Batman’s legacy remains polished as Nolan bows out

If my mother is to be believed (some caution is advised here), my first word was ‘BATMAN’. From the high camp of Adam West’s shark repellent spray through to the testing times of Clooney’s rubber nipples, my allegiance has never wavered. It is with these humble fanboy credentials that I offer my verdict on this third and final instalment in Chris Nolan’s trilogy: The Dark Knight Rises.

If you’ll recall, at the close of business last, Heath Ledger’s unforgettable turn as the Joker had the arch nemesis running amok, culminating in the death of Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart and the moral corruption of her fiancé: one of Gotham City’s leading political lights, Harvey Dent aka Two Face. In order to preserve Dent’s post-humous reputation as a symbol of hope for the people of Gotham, Batman took responsibility for Dent’s crimes. Subsequently hunted by the police, Batman was forced into exile. This film picks up eight years later with the arrival of Bane: a terrorist hell bent on ‘liberating’ Gotham before reducing it to rubble.

The character of Bane is an excellent case study for Nolan’s treatment of the franchise as he found it. Last seen in Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, Bane was nothing more than a grunting, shuffling, muscle-bound, henchman. Nolan has imbued the character with tragic depth, fleshed him out with a chilling intensity and given him a hatred that is tangible. As tangible as Alfred’s parental love for his charge Bruce Wayne; Or Commissioner Gordon’s infallible sense of honour. In short, Nolan has taken these characters of even the most limited dimensions and given them believable (if extreme) inner lives so that they could almost live and breath in our world today. Likewise, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is pure joy from the moment she arrives on screen. The only allusion to the character’s comic book origins is that she is a cat burglar, a pair of night vision goggles, when not in use, rest atop her head forming a pair of cat-ears. This is entirely incidental – the connection is left for us to make. This delicate balance of building a credible reality while remaining respectful to the comic book origins has been the signature of Nolan’s trilogy.
Interesting to note is that all Nolan’s villains have been pretty boys: Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow; Ledger as The Joker and Tom Hardy as Bane have all been unlikely choices for villains. This has served to place emphasis on the internal nature of their villainy. This final part seems preoccupied with contradictions of appearance, particularly the illusion of innocence. At a football game, a young soprano sings the US anthem of ‘Star-Spangled Banner’. The terrorist Bane comments on the boy’s “lovely voice”, right before bombing the stadium into a site that eerily resembles Ground Zero.

Organised terrorism, mob bankers, a city under occupation, a stock exchange under siege, a people in revolt – these three films are products of our time. They encapsulate the melancholy mood of a post-9/11 world, holding up a mirror to show a dispossessed people, badly in need of a selfless hero. Nolan achieves all this while never boring or preaching to his audience; instead he underpins everything with Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard’s stirring score to make quite certain our pulses never stop racing.

While it’s unlikely that ‘Batman’ was my first word, it’s entirely plausible that Nolan has had the last word on Batman. Of course, this trilogy’s box office ensures that the Dark Knight will rise again but it’s hard to imagine another direction with enough substance to better this. Nolan departs, leaving the Batman franchise, his reputation as a master filmmaker and the general state of comic book cinema in the best shape they’ve ever been.

The Dark Knight Rises (11)

Dir: Christopher Nolan; US action, 2012, 165 mins; Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Michael Cane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Premieres July 20
Playing nationwide


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