Selena Kyle: There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.
Some films are heralded by the sound of rampant applause and acclaim long before they even make it to the big screen. One such film is the third and supposedly final in Christopher Nolan’s revamp of the campy Batman series, to create a sleek, stealthy, sinister world of decadent darkness.
Eight years on from the harrowing events of The Dark Knight, Gotham resides in a state of melancholy peace following on from the tragic death of the cities former hero Harvey Dent and climactic capture of Batman’s warped ‘dog chasing a car’ nemesis the Joker.
Millionaire socialite Bruce Wayne has also retired from the public sphere, whiling away time in his palatial surroundings at Wayne Manor, convinced that life no longer has anything to offer him since the murder of his long standing flame Rachel. Physically in detriment and mentally distracted, Wayne is no longer the powerful hero the city had come to depend on.
Unfortunately, he is forced to don his leathers again, roused out by the craft and cunning of cat burglar Selena Kyle. A new antagonist has ventured into town, an adversary far more physically powerful and brutal than any of Batman’s former contenders – Bane. Recruiting disillusioned men from the world above down in the sewers, Bane quietly builds a formidable army to assist him with destroying Gotham. It is not simply that Bane wants to eradicate Gotham from the map (though he does indeed want this). He firstly wants to give the people of Gotham hope, hope for freedom and hope for escape, before plunging them into total eradication.
Tricked by Catwoman into a confrontation with Bane, Wayne is defeated and locked in a cell in a remote desert prison. The aesthetic of the prison outlines Bane’s concept for defeating Gotham in perfect clarity. All prisoners, from their dank and dark surroundings, can glimpse the beaming light of hope and freedom above. All they must do to claim it is climb the rope and escape. Unfortunately, none of the prisoners have ever achieved this, except one, a child. Bane tantalizingly teases Wayne by providing him with video footage of the destruction and despair he reeks on Gotham in his absence causing Wayne to begin focusing on sharpening his mind and developing the potential of his body.
Meanwhile Bane isolates the city of Gotham by detonating several devices that render it impossible for the inhabitants to leave. He forces the wealthy and powerful into hiding, returning the city to the damaged, despondent, disillusioned, imprisoned and impoverished, releasing prisoners chained up during the Dent Act and revealing the truth about the actions of former Hero Harvey Dent. Now that the city belongs to ‘the people’, in a warped re-enactment of the Last Judgement, the accused are forced to choose death or exile, forced onto the frozen wastes of Gotham before plunging to their deaths in the water below.
Now that Bane has provided the citizens with a glimmer of hope, reclaiming the city from their rich oppressors, he can wait quietly as the bomb slowly ticks down. But Wayne has grappled with a very important finding. He cannot escape the pit when he uses the rope and inches his way closer to the top. Instead he mimics the actions of the child who escaped before him. A child who freed themselves by lunging their body forward, powered only by the fear of death, the desperation of escape and the tenacity toward freedom. Accepting his fear of death, Bruce manages to escape the confines and returns to his city.
What follows is the reunion of our protagonists and anti heroes, Batman, Gordon, Fox, Blake and Catwoman as they attempt to thwart Bane’s plans, save their city and expose an unlikely adversary.
The film ends in such a way that indicates the franchise could be returned to. This could be the closing of a chapter, or the gentle shutting of a book, but it could also be planting the seeds for an entire new direction. Certain facts and loose ends are left up in the air, leaving us only to assume that this is the end, or a new beginning for several of the characters involved.
Nolan is renowned for casting unpredictable wild card choices that tend to confound and polarise audiences. His decisions are never ‘obvious’. He gave the role of the Joker to Heath Ledger when he was only really known as a romantic lead in teen fair such as 10 things I hate about you, and what he received was a man who enmeshed and immersed himself in the role with such totality that he became the twisted face of manic insanity and chaos. In this film he bestows the role of Catwoman to a rather unlikely candidate, star of The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, wholesomely lantern eyed Anne Hathaway who similarly transforms and transcends her limitations to become the sinisterly sensuous Selena. Anne surprisingly slips into the sombre mood with effortless ease, creating a crafty, cautious cat of a woman, scarlet lipped, kohl rimmed bottomless black eyes, lycra clad and buxom. I have a feeling Anne’s career is going to go in a completely different direction after her participation in this franchise.
It is Nolan’s faith in these seemingly random choices that creates a sumptuous cast that surprises and ensnares. Many mocked him for casting unconventional beauty Maggie Gyllenhaal as Wayne’s love interest rival, and likewise his decisions for many other roles are unusual, but work astonishingly to breathe life into their roles. It is interesting to see actors and actresses sizzle and intensify under Nolan’s watch, shedding former skins and showing their true capacities to become new characters.
Christian Bale brings his usual thoughtful, reticent intensity to the Batman role, Michael Caine astounds in more emotional, heartfelt exchanges between Alfred and Bruce, Gary Oldman is fantastic as ever, reprising his role as Commissioner Gordon, Cillian Murphy is suitably bewildered and dishevelled as Dr Crane and Morgan Freeman lends his gentle tenacity to the role of Lucius Fox. But there are two other newcomers that really steal the scenes for me.
The forceful intense tenacity of Tom Hardy who also incorporates a graceful, magnetic vulnerability is the villain of the piece Bane – literally the bane of Batman’s existence in this movie. His presence is startling and instant. It is at times difficult to understand all of Bane’s lines (something the Batman franchise consistently suffers from) due to his masked exterior, but Tom’s eyes and muscles do all of the talking to create a truly formidable and memorable opponent.
Nolan has brought in many of his Inception pals, gracing Joseph Gorden Levitt with the role of Blake, a police officer branded a ‘hot head’ who is promoted to Detective thanks to Gordon’s recognition of his talents. Gorden-Levitt has a youthful vulnerability hiding in a brooding exterior that make him perfect for this dynamic world of Nolan’s creation.
Another Inception star, the stunning Marion Cotillard plays the understated role of Bruce’s new love interest Miranda Tate, who is not all she seems. A startling face that only has a fraction of screen time most definitely deserves a shout out, the baby faced; adult eyed Joey King, who portrays the role of the child escaping the pit.
Nolan creates a dark, gothic, hyper realistic atmosphere compared to Burton’s earlier campy style. This world is a bit of NY, a little London and a sprinkling of Chicago. Not so unrecognisable to us, but a stone’s throw away. Shakespeare used to set plays picking apart London’s social and cultural issues by transposing them to Italian towns. Nolan behaves similarly. Particularly with the world as it is, many of Batman’s themes and points resonate poignantly. Have the rich and powerful held the poor and desperate down for too long? Are many of us dual, doing what we can to survive in the concrete jungles we’ve created? Batman is essentially a humourless franchise, with only the odd second of inferred humour. It is a thick, muddy, swamp like world of depravity, money and evil. Hans Zimmer demonstrates this with his delicious soundtrack that will literally raise the hairs on your arms and tingle and jangle along your nerves. He creates music built for flight or fight, with a power and rawness rarely matched. Action fans will not be disappointed at the animal confrontations of Bane and Batman that had me hanging on my seat with apprehension.
Batman has always been a study in morality. Gotham is a world where good and evil do battle behind guises and masks very much mirrored in our own world. An exposed face can do more good hidden and anonymised. Unfortunately, this film will forever be tarnished by the real life actions of a crazed murderer in a small Colorado town, but this is not a film that glamorises violence, this is a film that shows the necessity of fighting for what’s right, appreciating what we have and not taking things at face value.