Director Christopher Nolan has moved the comic book blockbuster genre from a geek niche market to the very centre of the mainstream, taking his colossal worldwide audience on a journey that belies the films superhero origins.
Here the mood is dark, very dark indeed. This review is also written in the wake of the Colorado tragedy which without question, colours any perspective on the film. Lines from the film, sequences and general tone, resonate in a very different way following recent events.
Clearly Nolan never intended this to be an easy watch, seemingly forfeiting easy blockbuster conventions to present a dystopian, amoral, thoroughly real and disturbing view of a city and society in crisis. Holding a mirror up to the present day, the view is not pretty.
Following a rousing opening in which a hostage is kidnapped in mid air, we get to meet Bane (Tom Hardy). This is clearly a man clearly not to be trifled with, despite an anesthetic delivering mask permanently attached to his face. Voice distorted, he inspires terror and fear in anyone in close proximity.
Meanwhile, The Batman or Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), has been gone for some 8 years. His humble butler Alfred (Michael Caine), continues his attempts to coax Wayne from the life of a recluse. Wayne’s interest is finally piqued by the visit of a Cat Burglar who happens to be a woman, cat + woman = Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).
Whilst he has been away, Wayne enterprises has not being doing so well, clearly better leadership is required if Wayne can be persuaded to return. Fox (Morgan Freeman) has been maintaining the secret lab as before, whilst shepherding an ultra secret power source project to either fruition or mothballs, dependant on it’s ultimate potential use. Miranda (Marion Cotillard) has helped fund the project and is clearly none too happy at the lack of results.
Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), continues to peddle the Harvey Dent myth which created an environment for harsh penalties and laws, which has cleansed Gotham’s streets. Both Wayne and Gordon carry the same burden, saving the city through a lie has taken their souls and everyone they cared for. Fortunately, their burden is understood by a newcomer to the series, a street cop called Blake who clearly understands more than he should (Joseph Gordon-Lovitt), Nolan clearly casting his favourite actors.
This is a complex story, infinite shades of grey rather than clear cut good and evil. The film is is magnificently shot, the acting first rate and special effects as strong as before. Nolan continues to use his musical score better than perhaps anyone working in Hollywood today.
The film is harder to enjoy than earlier entries in the trilogy, the Dark Knight would be hard to top, an instant classic. This film immerses itself into the real world, creating urban terrorists with nihilistic, fascist leanings. Rich folk are pulled from their fancy apartments, “judged” at Kangaroo courts and exiled or executed, both end the same, exile being just a colder way to go.
Watching bridges collapse and smoke filled cityscapes as residents flee in terror, no longer has the distance it once did. Similar to Iron Man, which flirted briefly with Afghanistan, any superhero movie needs to tread carefully. No one asks why the Joker sets fire to piles of money but Bane needing to invade Wall Street with automatic weapons just to lay some trades?
With all of the hi tech weaponary on display, quite why Bane and Batman end up in a street fight with baton wielding cops charging thugs armed with automatic weapons, is an odd choice for the screenplay to make.
Ironically, Nolan also chooses to interweave an anti-capitalistic slant into a $250 million budgeted film, expected to earn in excess of a billion dollars.
There are several sequences where we glimpse the Batman of old but these are fewer than before, after all this is Batman with Angst and debts. However, no-one wants to see Wayne’s Lambo being repossessed.
Despite the films extended running time, slower and occasionally confusing mid-section, it does however build to an exciting climax, with an interesting twist and soon to be much debated ending.
If you thought previous entries were dark and complex, think again.
Complex but superb storytelling, whether the story is right for the genre is more debatable. Nolan decides to take the route marked “hard”, demanding his audience travel with him.
Recommended but not as enjoyable or accessible as The Dark Knight, which remains the high water mark in this genre.