what matters most.
In a supporting cast full of known and capable actors and actresses, there are three that shine brighter than the rest and they Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Michael Caine delivers his best performance in years and brings such an overwhelming humanity and emotion to Alfred that I dare you not to cry every time he opens his mouth. Out of all the character in this universe, Alfred is the once closest to Wayne/Batman and as such sees that Wayne/Batman journey can only end in death. Alfred is the voice of reason and the character who has in a way suffered the most. All the scenes between him and Bale are emotionally devastating and I will miss their interactions.
Hathaway also delivers a great performance that sets herself apart from every other iteration of Catwoman we’ve seen before. She has similar characteristics, but the level of charisma and likeability she gives Selina Kyle is palpable that you are constantly rooting for her even when she makes bad decisions. Just like Heath Ledger’s Joker topped Jack Nicholson’s Joker so does Hathaway’s Catwoman top Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. Then we have Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose incredible talent is infinite. His performance here is easily the most identifiable and relatable, as he not only represents the batman fan in all of us but also embodies all the ideals that Batman aspired to give the people. His story is one of the best in the film and the promise his character provides are exciting and demand to be developed further.
As thoughtful and thematically rich as the Batman films are, they are still comic book blockbuster films that need action sequences. Batman Begins had some cool yet disorienting action scenes and The Dark Knight had some awesome set pieces but when the action involved fist fights it was a bit choppy. Nolan is not an action director, but with each film he has learned and improved himself reaching his pinnacle with 2010’s Inception. If you thought those action scenes were awesome wait until you see the ones in The Dark Knight Rises. In here Nolan becomes a full-flesh action director as each action set piece is as impressive and exciting as the one that came before. This being Christopher Nolan, the action contains a lot of purpose and the way it affects the story and the characters is not only distinctive, but also very powerful. Seeing Bane’s army fight against an army police officers is great in itself, but the way Nolan shots it in such a poetic and visceral way you are constantly hungry for more. But the best and most exciting action moments are the ones that involve Batman’s gadgets like The Bat whose flying sequences put to shame all of George Lucas’ new Star Wars films. The Batpod is still by far the coolest vehicle and every time it was one screen I wanted to scream of excitement. That’s one of the really genius things about Nolan’s Batman films. No matter how serious, emotional and dark things get there are still these moments of genuine wonder that make you feel like kid. The Batpod and The Bat are not only there for show, they are integral to the story and play a key role in the fate of various people.
The Dark Knight Rises has truly blown away all my expectations. This is for me the first perfect ending for a film trilogy that I have ever seen. This culminating film not only brings back all the themes from the first two films, but it also expands on them in such an interesting, euphoric, effective and emotional way that you’ll be in a constant state of awe even after the film ends. Christopher Nolan and co. have created a trilogy that will stand the test of time and become the epitome of comic book films. I’m sure there are some flaws in this film, but I honestly did not see them and the journey it took me was so majestic that for me right here and now The Dark Knight Rises is perfect. The performances by the cast especially Christian Bale are excellent, the story itself is unpredictable, engaging and powerfully frightening, and Hans Zimmer score deserves all the awards. The Dark Knight Rises is a film that demands to be seen countless times and it is for me the best film of 2012. I seriously doubt anything this year will top it.
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