The usual warning: if you haven’t seen it, and plan to, you probably shouldn’t rad this.
Christopher Nolan is charged with an extremely difficult film to put together. You have just had a genre-redefining masterpiece in The Dark Knight, and in case folks though that this was a fluke, he’s also just done Inception, a rare sci-fi effects film that crossed over to become a mainstream hit, and scored an Oscar nod for Best Picture. How exactly do you follow that up, especially given the decision to not even mention the character from the last film that stole the show?
You go about it the way every other director has in the past: solid story, great writing, a little originality, and a good cast.
While the plot is visually easy to follow, I think it is difficult to put into words. To give the short version: a mercenary, Bane, with close ties to the League of Shadows (the organization of ninja-like warriors who trained Bruce Wayne in the first film, Batman Begins, is intent on finishing the job that was started in the first film: destroy Gotham. Bane intends to take over the city using a nuclear device culled from the core of an experimental Wayne Industries fusion reactor to bring the city to its knees, and after having some fun in the chaos, destroy it anyway.
Bruce Wayne has grown old, his multiple injuries catching up to him. He has not done Batman for 8 years. Alfred has grown despondent: Alfred is happy he has stopped going out into the night, but despises that Bruce hasn’t moved on, sitting in his manor brooding while life passes him by. Alfred finally sees that he has failed as a guardian to raise Wayne properly and leaves him. Bruce also meets a young up-and-coming Gotham police officer named John Blake who is convinced that Wayne was the Batman, citing his background as an orphan and the pain that this brings to a person, and that he knows Wayne’s front as a playboy is an act.
As Bane’s plan moves forward, the Batman does come out, and Bane promptly dispatches him, sending him to the Central Asian prison that he himself had come from, and now owns. With the Batman tucked away, Bane takes over Gotham, destroying the bridges that link it to the outside world, and threatens to set off a 4 megaton nuclear device in the city, if anyone stops him. With Bane in charge, the criminals are released from prison, and the rich have the home sacked while they are put on trial in a sham court, and are slowly put to death while the rabble claim the streets. The ploy has one problem: the bomb’s core is slightly unstable, and in five months, it will go critical and explode anyway.
Bruce is able to regain his strength and escape back to Gotham, where he battles Bane once more. In the end, the bomb cannot be defused, and the Batman hitches it to his flying machine, and flies it out over the harbor where the bomb explodes, but the city is saved.
I am omitting a lot of details here (you will note that I didn’t mentioned Cat Woman once). This is a film in the details for sure, and is a very visual experience. Does Nolan pull off a great film? Great with a small “g”, yes. With this film, I would rank Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy to be on par, beginning to end, in terms of quality, up there with the original “Star Wars” films and the first three “Indiana Jones” films. This is truly a worthy film in its own right, and the audience I was with last night applauded loudly at the end, if that be any indication.
Tom Hardy is given a damn near impossible task in this film. Hardy is a fine actor (he played Shinzon, Captain Piccard’s Romulan clone in Star Trek: Nemesis). As Bane, you never see his face as it is covered with a breathing device the entire film, and his voice his heavily accented. Nonetheless, good acting + good writing overcomes this. Hardy gives Bane three dimensions: he is an immensely strong, intelligent man of conviction (Alfred, viewing tape of an early Bane rampage even warns Bruce that this man is different because his eyes are those of a man of belief; someone who doesn’t easily yield). There aren’t many actors that I imagine could pull off a role like that, and Tom Hardy deserves some credit in creating a character that gave him limited acting options.
Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, who is never once referred to as “Cat Woman” … simply as an accomplished cat burglar. Beyond any doubt, Hathaway’s portrayal is the best. Looking back to the 1960s TV series, and to Michelle Pfeiffer’s BDSM cheesy performance, the Hathaway performance starts with beautiful writing: this Selina Kyle is a skilled thief (not some secretary Christopher Walken shoved out a window) who comes from the poor side of town. She has a past, and cannot find a way out: she steals things for powerful people, but those people then threaten to turn her in, keeping her employed, but also trapped. She desperately wants a chance to start over, but there is no opportunity to do so. Hathaway needs to walk a tightrope in portraying the character: one who is apathetic to those whom she steals from, but still someone who deep down wants to get out. There have been characters like this where, in the past, the hero is simply able to convince them to “turn good”. There is a small amount of that here, but in the end it is handled with greater realism than most ham handed directors would pull off.
There are really only two key weaknesses that I saw to the plot (it is a fantasy film, but one rooted in a bit of reality, so I know that I am getting a bit picky). The first scene of the movie where Bane is picked up by the CIA is handled pretty poorly. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A CIA officer flies into an airfield in the middle of Central Asia to pick up a Russian scientist, but then is forced to take three hooded criminals with him for no reason other than “they go with the scientist” … and apparently doesn’t check their bindings really well.
Another key plot point in the film is that Bane needs to bankrupt Bruce Wayne and his company. He does this by leading an army of thugs into the Gotham Stock Exchange and, while everyone is at gunpoint, initiates some really bad stock trades on behalf of Bruce Wayne and his company. The next day, Wayne learns that he has gone bankrupt, and while “it may take a few months to figure out and prove fraud”, for no he has to deal with it. I refuse to believe that in this modern world it would be impossible for something like this to not be reversible, especially given Wayne’s fleet of lawyers. It just seemed too convenient “yeah, he stole your money in front of hundreds of witnesses, but there is absolutely nothing that we can do.
I thought the film’s ending, which I won’t reveal, was emotionally resonant, and was a fine ending. While some might see the chances for more sequels, I thought the film actually ended right where it should.
Overall, it is an excellent film filled with some great performances, and is a more than worthy follow up to The Dark Knight.