"No one cared who I was until I put on the mask."
Batman is a thing of the past, retired eight-years since we last saw him fleeing from the Gotham PD. He was erroneously pinned for the death of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, doing so to keep the reputation of the fallen district attorney alive. Since Batman's departure the 'Dent Act' has been established, essentially keeping criminals locked behind bars without the chance of parole. Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) announces that crime numbers have never been lower. Only Commissioner James Gordon knows the falsity behind Dent's legacy. The film begins at Wayne Manor with Gordon commemorating Harvey Dent on the anniversary of his death. He holds a speech in his hand that would unveil the truth to the gathered audience. His guilt paralyzes and the words escape him once again, back in the coat pocket they reside.
Bruce Wayne is seen lurking in the shadows (taking the place of his alter-ego), watching from above. He's relegated to a cane now, no doubt the byproduct of countless bumps and bruises sustained from battling foes*. Wayne sees no reason to continue putting on the cape cowl being that unlawful acts in his city are all but eradicated. He's also haunted by the memory of Rachel Dawes, who unexpectedly exploded in the previous chapter. Wayne has used these past eight-years as a time of mourning**.
*Worth noting is the amount of time Batman has been around. Though it's never been formally stated, it's not too difficult to figure out that after his first appearance in Batman Begins through The Dark Knight, it's only been a span of 1-2 years. Which is a little odd to think about. Christopher Nolan did many things well, but the fact that Batman has seemingly established a high state of fear in Gotham's underworld in such a short amount of time is a little questionable. Not only that, but at the end of TDK, Bats, for all intents and purposes, was completely fine physically. He beat the crap out of the Joker, saved Gordon's family from Two-Face, fell a few stories, got up, then ran away from the cops. What's with the limp?
**Kind of unbelievable to be honest. Hard to swallow that Batman would give up crime fighting because he lost a loved one. That's the reason he got into the gig in the first place.
Christopher Nolan's BATMAN films have always excelled in the villains department and TDKR is no different. Like the Joker before him, Bane is a man shrouded in mystery. His emergence from beneath a black bag reveals a scary creature; a hulking figure whose mouth is sheltered behind a metalic mask. While the Joker was chaotic and erratic, messily knocking off banks, Bane's actions are methodical. He and his growing army first strike Gotham's financial district, simultaneously draining the assets of Wayne in the process. This attack awakens Batman from his hibernation. He dispatches Bane's goons like the old days, quickly reigniting the ire from the pursuing police force.
One of the reasons TDK succeeded was due to Nolan perfectly capturing the psyche of its audience. Post-9/11, the United States was in a state of turmoil. The 'Patriot Act' was in full bloom, allowing the government to spy on citizens as they saw fit. Nolan's voice and vision were spot on, highlighting a plot device which allowed Batman to hone on the Joker by bouncing off signals through cell phones. TDKR tries to do the same. Since the recession in 2008, the flux in the economy has been front and center in the public's consciousness. Nolan tries to capitalize on its effect, most notably the 'Occupy Wall Street' and its 99% revolt. And while the imagery to a certain extent is effective, its message ultimately falls flat, mostly owed to the film's ending.
That's not to take anything away from the feature. Even with a few minor hiccups, TDKR still soars. This has a much grander scale from what we're used to in Nolan's world. Comic book fans will be happy as TDKR takes some of its cues from some of the most compelling storylines of the last few decades, namely 'Knightfall', and 'No Man's Land'. At one point, Gotham is cut off from the rest of the country; later, streets are lined with cops and Bane's goons. Multiple Tumblers are in action, as well as the Batpod, and its newest cousin, the 'Bat': a flying vehicle whose only issue seems to be the autopilot. Even the narrative has been pumped up. When Bane attacks, it affects people, this time including those outside of Gotham's city limits. BATMAN BEGINS and TDK feel much more intimate in comparison. I'm still not sure if that's a good or bad thing. What's more, I don't think it matters.
The cast of characters is lively as usual. First and foremost, Christian Bale. His Bruce Wayne/Batman combination has always been an underappreciated element to the trilogy's flow. He is absent for large sections here, but when he is featured, he proves once more why he was the premier choice to play the damaged billionaire. Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), and Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon) also reprise their roles from the first two films. Each take a major back seat, even in the supporting category, but when they're asked to deliver, they do so masterfully.
Creating the most buzz (and rightfully so) are the new players: Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Hardy portrays the aforementioned Bane. Similar to Bale, Hardy has an uncanny (unhealthy?) ability to slim down and bulk up as the role sees fit. His Bane is a menacing force. There's a palpable sense of physicality, when he throws his fists and boots at his enemies, you feel it. Much has been said about his voice in the film, but I've gone on record as being an unabashed fan. There's a regality that permeates with every word, which makes it all the more unsettling as he bludgeons enemies and crushes windpipes. Like Heath Ledger's Joker before him, Hardy has done a superb job of making his character memorable, in both form and sound.
We're first introduced to Selina Kyle (Hathaway) at Harvey Dent's memorial. She's a cat burgular searching for something in Wayne's safe. Surprisingly, Hathaway was one of the strongest members of the cast. Not through ability, but the way she was able to resonate her role onscreen. By the end of it, you'll forget about Michelle Pfeiffer. It takes a while to decipher where Kyle's allegiance lies. She always and only looks out for herself, but when she's made aware of what Bane's plotting, she just might have more to offer. Also, she looks incredible in black leather.
Early on, when Wayne is still moping and hobbling, he's approached by John Blake (Gordon-Levitt), a police officer, later detective. They speak about Batman and what he meant to his city and its citizens. Like Wayne, Blake is also an orphan, each comprehending the torment that comes with the territory. When Batman goes missing (yes, again) in the middle of the film, Blake is the defacto hero, organizing an insurgence against Bane's forces.
If it sounds like I'm describing TDKR to be nonstop action, you're not far off. He's known as the Dark Knight Detective, but Batman uses more brawn than brain, wishing simply to punch away his opponents than outthink them. There are some incredible set pieces: the hijacking of a plane in mid-flight, an underground brawl, the unavoidable football stadium, the escape from a cylindrical prison; all of which are shot in beautiful IMAX format. With over an hour of its 165-minute running time in this spectacular presentation, search out a 70mm IMAX screen, please. It's the only way this film should be viewed.
Though it doesn't quite reach the levels of its predecessor, TDKR is a more than worthy addition to the Batman mythos and a fitting conclusion to Christopher Nolan's trilogy. Nolan has firmly stated that this is it for him and his expression of the famed comic book character. With those words, the countdown to an inevitable reboot begins. Some of said that whomever next sits in the director's chair will have huge shoes to fill, and to a certain extent they're correct; Nolan and his team have achieved something rare and powerful. Like Bruce Wayne says though, Batman has always been more than a man, an ideal. When one falls, another can pick up the mantle and carry on the responsibility. There are plenty of Batman tales to tell, and galleries of villains to fight. This particular chapter may be ending, but the legend will endure.