For eight years Nolan’s greatest and least lauded effort has been neglected as a masterpiece. Isolation and lockdown is perfect for movie marathons and for those who love watching tales of super-heroics in the cinema, Nolan’s trilogy and its triumphant last episode offers a thrilling, heart-warming and rewarding alternative to the glittering and self-gratifying Marvel movies.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) begins with a weary Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement and teaming up with both old and new allies to terminate the devastating threat of the villain Bane and his militia. Over the course of the film, Wayne is defeated by Bane, breaks free of the pit he’s imprisoned in and finds peace with a woman he can love. It has a recently refreshed relevance because of its depictions of quarantine and lockdown in a time of crisis.
Typically for a Nolan Batman film, it should not be defined as a “superhero movie” and is entirely distinct from the first two instalments. Batman Begins (2004) can be described as an indie/arthouse exegesis of the superhero genre. The Dark Knight (2008) is a neo-noir retelling of the iconic contest between Batman and the Joker. The Dark Knight Rises is an edifying epic. It has the grandeur of a classic.
The allusions to Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities are obvious and important. Gordon quotes Sydney Carton’s last lines at Bruce’s funeral. The peace of 18th century London compared to the horrors of revolutionary Paris frames Gotham’s transformation from a functioning settlement to a quarantined hellhole. Nolan’s visual references to Metropolis and Dr Zhivago roots his film in a tried and tested tradition of vast motion picture making. He is one of the foremost auteurs of our time and he eloquently accretes the action sequences that punctuate the plot, carrying us to a climax worthy of Wagner, and I haven’t even mentioned Hans Zimmer yet!
Completing a trilogy is arguably the most difficult cinematic trick a production team can hope to pull off. The Return of the Jedi was met with some hostility and The Return of the King attempted to take us through too many events too quickly and was at times extremely pretentious. The Dark Knight Rises satisfies almost everything that can be satisfied from the previous two films.
The tenor of Bane’s voice is the most common criticism of the film. “I couldn’t hear him” or “he sounded absurd” is a regularly cited issue. I personally had no trouble with the voice. I could hear everything. I thought the slightly diminished register of his sinister monologues enhanced the eeriness of the threats he was making. He sounded like a weary philosopher on the end of a phone, persuasively informing his ignorant interlocutor of their impending doom and the impossibilities of their escape.
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The second most common criticism is political. The Billionaire Batman has always been exposed to political deconstructions from critics, comics and curmudgeonly students doing their best Mark Kermode impression. But in a time of crisis, of lockdown and quarantine, DKR’s depiction of our current challenge demonstrates how an instinct for order swells within us all, unless you happen to be an international terrorist, saboteur or social dissident.
Those who want to hate see it as a cinematic attack on revolutionaries because the villains operate under the same moral guise as murderers and maniacs. Bane is a brilliant depiction of a zealous ideologue whose violent solutions to global problems fascinates and sickens at the same time. Although Ledger’s Joker will always have a special place in our hearts, Hardy’s Bane should always be considered Batman’s most daunting rival, because he was the only one to defeat him at his own game. He is a pastiche of Che Guevara, Maximillian Robespierre and Vladimir Lenin, trapped in the body of Hulk Hogan. If that doesn’t sound terrifying, I’m not sure what does. Bane however turns out not to be the real villain but merely a servant of Ras Al Ghul’s heir, Talia, played by Marion Cotillard. It is an appropriate end to the ongoing battle between the dynastic houses of Wayne and Al Ghul and it is a beautiful study in the subtle arts of revenge.
We should excuse any minor missteps made during this long and ambitious journey. The larger the scale, the higher the risk of making mistakes, but the scale of the venture deserves veneration. It’s comparable to taking issue with a few specks and splotches of an incongruous colour across the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It does nothing to detract from the overall effect. The Dark Knight Rises accomplishes its thematic and dramatic mission more assuredly and appealingly than any other franchise-ending film.
Being the sequel to The Dark Knight (2008) has meant it hasn’t received the credit it is due, but like how Paul said Ringo wasn’t the best drummer in the Beatles, let alone the world, The Dark Knight (2008) isn’t the best film in the Batman trilogy, let alone of all time. Densely populated by a series of near-perfect performances, larger and more ambitious than its celebrated predecessors, the final instalment contains the most quotable and inspiring lines of any Batman film and leaves the viewer with a refreshed sense of what it takes to overcome the obstacles any active human life is forced to face.