**** (4/5 stars)
I don’t like superhero films. It’s their fantastical nature I think. The lack of reality makes it hard for actors to create empathetic protagonists and villains, who are anything short of absurd. Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, however, has succeeded in turning me. It’s their gritty darkness that hooks me and this final installation in the trilogy is still gloriously gloomy and pessimistic but not without cultivating a glimmer of hope. And of course there are loads of explosions.
This final installation in the critically acclaimed trilogy follows the events of The Dark Knight with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living in solitude, forced to deceive and be detested by the city he has sworn to protect in order to support the public myth about the purity of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and hide the madness Dent exhibited in the lead up to his death. Inevitably, a new threat to the people results in Wayne once more donning his mask, cape and gravelly voice and, with the help of faces old and new, rising to meet this challenge in the form of the monstrous Bane (Tom Hardy) and his criminal army.
As with Nolan’s other works, such as Inception and Memento, he shuns a simple storyline, cutting between plots with crafted abandon, creating a work that remains layered and interesting without becoming difficult to follow. Unfortunately this does create some problems. The inclusion of so many new characters means the actors are not given enough time on screen to fully develop their various backgrounds, and since the film has a daunting 165 minute running time, it seems that Nolan has bitten off a little more than he can chew in this department. It deserves to be this long, however, and does not sag at any point, whilst the majority of the rollicking action set pieces occur in the second half of the film. Both the script and calibre of acting are engaging enough to warrant this relatively slow start in comparison to other superhero films, a welcome change of pacing in fact.
The two encounters with the Batman and Bane are wincingly choreographed, I could feel each jolting impact as they kicked the proverbial stuffing out of each other. This showcases the breadth of the majestic cinematography, flowing from furious, coarse action to ethereal, gorgeous location shots. Whilst attempting to avoid spoilers, the ending was pulled from the brink of worthiness by the last minute, which regrettably damaged the close of the film. The film is a heaped, delicious ice cream sundae with a covertly placed clove of garlic at the bottom.
The performances are impressive, although this film contains nothing as astounding as Heath Ledger’s Joker in the film’s predecessor. The Batman is more a narrative solidifying presence than a show-stopper, but Bale nevertheless aptly conveys his character’s multiple resurgences in the course of the film. From a cripple, both physically and spiritually, at the outset to his former resolute, hardened crime-fighter by the finale, Bale remains a suitably sympathetic protagonist without dabbling in the melodramatic. Anne Hathaway makes an appearance, entirely smashing typecasting, as a lithe, bitter cat burglar. Though her energetic portrayal is entirely commendable, I found her character arc ridiculously predictable, not something I usually associate with this director, and her femme fatale is a caricature made up of all the noir stereotypes one could imagine.
The nemesis of the picture, Bane, was described by Nolan as “an antagonist…who can trade blows with Batman and you genuinely won’t know who’s going to come out on top”. Hardy’s hulking form fulfils this role, physically menacing and fanatical in his dedication to his own form of anarchy. His slow, calculated menace does the trick, small tilts of the head become obvious threats, although this is less unsettling than the genuinely unhinged outbursts of other costumed villains such as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin in Spider-Man, or indeed the aforementioned Joker.
But the vital role for me was that of the character John Blake. Exactly. You don’t have a clue who he is. Watching exceptional developments created by remarkable individuals from the point of view of an ordinary police officer was entirely refreshing. Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Blake had no discernible skill other than maintaining a perfectly formed quiff in the face of explosions and gunfire, further edging the film away from the pantomime of its genre (hairstyles not included).
Christopher Nolan continues in his groundbreaking mould with this intelligent and entertaining blockbuster. While it lacks the same character focus and some of the wittiness of its predecessor it still remains a notable experience, especially in terms of its intriguing political shift with the evil Bane as a revolutionary figure, and our support firmly arm-wrestled to the Right as we see the wealthy cowering before the rabid, riotous masses. Hans Zimmer’s vivacious score epitomises the urgency and severity this incarnation of the caped crusader brings to bare and truly helps forge the tone of the movie. It is brash, the ending is a shame and there are too many characters for its own good but this superhero finishes his legacy in a blaze of glory, phoenix-like in its revival of this much-loved and completely renovated franchise.