Remember your best Christmas ever? Well The Dark Knight Rises is like your second best Christmas ever, the one a couple of years later, after you had chicken pox the one inbetween, so you were building yourself up so much, and it was brilliant, but you were so fixated on being determined to to enjoy it that you forgot a little bit how to. After two solid years of pre-hysteria and endless leaks, the tension and terror I went into it with never really let up for its two hours and 45 minutes.
Eight years have passed since The Joker’s reign of terror across Gotham and DA Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent’s murderous breakdown. Batman took the fall for those crimes, and with the Dark Knight exiled, Bruce Wayne is living in a Howard Hughes exile and crime has been largely outlawed thanks to draconian laws passed in Dent’s name.
Christian Bale’s Wayne is woken from his emo funk by an attack from awesome grifter Selina Kyle, who goes through the film unnamed as Catwoman. Nobody can ever out-Catwoman Michelle Pfieffer, and Anne Hathaway wisely doesn’t try. But as the catburgling antiheroine Kyle she is quite, quite fabulous. A brief glimpse of her home life as a skint Brooklynite hipster gives her just enough of a backstory, but by the time she’s suited up and backflipping, she also provides Nolan’s trilogy with the first and only dose of outrageous camp it needed to truly fit in as a screen version of Batman. And you’ll never think of ‘killer heels’ in the same way again.
It’s with Bane that things get knottier. Created in 1993 for the Knightfall storyline (where he broke Batman’s back), he’s a B-list character for Nolan to use as the film’s main antagonist. Tom Hardy brings (considerable) muscle to the role, and the fuss over his voice effects was a non-story. He just gets too few scenes with Batman to get the rapport you need with a proper nemesis, and, call us shallow, but Hardy’s beautiful face is hidden behind that bloody mask. But Bane’s brutal and explosive rampage gives the film its scale - and boy does this have scale. If Batman Begins was an emo origin story and The Dark Knight was the geek Heat, this finale delivers as the blockbuster on every level. Yet at the same time, it’s spectacularly and accidentally prescient. The Nolan brothers will have been writing at the time of the banking crash, but he couldn’t have predicted that Occupy Wall Street would have given him such a perfectly realistic backdrop to film against. Even less that the UK riots would break out exactly a year before his film’s release. But these themes of an accelerating, violent struggle between the haves and the have-nots, the 99% and the one, burn through this film. And nobody, not Bane, Commissioner Gordon, Selina Kyle or Bruce Wayne himself, comes off blameless. Ultimately, this is a story about consequences, and those consequences go all the way back to the start of Batman Begins.
Anything else would be spoiler, but The Dark Knight Rises comes in just infinitesimally short of everything you hoped it would be. Grim though it may be, its great strength is it’s not half as serious and clever as everyone thought it would be. Serious without being pompous, it plays as well as just a great Batman romp. Christian Bale manages once again to own the role while underplaying it so much so that he ends up a supporting character in his own movie. Michael Caine will make you cry. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman. There are gifts for comic geeks, like Juno Temple unnamed but definitely cast as Selina Kyle’s prostitute protege Holly Robinson. There is the mother of all one-liners towards the end. But more than anything, in this epic, often exhausting movie, Bruce Wayne gets the ending that he and Gotham deserve.
Batman will be back before long, as he always is. Presumably he will go down a completely different camp and colourful route, possibly in a Justice League movie. But we’ll likely never get over how exhilarated and morally dubious Nolan’s trilogy has made us feel. As someone says at one point, “Innocent? That’s a pretty big word to use about Gotham, Bruce.” But these themes of an accelerating, violent struggle between the haves and the have-nots, the 99% and the one, burn through this film.