Historically, superhero trilogies in film have not gone well.
Usually, by the time a superhero film series gets to the third installment, either the folks responsible for the original superior films have moved on, or are running out of steam and substitute quantity for quality: more villains, more special effects, less smarts and heart.
SUPERMAN III? An unfunny comedy in which Superman takes a back seat to Richard Pryor. BATMAN FOREVER? Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey competing to see who can overact more, and we all lose. X-MEN 3? Killing off main characters left and right, with no meaning and not much drama. SPIDER-MAN 3? Three words: Dancing Emo Spidey.
So strictly from a statistical standpoint, Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES had the odds against it. Luckily DARK KNIGHT RISES defies those odds, delivering a tense, expansive, epic finale to Nolan’s take on the BATMAN mythology, one that ties together all three films and dares to give Batman something that no one else ever has (and the spoiler-sensitive among you should probably look away now): a happy ending.
Nolan jumps the story ahead eight years from the end of THE DARK KNIGHT, with a peaceful Gotham mostly free of crime thanks to the Dent Act, a near-Draconian series of laws designed to clean up Gotham, pushed through by public reaction to Harvey Dent’s “murder” at the hands of the Batman, a lie concocted by Batman and Gordon in an effort to keep Dent’s name clean and his work not in vain. And this lie has worn down Gotham, a beaten-down Gordon and a now-reclusive and physically broken Bruce Wayne, a virtual shut-in in Wayne Manor and retired from his life as the Batman. Wayne is drawn back into the world by the appearance of an extremely attractive Jewel thief who infiltrates Wayne Manor and steals Martha Wayne’s pearls, as well as the attempted murder of Gordon by the masked terrorist Bane, who’s secretly building an army in the catacombs beneath Gotham’s sewers. And with that we’re off and running.
Christian Bale is great as a slightly haunted Wayne struggling to regain his footing as the Batman, and Michael Caine’s Alfred is as ever the heart of the film, along with Gordon, who’s even more heroic and involved in the action here than he was in THE DARK KNIGHT, which is saying something. Joseph Gordon Leavitt also impresses as John Blake, an idealistic young beat cop drawn into Gordon and Batman’s confidence as Gotham begins to crumble under Bane’s withering assault.
And what about Bane? For all the internet panic about his garbled voice in the original preview trailer, Tom Hardy’s Bane makes an eminently enjoyable villain to watch in screen, all the more impressive by the fact that we never see more than one-third of his face. The juxtaposition of his massive imposing frame against his weirdly mannered voice and delivery makes Hardy’s Bane endlessly fascinating. And the pompous way he walks around with his hands tucked into the lapels of his coat cracks me up. But the real surprise here is Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, who provides a much-needed deadpan wit to the proceedings, but also is completely believable as both a self-centered thief and a vicious hand-to-hand fighter, counting on speed and brutality to give her the edge against much larger opponents. There’s none of Michelle Pfeiffer’s cartoonish meowing and licking herself here; this is a Catwoman that totally fits in Nolan’s real-world Batman universe.
What I really admired about the film was how it unified all three of Nolan’s Bat-movies, making use of dialogue, themes and even archival footage from the first two to really make this feel like a proper finale (although absent is any mention of the Joker, an understandable omission in light of Heath Ledger’s tragic demise). Is it better than THE DARK KNIGHT? Not quite, as Ledger’s once-in-a-lifetime performance as the Joker makes that film a standout, and extremely difficult to top. But it’s a great film nonetheless, made all the better by the absence of 3D and over an hour of breathtaking IMAX footage. In a summer that had already seen an amazing comic-book film in THE AVENGERS, it’s an incredible treat to get another one so soon, perhaps just as great, but tonally so different there’s almost no comparing the two.
Scott Tipton is going back to DKR this weekend. If you have questions about Batman or comics in general, send them here.
Also, have you been to Blastoff this week? It’s Silver Age Marvel month, under a fantastic banner by Elena Casagrande! This week, we take a look at the amazing Ant-Man!