And so Christopher Nolan’s dazzling and dark reimagining of the Batman saga draws to a close with a new adversary and a new threat to Gotham.
But, this time around, will the now reclusive Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) ‘rise’ to the challenge, don the bat mask and race to the city’s rescue? Or this time will he decide that it is somebody else’s fight?
Eight years after Batman fell from grace and was blamed for the death of popular politician Harvey Dent, The Bat is nowhere to be seen, nor for that matter is billionaire Bruce Wayne, who has retired from public life. But then two seemingly unrelated things happen that will force the caped crusader back into the limelight; Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) steals from the Wayne mansion and a mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy) is reported to be on his way to Gotham City. It soon becomes clear that the two are linked and have a bearing on both Wayne and Batman’s futures and so whether he likes it or not The Bat is going to have to come out of retirement.
What ensues is dark yet thrilling, cataclysmic yet cathartic. Batman must not only confront but also banish his inner demons that hold him ransom to a future he does not want to embrace.
Nolan is the master of the big set piece and there are numerous instances here: a plane being literally pulled from the sky by another plane; Bane and Batman beating the living daylights out of each other; a football pitch caving in beneath the players; and best of all, each and every one of Gotham’s bridges being bombed in sequence and falling like rows of beads on cut threads.
The performances are similarly epic with Bale as good as ever in the Wayne/Batman role, and there are some very welcome familiar faces in the supporting cast with Michael Caine returning as butler Alfred and Gary Oldman (always so very good) as Commissioner Gordon. However, the fortunes of the new characters are more mixed.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the young, idealistic police officer Blake is excellent, as is Anne Hathaway although it would have been good to see more interaction between her and Batman. Tom Hardy is suitably muscle-bound as Bane, but with his face obscured by a mask for the whole film it is difficult for him to show expression (and at times difficult to understand what he is saying). However, it is Marion Cotillard as philanthropist Miranda Tate who is the newcomer worst served by the script – she has a pivotal part to play in the story arc and yet she seems sidelined for much of the movie.
But this is a minor quibble in a film where nearly every single character has a back story based on either forgiveness of redemption. Here, the characters wrestle with betrayal, loss, hope and despair and this is where Nolan scores so highly as a director – these days it is not enough just for the main character to work through the darkness to the light, everyone must have their own demons and their own battles. Here, even lovable, loyal, trustworthy Alfred has a terrible, guilty secret he needs to exorcise.
Yes, at almost two and three quarter hours this movie is long, but it doesn’t feel long because it is so engrossing. Watch, enjoy, absorb; it may not become an all-time classic, but within the comic book superhero genre, this is probably as good as it gets. And that it contains not one, but two distinct surprises at its conclusion is testament to Nolan’s talent as a writer and director – the legend may be ending but Nolan is sure to go on to make many more surprisingly deep yet entertaining films.