In the wake of Heath Ledger’s mesmerising, posthumous, Oscar-winning turn as The Joker in 2008, Christopher Nolan contemplated the future of his Batman project. After what would have been two painstakingly long years for legions of Batman fans, Nolan finally lifted them out of their quagmire of speculation when in 2010 he green-lit the highly anticipated sequel to The Dark Knight. While a third film was always likely to go ahead, Nolan initially expressed hesitation about returning to direct, only committing to the project after he and brother Jonathan had “cracked” the story. Bloated with an influx of cast members (predominantly from Nolan’s Inception), The Dark Knight Rises is an epic, 164-minute finale to the trilogy; one that is grandiose in both scale and stature.
Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, we rejoin a Gotham that while calm on the surface, is dreadfully unaware of the storm brewing underneath. Fresh from a mid-air plane hijacking and boasting the unique combination of brain and brawn, terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy) is meticulously forming a trench-like network in Gotham’s sewers and preparing to bring the city to its knees.
Along with the old guard, Bane is just the head of a new ensemble of characters. Though admittedly I spent most of my time wondering how Bane managed to feed enough food through his cagey, gas-filtering mask to maintain his brutish physique, he gets about half way out of The Joker’s shadow in a praiseworthy effort. His muffled voice is unnervingly high-pitched and shaky, and while an imposing figure, it’s not only Bane’s brutish strength that tests Batman, but also his wits – concocting plans that tear apart Gotham from within like never before.
The most peculiar character is a cat burglar with typically ambiguous loyalties, Selina Kyle (excellently portrayed by Anne Hathaway), who sets into action the chain of events that extract Bruce Wayne from his ‘retired’ slumber. Wayne ditches his walking stick and dons his kevlar suit, but this is not the Batman we remember from The Dark Knight. Crippled by eight years of inaction and a debilitating knee injury, Batman’s chances of ‘rising’ as Gotham’s saviour look ominously bleak from the outset.
This fatigued Wayne lacks his previous conviction in maintaining the egotistic demeanor that had preserved the distinctions between he and Batman so well. His arrogance and vulgarity when putting on the mask of Wayne is considerably less apparent than in previous renditions. Yet this is, by far, Bale’s most memorable performance in the series. At the heart of this story is the struggle of an ageing superhero to defend a city that reminds Wayne of not only loss, but of opportunity as well. An innate belief in the good of Gotham’s citizens drives him to again be their saviour, even though Batman has been cast in Gotham’s eyes as an outlawed vigilante. While he previously played second fiddle to The Joker, in this case, Wayne owns the series’ final chapter; one that is neatly tied together with the story arc of Batman Begins.
Nolan is renowned for making intelligent blockbusters, but The Dark Knight Rises does at times frustrate and leave you wondering why a convoluted storyline and eclectic mix of (mostly new) characters are needed to tie together what is a relatively simple premise. The new ensemble does ultimately, however, bring together this eclectic mix of odd balls to good effect.
The film is a hypnotically pulsating adventure smeared with action sequences that make a mockery of its lengthy runtime. But it doubles as a compelling insight into the selfless preservation of an alter ego by Gotham’s most notorious billionaire. It’s a story of sacrifice, where those closest to Wayne have dwindled away or died, he needs to justify their sacrifice. Where Nolan has decided he has a third and final chapter worth telling, his choice is also justified.