Before I get to the review, I would like to extend my condolences and sympathies to all those affected by the Colorado shootings.
Those of you who don’t know me in person may need telling, those of you who do, won’t.
I’m a Batman fan. There it is. I’ve said it in public, I’ve written it down, it’s on record and I will stand by it as I have stood by it since I was six.
Before I ever got "into" comic books - I was a Batman fan. In point of fact, I was a Batman fan before I even knew "American comics even existed. It was in 1966 that the Caped Crusader first crossed my path. My late mother had bought something strange and new from the nearby corner shop. In place of a chocolate or candy bar, she had something different to keep me quiet. A small but colourful rectangular flat pack, containing four cards and a slab of pink bubble gum that defied all efforts to chew it. (Why the hell was it always pink?) The cards showed painted pictures of a character of which I’d never seen the like and each card had part of a story on the back, four cards would make a complete story. The hero dressed like a big bat, had an assistant who shared my name, and they drove around in a black sports car, which also looked like a big bat. What’s not to like? Nothing I had seen to this point in my life was ever THIS cool.
The world-wide phenomenon called Batmania had arrived. Adam West and Burt Ward were soon to follow, I became aware of imported American comics and you’ve heard this from me before.
It’s just that 1966 and Batman is where my lifelong interest in comic books and super heroes began. Marvel and Spider-Man came a year or two later when I discovered there was ANOTHER publishing house putting out this cool stuff.
But an interest was born. I guess most kids went through that phase. Mine never went away. As I type, I’m 52, and as unashamed, unrepentant and unbowed a comic book geek as I was back then, or even forty years ago when my anxious parents demanded and insisted that it was time to grow out of this phase. It was never on the cards, not really. Well, there was a time in my late teens when I thought maybe it was time to put aside the things of childhood, as they say. But then in my twenties, I saw a write-up of the publication of a graphic novel titled "The Dark Knight Returns" and like a junkie, I was straight back to my narcotic of choice. I’ve stuck with super hero comics by Marvel and DC ever since purely because, like movies, they make me happy.
The Batman films however have been a hit and miss kind of situation over the years. But though I couldn't see it at the time this trilogy launched, back in 2005, Christopher Nolan's take on Batman is by far the best we've seen to date.
From the opening scene of Batman Begins, it was obvious that Christopher Nolan was doing something different with Batman. Something we hadn’t seen before. This wasn’t the ridiculous pop-art explosion of colour from the sixties, nor the overwhelmingly off kilter gothic nightmare of Tim Burton’s version. Nor was it the whatever the hell that was we saw from Joel Schumacher. (For more of my take on those films, take a look at my BatMovies article in issue 378 of Starburst magazine, available here).
Batman Begins was a film that at the time, fell just a little bit short for me, but subsequently I enjoyed the film more every time I saw it on DVD, particularly when The Dark Knight was released and Heath Ledger’s Joker was added to the rogue’s gallery.
In retrospect, I think that what threw me originally was that Nolan’s take on the character was to adapt the comic myth and legend to a "real world". So, in "Begins" The Scarecrow doesn’t scamper around Gotham dressed head to toe as a scarecrow, he just has a mask. The Joker didn’t fall into a vat of random chemicals which turned his hair green and his skin white - he wears clown-like make-up and his grin (and psychosis) are the result of his face being mutilated by his abusive father. Two-Face didn’t have his face scarred by a gangster throwing acid in his face during a trial, it was accidentally burned in a fire. Same result, same characters but a more credible way of going about their origins.
So it is with The Dark Knight Rises, which introduces Bane as the main villain with Catwoman along for the ride. Many of you unfamiliar with the comics continuity probably won’t know Bane, other than he was a throwaway character, Poison Ivy’s henchman in the in all ways lamentable Batman & Robin. This was a huge disservice to the character.
Back in 1989, DC’s creative team took the controversial step of putting Batman, their best selling character, out of action in the Knightfall story arc. This tale was spread across all four or five titles featuring the Bat. Essentially, Bane is a super steroid driven psycho whose immense and freaky strength is derived from the Venom steroid, which was introduced previously in a story arc called, well...Venom. Batman himself became addicted to this performance enhancing drug which results in a mental imbalance to put it politely. Anyhow, Bane releases the inmates of Arkham Asylum, which forces Batman to round up all his past foes one by one. Naturally, this tires him out and leaves him weak, which is when Bane takes the opportunity to attack and literally break the Batman’s back.
A stand-in, an ex-assassin and reformed villain named Azrael took the cowl and cape while Bruce Wayne recovered and reassumed the mantle over a year later.
So, the burning question for me was whether Nolan would follow this arc. The teaser posters hinted that this would be the case.
As it was with the previous villains, we have some changes. No Venom steroid, but Bane does have a mask that’s not too dissimilar to the comics. It’s explained that the mask feeds him morphine to counter his pain from something I won’t detail here. But naturally, if you’re in pain what do you get? Adrenaline. Hence the strength. It all makes sense.
Before going into any more detail, I’m going to spell this out. If you haven’t seen Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, then save your hard earned cash. Don’t bother going to see The Dark Knight Rises until you’ve seen those, you’ll be wasting your time. This is the third film in the trilogy and what had happened in the first two lays the groundwork and the backdrop for the events here. This is the final act. (In fact, I’d go as far as to recommend you watch the other two again for a refresher before seeing this. I was glad I did.)
Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight. Assistant DA Harvey Dent’s disfigurement, kidnapping of Commissioner Gordon’s son and descent into madness as Two-Face has been covered up and Dent is remembers as a heroic crusader who stood up to organised crime. His death has been blamed on Batman, with only Commissioner Gordon knowing the truth. Using Dent as an iconic figurehead for justice was a better service to the community than having the homicidal truth revealed. It gave the people of Gotham something to believe in. Batman’s reputation had to be sacrificed and he has disappeared. Batman wasn’t needed. The Harvey Dent act has cleared the streets of all criminals with no hope of parole.
Bruce Wayne, still mourning the death of Rachel Dawes is a recluse in his now rebuilt manor, and needs a cane to get around - the result of the fall at the end of the previous film.
It takes a cat burglar stealing his late mother’s pearls (or seeming to) to stir something in Wayne that sees Batman back on the mean streets of Gotham, dealing justice (with a nifty electronic knee brace gizmo to allow him to move.)
The Catwoman is played by Anne Hathaway who instantly became my second favourite on-screen Catwoman. I never really took to Michelle Pfeiffer in the role, too many plot holes, and the less said about Halle Berry - the better. Hathaway echoes the great Julie Newmar from the sixties series, not only in costume, but also in sassy style. Yes, she’s a criminal and a prostitute (in a nod to the Year One story line) but she’s also immensely likeable and a perfect foil for the grim and humourless Batman.
Although the film doesn’t exactly follow the events of the Knightfall continuity, there are elements of many of the best Batman trade paperbacks from the past twenty years or so here, and fans of the comics will undoubtedly have as much fun as I did in identifying them.
What Nolan has done, and my cap is off to him for this, is to take some of these elements from different story lines over the years, and weave them into a story line that’s both cohesive and a satisfying end to this trilogy. Despite what some critics have said - this is an excellent film and a towering achievement that will appeal to both the comic book nuts as well as the legions of fans this franchise has amassed over the years. You WILL be thrilled, you will CERTAINLY be surprised.
Bane is a seemingly unstoppable force, Batman has to face his own failure, plot elements planted in Batman Begins reappear, forcing Bruce Wayne to face losing vital parts of his life’s infrastructure, while allying himself with an unlikely partner. And have you noticed how deliberately vague I’m keeping this?) All in an epic two and three quarter hours.
Good point - Bale’s gravely Batman voice isn’t quite as distractingly grating here as it was in the last movie, where I felt the need to clear my throat after listening to him.
Bad point - It could’ve been the sound system in my local flea pit, but I found some of the dialogue hard to hear because it was drowned out by the music score. But ultimately, as a Batman fan, I was leaving the cinema happy
So, where does it stand in my personal league table of summer movies? In all truth, I thought it was better than The Amazing Spider-Man, but not quite as good as the Avengers. Those guys are a tough act to beat.
Speaking of the Avengers, there have been persistent rumours of a Justice League film for some time. (the Justice league is DC Comics’ super-team) From what I understand, next year’s Superman film, Man of Steel won’t be a precursor to this. Any future Batman film will have to be another reboot as this story is complete, who knows what they’re intentions are for Green Lantern (and I still don’t understand the hostility toward that film) and they’ve yet to introduce Wonder Woman or the Flash. My guess is that any Justice League film from Warners is a long way away.
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Okay - so, for those of you who’ve seen the film and want to know which sequences came from which graphic novels/story lines, we have to go deep, deep into the SPOILER ZONE.
There are links here to Amazon, where you can find out more about the books or make the purchase. (If you do buy, then I earn a small percentage of the money, which is ploughed back in to keeping this site going)
If you haven’t seen the film, please read no further until you have. Plot points will be given away here. Go and watch it and then come back.
SPOILER ZONE. SPOILER ZONE. SPOILER ZONE.
Batman’s re-emergence after several years following the loss of a loved one, faking his own death - The Dark Knight Returns
Alfred’s desertion of Bruce Wayne due to his self destructive behaviour, an innocent becoming addicted to a drug that makes him Bane following a near death beating - Venom
Catwoman’s origins as a cat burglar and a hooker - Batman - Year One
Bane releasing the prisoners and breaking the Batman’s back, Batman’s eventual recovery - Knightfall
The destruction of parts of Gotham City - Cataclysm
Gotham City being cut off, the bridges being blown and it becoming a hive of territorial villainy - No Man’s Land
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