At the end of the previous film, Batman vanished from public view, blamed for the death of the supposedly heroic DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, seen here briefly in flashback), whom we know had become the villainous Two-Face. Now Gotham City is crime free thanks to the draconian Dent Act (not unanalagous to the Terrorist Act) and Bruce Wayne (Bale), now a fragile figure, who walks with the aid of a walking stick, hides away in his mansion, a recluse, who has lost his purpose in life. But a new figure now threatens the city in the form of terrorist Bane (Hardy), a ruthless muscle man in a bizarre mask, and Wayne must get his act and his now infirm body together and rise again as Batman to save the people.
While there is plenty of superbly staged action, like Nolan’s previous two Batman movies this is no mere comic book caper but a dark and meaty story, which uses fantasy and imagination to put a different creative spin on the characters originally created years ago by Bob Kane. While to some extent shackled by the demands of a popular franchise as opposed to having total freedom of imagination, as in the more philosophically interesting Inception, Nolan still creates his own impressively epic cinematic world within those limitations.
Bale, known for his devotion to torturing his body into the demands of any role he takes on, looks as though he must have starved himself for the many sequences where Wayne is subject to the fragile limits of a mere human frame and then spent weeks of body building for his action scenes as the battling Dark Knight. He also gives us charm and a sense of humour, as in his first encounter with burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway) a.k.a Catwoman. As the double dealing Selina, Hathaway is a very cool cat indeed, athletic, self determining and very sexy.
Apart from her and the “regulars” – Michael Caine as Alfred, poignantly concerned in a fatherly way for the man he has protected since babyhood; Gary Oldman, solidly believable as the morally conflicted Police Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Batman’s “Q” figure, who in this episode comes up with an even more impressive hovering Batmobile – Nolan has imported several of the cast who worked with him on Inception. Marian Cotillard plays Miranda, a “green” who wants to save the world with clean energy; Joseph Gordon-Levitt is keen young policeman John Blake, who for much of the film takes over Commissioner Gordon’s role as supporter of Wayne, when everyone else is bad mouthing him; Cillian Murphy reprises his role from the first two episodes of the trilogy; and towering above them all is Tom Hardy as Bane.
Hardy is an impressive and terrifying physical presence, a mountain of muscle with a shaven head, reminiscent in some ways of his brilliant portrayal of Bronson. The mask he wears throughout, the reason for which we eventually learn in his intriguingly revealed back story, does though hamper him vocally. Much of his dialogue is unintelligible, making him sound like Darth Vader on a bad phone line.
The action sequences are spectacular – highlights include the impressive opening aerial sequence, where Bane is rescued from the clutches of the CIAby his cohorts; a brutal hand to hand fight between Bane and the Dark Knight; and the breathtaking destruction of a football stadium, preceded by a tense build up where the only sound is the piercingly beautiful sound of a young boy soprano.
The film is somewhat over plotted, making the detail sometimes difficult to follow against the action and not helped by the fact that again some important dialogue for those of us who want to get all the detail is drowned out, this time by Hans Zimmer’s otherwise effective, insistent music. As Nolan and his brother Jonathan have sweated blood on the details of the script, it would have been good to be able to hear it all and get our heads round the all the complexities of the plot and characters.
But quibbles aside, this is high class spectacular cinema enhanced by depth and imagination, beautifully produced, and a fitting farewell to the Dark Knight.