A Hardy act to follow
The phrase ‘Perfectly rounded trilogy’ is one that we rarely, if ever, see bestowed upon a series for our times, what with its almost oxymoronic dispositions. When one thinks about what fits that bracket, it’s usually something remarkable like The Lord of the Rings or the vastly pleasant Toy Story (yes, really) that pop up. But are there any consistently brilliant superhero trilogies? Maguire and Raimi’s Spider-man began with pitch-perfect promise, and bowed out in a woeful third-parter. The same doom awaited X-men, elegant in the former stages, and blighted by a superfluous cast of talented mutants (one word, Juggernaut) in the so-so Last Stand. Joel Schumacher’s almighty messy Batman is usually the butt of the jokes, and rightly so. But although the above may be true, it’s probably the former entries that Nolan can take lessons from. To say Nolan learns from the shortcomings of his nearest contemporaries is a gross understatement.
A proper conclusion to cinemas definitive superhero, (move over Spiderman!) its as much a character piece as a film concerning costumed weirdos. So much so, that the existential identity of ‘The Batman’ is becoming of lesser and lesser importance. It’s the man behind the cowl that we care for (Bruce Wayne, no less), and Nolan promptly necessitates his unbearably long-awaited return. Christian Bale’s Bats has been a recluse in the city he spared for eight years, and while crooks like The Joker and Harvey Dent have been either forgotten or martyred, Gotham City is on a shaky precipice, in grim need of the very pest they’ve helped into exile- The Batman. Its fair to say he’s seen better days though, and Nolan resolutely draws attention to the damaged lead man that likely has more moral hang-ups than he has fully-functioning ligaments.
Looking like a senile elderly as soon as we get a look at his unshaven, gaunt mug, it’s a distressing representation of the path Nolan’s Batman has to go down, that of an unstable man so close to tipping over the edge, that his toppling is set decisively in stone. If a thieving, perpetual loneliness and economical frenzy wasn’t the cruelest of his problems, the climb to prominence of Hardy’s beefed up, dystopian-romantic Bane and his formidable army of like-minded thugs assuredly is.
Nolan pins down the macabre tone straight from the offset; a marvelous set piece deserved of Hardy’s intimidating but intellectual villain, an aerial interchange that won’t make the most of sense initially, but slots in to superb effect later. The Batman is gone, the minority that still believe in his presence scrawl his bat symbol crudely on brick walls, and, as usually befits Gotham, there’s a terrifyingly obscure delineation between bad and good (Dr. Crane, aka Scarecrow, is at one point the city’s magistrate). The only thing illuminating the gloomy streets is the opulence of the city’s amoral higher-earning elitists. It’s that apex of modernism and realism that we’ve come to expect from Nolan. But if the last year has taught us anything, it’s that pitch-blackness is so 2008. If the key word for superhero films then was ‘dark’, now, ‘funny’ is very much in vogue, with Avengers Assemble and even Marc Webb’s Spider-man quick to tickle our funny bone. There are some comic sequences, and some moments so likeably teasing, that you can almost feel the filmmakers grinning off-camera. This, and bouts of pure magnificence, more than make up for a supposed scarcity of good-humor.
The welcome faces of Alfred (an always admirable Michael Caine, resounding the most raw emotion in fatherly scenes), Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, the rare cop who’s as good with his gun as his ethical leanings) are all part of an inception-led group of series newcomers that each has marginally more major roles than the trailers denote. It’s very much a group effort where each supporting part is complete with a slick story arc (discounting Juno Temple in what slim screen time she’s allotted). The most memorable supporting parts entailing Gordon Levitt’s useful, street-wise buddy cop, and Marion Cotillard’s Gotham City conservationist, a mysterious love interest for Bruce Wayne. Decidedly borrowing half of Inceptions magnificent ensemble cast for the outing, TDKR also holds onto some of that movies twists. A lamented lover in Gyllenhaal’s Rachel, an arguable tease-act of a climax, complex twists and turns and heralding all, a broken lead man who, thanks to a well-placed Lazarus Pit in this case, endures a major metamorphosis.
The Dark Knight Rises is still orchestrated in a grand scale that singles itself out from Inception, for emotion alone. This may just be Nolan’s most emotionally, politically charged yet. A somber farewell to cinemas definitive adaptable hero, you’d be heartless not to weep in some particularly touching scenes with Alfred and Wayne, and doubly so when he’s forlornly led to an inescapably heart-breaking beating at the hands of Bane. Its Bale’s brooding, pensive take that unravels so many layers and scopes to a character who we’ve rooted for since the humble Begins, and cared for when he was psychologically fragmented in TDK. It’s not just the cast making their return, as Hans Zimmer’s (James Newton Howard, a noted omission from the dream duo) massively majestic and ardently cued score is indeed one of his best.
As an anticipatory and well-read fan boy of the comics will be eager to share, as far as tough and brainy villainy goes, there are none better a match to the worlds greatest detective than Bane. Take for instance the threat he poses to Batman in ‘Knightfall’ (for which this is loosely based on), unleashing a hoard of Gotham’s finest felons in a ploy to throw Batman through the gauntlet. And who better to play a hulk of unprecedented power than Charley Bronson himself? Tom Hardy’s turn on the real-life nutcase was feverishly frenetic, his and Nolan’s Bane is an unequally terrifying creation. Where the Jokers Maxim was “why so serious” (a quote shamelessly touted on one or two t-shirts), Bane calls himself “Gotham’s reckoning”, the patchy voice distortion, thanks to otherwise trusty breathing apparatus, only adding unhinging to the list of naturally sinister character makings. There was potential to match Ledgers anarchical Joker, in spite of the intense antithesis between the two characters (Bane, after all, had a handy bit of training from Ra’s al Ghul, molding him into a clear-cut mercenary with a dedicated, forcefully imposed, revolutionary world-view) but there’s something inherently gleeful in Ledger’s take that makes it the one to beat. Still, hats off to Hardy for making Banes solid fear factor erase Schumacher’s campy pile of muscle from our memory.
Fittingly though, it’s Gotham’s chief pilfer who takes respective scene-stealing duties. Anne Hathaway, who stars as Batman’s frequent-foe/frequent-friend, Selina Kyle, sparks the film with streaks of hotness and invigorates the story with impulsive menace where applicable, an effortless match to the sex appeal that Pfeiffer offered (try any scene where she rides that bat-pod). While slanting towards the friend-side of the spectrum more than Pfeiffer did in Returns, that doesn’t mean her mercurial turn from doting house-maid to slick thief is any the less exciting. Her unforeseen, dramatic exit, compelling Batman to growl the brilliant one liner “so that’s what that feels like”, is the movies funniest scene.
So, like TDK, Rises is a bower-outer easily justifying the boundary pushing viral campaign that preceded it. When you’ve gotten over the notion that they’ve almost completely redone the ending of Avengers Assemble, there’s near no doubt that this is destined to be an instant classic, gallivanting with necessarily terrific set pieces (the football field destruction sticking to mind for pure cataclysmic scale alone) an impressively stylish air-vehicle called ‘The Bat’, and fan boy favors clocking in for full satisfaction. Throw in a chunk of spine-tingling IMAX-shot footage and you’ve got easily the most absorbing film of the year. There really is no use rebooting this one in a hurry.
If there really was any genuine premonition that Nolan’s bittersweet send-off for the Caped Crusader would be modest, that’s been crushed. The Dark Knight tops Rises for sheer gritty ingenuity, but an extraordinary helping of triumphant set pieces, soaked with heart-wrenching dealings and bat-crafty goodness, ensure this is the greatest spectacle of the three. Ratcheted by a delightfully humorous (and amorous) Hathaway on scene-stealing form, this super heroic effort rounds off in such life-affirming fashion that it confidently deserves to be attached to the pantheon of trilogy greats. Holy smokes, Batman! You’ll be fondly missed.