Batman has always had more than his fair share of compelling, fascinating villains, but he’s also had a fair few foes who just aren’t quite as interesting. For me, Bane, the muscular, power-hungry steroid-addict in a Lucha Libre mask, has always fallen under the latter. Where most of Gotham’s rogues are defined by their psychoses and their obsessions, Bane was always more defined by his physique, meaning that aside from his startling first appearance in the Knightfall story arc in 1993, he was never quite as interesting as some of his more deranged rivals. I was wary when I heard that Christopher Nolan had decided to make Bane the principal villain of the last in his Batman trilogy, as despite the director previously drawing out the potential of other villains that never quite worked, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.
Thankfully, my caution was misplaced. The Dark Knight Rises is a compelling, exhilarating film that makes a satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s vision. Set eight years after the events of the previous film, it starts with Gotham city in a period of peace, which must be a novelty for a city that breeds dangerous insane criminals like other cities breed rats. Batman has disappeared and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse, but he is drawn out of hiding when jewel-thief Selina Kyle (usually known as Catwoman, though she’s never referred to as such in the film) robs him and sells her findings to a shady businessman working with the mercenary-turned-terrorist, Bane. As with the first two films, the plot cleverly weaves comic references with social commentary (some of which is particularly close to the bone following the Occupy movement and the riots in London last year) and character psychology, and though it’s not without a few holes, it’s exciting and often surprising. There are points where I was genuinely unsure how it would play out; this is not a film that has that cosy certainty that the good guy will win…or even survive.
The cast, as always, are excellent. Christian Bale’s damaged Bruce Wayne is fascinating and tragic as ever, even if his Batman voice is still rather silly. Tom Hardy cuts an imposing figure as Bane, making him far more threatening than he ever was in the comics. He’s brutal but intelligent and not completely without pathos, making him all the more realistic. Like Bale’s Batman, however, he’s hampered by an over-the-top accent, heavily edited with rather too much bass to simulate the effect of his scary mask, which means at times I honestly couldn’t make out what he was saying. The supporting cast are superb, with Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine all reprising their roles. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a little too wide-eyed and idealistic as John Blake, a good cop who deduces Batman’s real identity rather too easily. It’s nice to see cameo appearances from some of the faces from the previous films, even Liam Neeson reprises his role as the dead Ra’s al Ghul in a dream sequence. The real stand-out, though, is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Selina Kyle. Utterly believable as the poverty-sticken femme fatale who isn’t quite as cold and mercenary as she would make out, Hathaway’s Catwoman feels a lot more well-rounded and a lot less fetishised than previous versions. Fans of the comics will be glad to see influences are still drawn from the comics, there’s a lot of Year One in there, a bit of No Man’s Land and for those of you who read Knightfall, yes, that moment is there, but everything fits well within the gritty universe Nolan has crafted. With fewer gadgets than the previous film, The Dark Knight Rises does feel a little more credible than the last one, although the silliness quota is certainly hit thanks to the least aerodynamic helicopter/plane/flying-tank ever put on film.
It’s not without fault, however. The first act of the film is, despite a thrilling opening, rather slow and drawn-out. There are details of the plot that, on reflection, don’t make a lot of logical sense, though while I was watching, I have to say I was thoroughly engrossed.
Is better than The Dark Knight? In a word, no. They’re two very different films, but menacing as Hardy’s Bane is, he’s nowhere near as entertaining and frightening as Heath Ledger’s extraordinary performance as the Joker. It takes a long time for the film to find it’s feet, but when it does, it’s gripping. And your reward for sticking with it is a truly brilliant and deeply satisfying climax. It’s not perfect, but it’s not to be missed.