Although you Americans won't see it for another day or two in some cases, over here in Oceania, The Dark Knight Rises has landed and the Batman trilogy is well and truly over. If you don't like spoilers, leave now, although this review is less about the plot and more about the overall trilogy, my impression and thoughts. If you don't care, well I probably shouldn't either, but I've just spent 12 hours at the cinema watching Batman, so I am too pumped to cease and desist now lol.
First of all, the context in which I watched Rises was after first seeing Prometheus (again) then seeing both Batman Begins and then The Dark Knight, before the midnight release of Rises. I was supposed to just see the Batman films, but the theatre completely screwed up the file for the film and couldn't fix it. Ah for the antiquity and reliability of film eh? So I watched Prometheus, which is a bloody good film, and reveals itself even more the second time around. Then I stayed until the later showing of Begins in the hope some fanboy's heart had exploded due to over-excitement at the release of the final installment of Nolan's Batman, and left a seat conveniently for my to be fitted into. Being the super lucky m*therf*cker I am, there was a seat in an otherwise sold out series of screenings. No way was I giving up on the chance to see my hero for the last time, on the big screen, all in a row!
So a quick run down of the movies, for those not in the know - Begins is where Bruce Wayne's origin story really begins in earnest. Roughly, murdered parents, blames himself, goes into exile, learns kung-fu from Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Assassins, returns to Gotham city, adopts Batman as his alter ego (or in reality, does Batman adopt Bruce Wayne, billionaire and wastrel as his mask?). He fights the Scarecrow, his own fears, corruption and eventually, the paternal figure of Ghul as he fights to save the city from the evil which created him, all while learning who he is.
It was weird going back to this film. Of the two earlier films, I'd seen Dark Knight several times - twice at the cinema, and many, many more at home - but only had seen Begins twice, and both times many years ago. So I know Dark Knight like the back of my hand, but the opposite is completely true of Begins. So when I saw the Burton-esque style and less-polished feel compared to The Dark Knight, I was taken aback. I'm unsure if the genesis of the trilogy having such a quaint, raw feel is a good thing, or if it sullies the whole thing. It, however, is inescapably necessary to get the beginning of Batman's origin out of the way before you can begin to truly play with the character. So although it's inferior to The Dark Knight, and ultimately, Rises, it's a necessary evil.
The Dark Knight. Batman is a commonplace now in the city. The mob runs scared. Then along comes the Joker to spice things up with his all-touching chaos. I really shouldn't have to explain anything about this movie to you. If you've read so far, you're probably a Batman fan and have already seen the film. If you haven't, then you're probably not a person who should be reading this, but should watch the movie anyway, because if you don't, you'll be missing one of the best, most authentic performances by any actor. Ever. Heath Ledger's Joker IS The Dark Knight (the film, not the metaphorical one). He eclipses Christian Bale and delivers a performance so rare and so beautiful, you can't even call it a performance. Ledger, forever frozen in that film, IS the Joker, living and breathing it. You do not doubt or second guess a single frame he is in. Sadly, it will be his greatest, but last, performance, but if I was immortalized as any character, in any way, there are far worse ways to go out than that.
It's hard to explain how exactly The Dark Knight comes so far from Begins. Nolan only directed The Prestige in between the films, and it doesn't really foreshadow the likes of Dark Knight and Inception, two of my favourite movies of all time. Far from the small, beginning steps of Begins, Dark Knight bursts from the screen like a well polished masterpiece. Begins stuck to the rules. The goodie finds a cause, the baddies cause trouble, and then the hero saves the day and kisses the girl. But The Dark Knight kills the girl, kills the goodies, makes the hero an outcast and makes the main villain not only amazingly likable, but wholly forgivable as a child of the times! You look at superhero movies like Spider Man and Superman. None push the boundaries like The Dark Knight, and that's why it is, and probably always will be, the greatest superhero movie of all time. Rises could always have been a better film story-wise and acting-wise, but it was never going to be as groundbreaking, since the previous installment had already rung that bell.
The Dark Knight ends with a fallen hero-turned lunatic Two-Face taking Commissioner Gordon's family hostage, before dying. Instead of the truth, however, Batman and Gordon decide the city of Gotham needs a true hero, one without a mask, so Batman takes the fall for the murder and Two-Face, or rather Harvey Dent, remains the white knight of the city.
And this leads into Rises. Really, if you don't want spoilers, back away now...
The crowd erupted with applause when the opening scene began, a sign that all had been eager for the return of Batman to the cinema, even if it was to be his last from Nolan. Eight years have passed since The Dark Knight, and Batman has been retired for several years, not unlike Frank Miller's iconic comic book 'The Dark Knight Returns'. Harvey Dent is still the shining example, and Batman is still hunted. Bruce Wayne is a recluse after the death of his love interest in The Dark Knight. The city is at peace. It's a strange and terrifying world. It's funny, but true. A world without the Batman is one where fear doesn't stalk the streets, and yet you feel compelled to will him back into action. It doesn't take long. A perky Selina Kyle soon strikes up Bruce Wayne's interest, and re-instills his passion for life. Selina Kyle, as you comic fans may know, is of course Catwoman, although she is never referenced as such in the film, and that's how I enjoy it. The whole idea of Catwoman can destroy a film if it's not handled properly. I came into Rises knowing Hathaway would make or break the film for me. She normally plays the damsel in distress, so not only does it seem off to have her as the strongest female character in the Batman universe, but it also leads you to examine Catwoman's overall role in the film more closely too. So effectively not having a Catwoman in favour of just Selina Kyle means that fitting her into the Batman mythos goes down without a hitch. However, Hathaway is excellent as Selina Kyle. She plays the role perfectly and you soon forget the actress's previous roles as Hathaway captures Kyle's moral greyness perfectly.
You'd think the main villain of the film is of course Bane. In a literal sense, yes he is. But in reality, the trials and tribulations of the times are the true enemy in Rises. Bane merely brings about their occurrence. As Batman begins his road back out of retirement, so Bane comes forth with a hidden agenda to wipe out Gotham, and there lies the clash. I think the plot line of having Bane suddenly as part of the League of Assassins and carrying out Ra's Al Ghul's vengeance is a bit forced, but it does become partially believable when Marion Cotillard turns out to be Talia Ghul, Ra's Al Ghul's daughter, and Bane had protected her in a prison. Long story, kinda, but they're all connected. Some may like it, I'm not sure it completely works, but at least Rises ties back into Begins, because otherwise the small film all those years ago would seem even more out of place in the trilogy with the newest installment's jaw-dropping scale. Tom Hardy does well as Bane, but between his mask and the fake voice (which really did drive me crazy at first until I got slightly used to it, but never quite enough), you do not truly connect with him as much as you'd like to. Not until his final scenes do you really feel for him and realize Hardy's performance is astounding.
As I mentioned, the true enemies are the signs of the times. Bruce Wayne's empire is hit by the financial crisis (with some prodding by shady businessmen backed by Bane) and the whole city is turned into a hotspot for civil unrest as the poor displace the rich in control for the city, ala French Revolution-stylez. It resonates immensely with the people of our day and age, and turns what could be just a garden variety, suped-up villain into possibly the most dangerous and deadly villain yet. Bane, true to comic form, breaks the Batman's back. He then sends him to the prison where he himself was imprisoned, to watch Gotham burn and languish without hope. In a way, Rises transcends normal superhero tracks, and becomes a commentary on the world as we know it now, where there is seemingly insurmountable hopelessness, but that we crave that light at the end of the tunnel. Batman must endure the agony of watching his city burn, and must find the will inside, and provokingly, the fear inside, to escape and return triumphant.
The film takes place over several months. Gotham literally is a warzone. Bane has seized control, all the police are trapped underground. Heck, even Alfred is gone! A nuclear bomb sits, ready to explode, holding the city hostage. The danger is very, very real. It's the final installment. ANYTHING could happen. So although the villains don't necessarily feel as gigantic as the Joker from The Dark Knight, the danger is the most intense of any of the films. Watching it for the first time, not knowing what will happen, keeps you on the edge of your seat and your heart racing. You live every moment with Batman and know, all too well, that even he cannot continue with the mask. That soon, all he has will be sacrificed. It is sad. Moving. Emotional.
The amazingly visceral score drives you onward until the final sacrifice. The trilogy truly does end. For Batman at least (there is some shameless sequel bait for Levitt's Robin the Boy Wonder to follow up, which slightly detracts from the emotional impact of the end - I mean you really don't want to be reminded that the studio is going to push out another money making spin off when you're trying to farewell your caped crusader!). You hark back to a scene earlier in Rises where Alfred recounts his thoughts to Bruce Wayne. Without Ledger's amazing villain, although Bale really does shine as the best performance of Rises, it is Alfred who steals the show with his incredibly emotional scenes, and this one is none the different: He tells Bruce how he prayed he would not return when Bruce had left during Begins. How he prayed he'd go to the cafe in Europe where he lived during that time, and glance over to another table and see Bruce sitting there, family, wife, happy. Neither would say anything to the other, but they'd both know. For some reason this idea pulled at my heart strings. And ultimately, this is what happens. The world thinks Batman is dead. And he is. But Bruce Wayne, finally, has a life, with Selina Kyle, and Alfred and Bruce see each other at that cafe. And although they both know, just like the audience, that neither will see each other again, and that the life they've lived all that time is truly gone, neither mourns it. Instead they just smile and know. And that's how the best superhero movie trilogy ends. With for once, the hero gets to rest. He's done his job and he can finally be at peace.
I think this was the smartest and most fitting way to end the series. Batman gave everything to the city of Gotham, and now he is finally at peace. Unlike some series that go on and on long past the expiry date, in the hopes of big returns and some inspiration, Nolan cut the series concisely and intelligently. I've admired the way Nolan has gone about directing the whole thing. Using film, resisting the irritating urge everyone seems to be doing to go 3D, and going against the grain to deliver a stellar trilogy. It treats the fans with respect and is probably the best Batman series of films that will ever be released this side of 2050. Ultimately, I think that The Dark Knight still comes out on top of Rises. They ARE different films, given, so that is debatable. The Dark Knight's villain is insurmountable, but Rises' danger is so intense and real, it elevates the film. And I mean, damn, it's the finale! So go and watch the last film, have fun, enjoy it. If you get the chance, watch all three in a row. To feel the gut-wrenching bellow of trombones and the pulse of massive drums once more is unlike anything else. Farewell caped crusader.
We'll all miss you.