Bloated in scale, scope and length, The Dark Knight Rises is masculine mid-life crisis action cinema in excelsis. Like the ageing, ailing billionaire hero as its core, this is stately and expensively attired but also clunky, prone to bluster and sentiment, surprisingly slow-moving and with a definite softness in the middle. As we know, this is the end of Nolan’s trilogy and there is a lot to get through in an occasionally clunky 165 minutes. But like a fading prize fighter gearing up for a final battle, Rises eventually delivers a knockout punch in the form of a powerhouse final act – a titanium-encased battering ram of high stakes drama and spectacle, a velvet glove cast in iron that pummels its way to hard-earned victory.
If Whedon’s Avengers was a group of knockabout misfits coming to terms with their own collective potency and Weber’s Spidey reboot the young, virile hipster with excess supplies of powerful fluids, Nolan’s Batman is the dysfunctional veteran with performance anxiety. Reboots? Batman shits ‘em; he’s been gothed-out, camped-up and now, at the end of Nolan’s epic trilogy, he’s reached crisis point, having all but lost the will to live even before the opening credits roll.
Wayne is a shadow of his former self, shuffling around his mansion like a modern day Howard Hughes, unaware that the economy is in as poor a shape as he is (there is now a genuine frisson watching a film where the untouchably rich are brought to book, something we are now used to seeing play out for real on a weekly basis). The Joker is long gone, and in his place a new nemesis has emerged; Bane – a more focused, aggressive villain with a defined cause (or so it seems) full of fury and righteous anger. There are still believers in the Batman of course, Commissioner Gordon (Oldman with that cake-left-in-the-rain visage) and a hotshot young cop (an oddly irksome Joseph Gordon Levitt) who has more personal reasons for his faith.
Like any physically diminished older gent who needs to get back in the saddle, Wayne requires some assistance to (ahem) rise again. As you would expect of Nolan there are some sleek new toys and gadgets to ensure he can truly last the distance.
Naturally a series of (younger) women provide distraction and complication. There are two contenders for Wayne’s heart here – Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) heiress and potential saviour for Wayne Enterprises and kinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway, a sensuous revelation). Thank god then for both of them. Hathaway eschews camp for febrile sophistication and swagger and is – frankly – delectable, Cotillard with those incredible, soulful eyes and smoky demeanour proves to be an equally interesting companion. They colour Nolan’s steely-grey vision with much-needed warmth, glamour, wit and sensuality.
What of Bane though, Batman’s foe in this epic standoff for Gotham’s soul? Tom Hardy is a compelling actor, and there really isn’t anyone quite like him out there (just in terms of sheer physicality and grace) but there’s something inert in this performance. It never quite takes off. Hardy’s Bane doesn’t utterly demand your attention like the Joker did, though in a way that balances the film more than in The Dark Knight where Ledger’s showboating capsized the film in his favour and reduced Batman to a bit player in his own franchise. Bale is much more prominent in this entry, and as watchable as ever.
This is a very long film, very self-aware of its own bigness, importance and grandiosity. It begins exactly as it means to continue, cloaked in solemnity. Everyone is in pain throughout. Bruce Wayne is like an emo in GQ clothing, despairing, and anguished. Michael Caine’s Alfred seems to spend the entire film crying. Like all of Nolan’s Batman films, this is almost parodic in its intensity. What is this desire to take the superhero form so seriously? What cannot be denied is that Nolan is a highly capable movie craftsman who surrounds himself with quality collaborators. Rabid bat-fans will know the beats already for the most part, but those millions who have invested time and cash in the Knight’s progress will not feel short-changed here. These are reassuringly expensive superhero films built to last – even if at times that need to be ‘so serious’ somehow prevents them from being truly lovable, crazy or wildly imaginative.
Bats will rise and box office tills will register. Batman will most likely be rebooted again. But as Rises comes to a close, with its episodic set pieces, power plays and villains bent on world domination, one thought remains. Just how long it will be before Nolan gets to put his stamp on that other middle-aged, ailing, gadget-reliant icon? An appointment with Mr. Bond cannot be too far away.