21 July 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises


The Dark Knight Rises
2012, 164mins, 12
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer (s): Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Cast includes: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman 
UK Release Date: 20th July 2012

Remember when films used to be events? Full-blooded ceremonies of pop cultural extravagance? A time in which a flick didn’t get one week of heavy promotion before vanishing into the ether until an eventual plethora of home media releases? Good, neither can I. However I have read about such an era, Hollywood epics of a magnitude and social significance that they became focal parts of the world around them, maybe Steven Spielberg’s beach emptying masterpiece “Jaws, the operatic “Star Wars” sequels or even going further back to sweeping epics like “Gone With the Wind”. There was a time when a trip to the cinema was more than just trivial recreation, albeit films that recall such a fact are now few and far between. However this weekend one such offering hits multiplexes in the form of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. Following on from his magnificent double-header of comic book adaptations 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight”, audiences have been thirsting for this final instalment, the completion of a potentially sublime trilogy. Warner have been pushing the film hard for over a year now, throwing out titbits and chunks of fanboy baiting material to wow the masses, before unleashing a trailer and a ferocious marketing surge sometime around Christmas 2011. Since then it’s been unstoppable, “The Dark Knight Rises” superseding the status of a mere blockbuster, morphing into phenomenon, or as I stated above an EVENT. No matter how you feel about this movie, it recalls the community element of the film-going experience  terrifically, legions of motion picture lovers to lining up to worship at the altar of theatricality, desperately hankering to confirm if Nolan can match or even better his previous spins around Gotham City. This is critic-proof. It will make vast sums of money. It will be discussed and debated irrespective of general consensus. How lovely is it to have a director, a visionary even, and a franchise that stirs such passion amongst the public? This is what Christopher Nolan really brings to the table with “The Dark Knight Rises”. Oh, and the film itself is bloody brilliant by the way.

“Rises” opens 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight”, Batman is gone and Harvey Dent is venerated as a hero and beacon of hope. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, back to restrained mode) has successfully cleaned up the streets, Gotham a changed cityscape. With this knowledge and the fact his alter-ego has been branded a murderer; Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now a recluse, his only contact with humanity coming through his loyal Butler and dear friend Alfred (Michael Caine). Enter Bane (Tom Hardy), a mercenary boasting a troubled past and connections with an old adversary of Batman’s, looking to start what his master couldn’t finish. Bane seeks to clear Gotham of the controlling bureaucrats, police interference and wealthy upper crust which in his eyes have been holding society to ransom, implementing terror tactics, cold-hearted strategy and a gang of competent thugs to initiate his bidding. With Gordon hospitalized, Wayne has to consider bringing Batman out of retirement to combat the new threat, enjoying the help of snarky thief Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and a courageous young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in his search for justice. However after such a lengthy break Wayne may not be ready to tackle Bane, an opponent who outmatches the Dark Knight both physically and mentally.

There’s an obvious social commentary that burdens “The Dark Knight Rises” slightly, Nolan blundering on about the inequalities in society sporadically, never really reaching a concrete resolution or final message of much consequence concerning the subject. It filters into the picture jarringly, providing a large portion of the motivation for Bane’s early manoeuvres. As a result it deserves to be referenced and highlighted as a clunky and obtrusive figment of the screenplay. It doesn’t really work. There I said it. However with that my substantive issues with “The Dark Knight Rises” have been essayed in completion, the patchy execution of the societal imbalance marking my only resolute problem with the movie. Other than that it’s plain and largely flawless sailing, a fitting finale for the tales the preceded it.

As with everything Nolan attempts, “The Dark Knight Rises” is more than just a marker of its genre, it’s a tremendous action film, a compelling investigation of multiple characters and a twisty psychological battle. The film concludes amidst a monumental warzone, so fans will definitely get their fill of scale. It’s aesthetically spectacular on every level, delivering several memorable set-pieces, all laced with the film-maker’s flair for intricate detail and love of money-shot cultivation. Nolan works through the franchise regulars (Oldman, Bale, Caine etc.) and newcomers alike, ensuring the story rounds out in fittingly epic and gratifying fashion. The phrase anti-climax simply cannot be applied here. Despite its grandiose length (just short of three hours) “The Dark Knight Rises” never drags, it wizzes forward as a master-class in pacing and narrative construction, each scene propelling to the next excitedly, raising the stakes and providing economic context to ensure the brew sits fast at a scintillating temperature. In honesty it feels like watching a regular 90 minute adventure – I’m still at odds trying to understand how Nolan achieved such a feat. Well no, that’s a lie. I’m fully aware it’s through a faultless understanding of storytelling law and stringent editorial transitioning that “The Dark Knight Rises” triumphs so aggressively in this department, but it’s worth marvelling at anyway.

This probably represents Bale’s best turn as the Caped Crusader, primarily because he spends less time behind the mask here than in previous endeavours. The second act is effectively a deconstruction of Wayne as a character, subtle in the way it sees him come full circle from his origins in “Batman Begins”. Thoroughly engaging and predictably intense, Bale communicates Wayne’s inner strife vibrantly, using a rapport with several other performers (major props Michael Caine) to help highlight the trauma and yearnings that drive the billionaire. Anne Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt blend nicely into the world, firing up three dimensional and entertaining turns, each bringing an extra squirt of thematic juice to the movie. That’s the thing about Nolan, the economy of storytelling doesn’t just apply to plotting, it’s relevant to all bases, including characters. He stretches his screen entities out for maximum reward, forcing them to earn a seat at his party. If somebody can’t bring enough on paper, they won’t make final cut. Thankfully these most notable new additions are interesting to explore, the sharp casting only pronouncing the success further.

Then there’s Tom Hardy, the million dollar question being – does he fill Heath Ledger’s shoes?  The answer is probably not, but such a comparison is cruel to force upon any actor. Firstly Ledger’s Joker is now regarded as one of the most distinctive screen villains of the modern era, maybe even ever. If we measure Hardy on such a steep gradient, then shouldn’t all mainstream baddies be subject to the same insane scrutiny, No, of course they shouldn’t. Genius is great, but it shouldn’t render brilliance less valuable, and that’s what Hardy is, brilliant. The British actor uses his eyes (he’s behind a breathing apparatus for most of the runtime) and immense bulk to create a viable threat, matching up alongside Batman formidably. There are several little speeches and diatribes Bane recites during the course of the film, all of which Hardy slam-dunks, slathering everything he says with an icy elegance. He may not be Heath Ledger, but I doubt that’s what he or the film-makers were going for. Rather I’d like to think they all wanted something fresh in the guise of Tom Hardy, forcing his name home in a different but effective style.

The Gotham sets are as lavish and expansive as they’ve ever been, acting as a hectic playground for energetically devised action beats. Nolan mixes jets, armed vehicles and a bomb into the cocktail, but the most electrifying sequences are probably a pair of fistfights between the hero and muscle laden Bane. The first is a vicious and unrelenting crucifixion, Nolan getting close and tight into the action, cutting fast between hits to emphasise the gravity of the beating one character takes. The next is as much a battle of wits as anything else, as are many large slabs of the picture in retrospect. Mind games are front and centre here, as seen in the particularly cruel torture one entity doles out to another. The bombastic gunplay and explosive chases still satisfy, but it’s the more intimate and grounded chapters in this saga that thrill hardest.

A love arc with a business partner (Marion Cotillard) works slightly better than the comparative components of past films, but that’s faint praise. Nolan never seems that fixated with this relationship, using it rigorously as a plot mechanic and personality crux for Wayne. It functions well in this regard, rendering one or two flabby instances of romance tolerable as a result.  The film-maker proved he could make this sort of thing credibly with “Inception”, a film where such elements felt more pivotal, in “Rises” they’re just present to dial up the motivation and present an extra lick of flavour.

Is “The Dark Knight Rises” as good as it predecessors? Impossible to say after just one viewing, although my principal reaction would be to suggest it doesn’t quite match “The Dark Knight”, the mac daddy of this series to date. Repeat inspection might allow for a variety of conclusions, so until then, I reserve the right to shift my opinion. One thing is for sure though; “The Dark Knight Rises” is a worthy denouement, an intelligent, expertly crafted and thoroughly exhilarating blast of big screen magic. It’s the sequel you wanted, maintaining a level of quality only a select few franchises have sustained before it. Now stop reading this and go see it. “The Dark Knight Rises” deserves your attention and the huge financial success which it will undoubtedly register. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


Miketh said...

Fantastic film, fantastic review. Nicely written Dan! Completely agree about Tom Hardy as well - comparisons with other villains are just tasteless, and Bane is a phenomenal villain.

Dan O. said...

This film had me from start to finish and that was just exactly what I wanted, especially from the last installment in this perfect trilogy. It’s going to be a shame not seeing Christopher Nolan doing Batman flicks anymore, but maybe this will allow him to pull off some more original flicks like The Prestige and Inception. Look forward to his future. Good review Dan.

Alaska Fishing Lodge Mike Addiego said...

Nolan's finale isn't perfect, and may not be the greatest installment of the trilogy, but it solidifies this three-part tale of the Batman legend as one of the best ever told.

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