Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

So yes, a review of the film everyone is talking about (partially for unbelievably tragic reasons.) I can't think of much else to say. It's the motherflippin' Dark Knight Rises. You know the score.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It's pretty safe to say that The Dark Knight Rises is 2012's most anticipated film. Geeks and non-geeks alike have been waiting with bated breath for the final installment of the Dark Knight trilogy, a film that not only marks the end of Christopher Nolan's stint behind the camera, but also Christian Bale's time in the batsuit. It's been a fantastic ride, but even the best rollercoasters have to come to a stop.

"Don't worry, Master Wayne. It takes a little time to get back into the swing of things."

After the events of The Dark Knight, Batman has been gone for 8 years. An older, more physically enfeebled Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a Howard Hughes-type recluse, barely leaving his bedroom and tended to, as always, by his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine). However, it seems he's not needed as thanks to the Dent Act, the streets are clean and safe- leaving Comissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) with a massive moral quandry on his hands.Wayne is forced to become the Bat once more when a hulking great mercenary by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) who aims to send Gotham into turmoil, aided by his army of incredibly loyal followers. Also cat-burglar and seeming moral vacuum Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and rookie hot-headed cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are in it but it's annoying me I'm still typing a fucking plot summary rather than reviewing the film. The plot is solid and probably the least convoluted of the trilogy. Without spoiling too much, although it has elements of The Dark Knight, it has more in common with Batman Begins. The returning cast are the best they've been, with Michael Caine making me tear up a few times.

The newcomers also bring their A-game. Anne Hathaway is awesome as Selina Kyle (she's never referred to as "Catwoman" in the script), giving the film a sorely needed fun injection every now and again with all the unremitting bleakness, misery and bum-gazing going on. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a lot with what initially seems like a largely pointless and uninteresting role as John Blake, a young, intuitive policeman. He brings real depth to what could have been a thankless part. Marion Cotilliard is predictably great as the mysterious billionaire investor Marion Tate, who for the first time since the late Rachel Dawes believes in Bruce Wayne, rather than just his nocturnal alter-ego. As is the case with everything Batman, the villains are the real talking point and Bane is no exception. He is one scary motherfucker. Hardy does a great job giving Bane some personality considering 80% of his face is covered by a speech-garbling mask. Certainly this is the first time we feel that Batman is out of his depth physically, which gives us some fantastic showdowns between the two. He's just not as interesting as The Joker or even Scarecrow. He's a bulked up Ra's al Ghul, filled with the same "Gotham must burn" League of Shadows philosophy we've seen before. It doesn't help that Batman is absent from most of the film, leaving the film to uncomfortably rest on Bane's considerable shoulders.

Time to lay the cards on the table. I think ...Rises is the weakest of the trilogy. That's not to say it's bad, because it isn't at all. It just doesn't quite stack up to the the previous installments. Considering I love the first two films so much I consider them family members, this is still a huge, although admittedly backhanded, compliment. For the first time in a Nolanverse film, I was getting a bit bored, especially in the middle where the film is desperately struggling to keep up with its own plot. As I said earlier, the plot isn't as complicated as previous films, but still has a lot of threads to keep track of, some of which aren't kept as taut as others. ...Rises is a smart film, but its misplaced some of its I.Q. points since 2008. Unlike previous entries, the social relevance aspect (The Dark Knight being a huge allegory for the War on Terror and the "any means necessary" approach) seems forced. There are distinct parallels drawn between the #Occupy movement, raging against the 1% and the global recession but it's handled with such inelegance that I didn't care. All those political undercurrents were woven in to The Dark Knight so carefully you could easily miss them. ...Rises' social commentary just sits on top of the plot, like oil on water. I know what you're probably thinking: "Big fuckin' deal, it's Batman, dickhead- not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."* and that's true, I wasn't rubbing my hands with glee in the queue because I was looking forward to some searing satire, I was looking forward to Bats kicking arse. It just stood out to me is all. Now get the fuck off my case, imaginary douche. What I'm saying is that it just doesn't feel as clever as the other films. This is also present in the dialogue, which is nowhere near as memorable or as quotable as it has been, with a fair few clumsy lines littered here and there.The pacing was also a slight problem. The film felt like one of those extended/director's cuts you get. There are a lot of scenes that add nice little character moments, but sacrifice pacing for them. I wouldn't go as far to call it overindulgent, but it is a little bloated.

Despite spending that paragraph above slagging the film off, consider me a critic by exception. Everything else is awesome. The scale of this film is off the fuckin' chain. There are scenes with hundreds of extras that justify the price of IMAX alone. If you can see it in IMAX, do. Nolan loves the format and filmed half of the film in super-resolution IMAX-o-vision and it adds a real sense of scope to everything. There are so many things that worked too. I loved the huge set-pieces, including Bane's seige on Wall Street, leading to a fantastic exchange between him and a sharp-suited prick banker, who explains that the money isn't real so it can't be stolen, to which Bane replies "Then why are you people here?". Genius. The opening plane scene is also jaw-droppingly good and really feels like an old-school James Bond setpiece. Somebody give Nolan a shot at directing the CraigHulk as Bond. They'll make magic together, trust me. Also the scene that nerdy people like me have been expecting ever since we heard Bane was in it was worth the wait. It's just as brutal and bad-ass as I wished it would be. In terms of the quieter moments, every scene Alfred has with Bruce is superbly written and incredibly touching. Hats off to both Bale and Caine. There are also some neat little references to both the previous films and the comic book lore dotted around that made me squeal like a Japanese anime schoolgirl.

"I won't bury you. I buried enough members of the Wayne family."

The Dark Knight Rises is damn good. It's just not as good as we've (possibly unfairly) come to expect from Nolan. The watermark set by The Dark Knight is ridiculously high and it's a tough act to follow. The thing that really tickles my pleasure lobe is that even at its worst, ...Rises kicks the shit out of 90% of the current mainstream, multi-million dollar offerings. The film series has never pandered or patronised and I'm so pleased that people are responding en masse to this kind of filmmaking. The Dark Knight trilogy is now one of the best trilogies around- up there with Toy Story and Lord of the Rings. Whilst sceptical about the already announced Batman reboot, the film does hint at the direction they with, which I definitely approve of. ...Rises is one of those films I think will improve on multiple viewings. There's a lot packed into the 164 minute runtime, it's just spread unevenly. You'll laugh, you'll definitely cry, but mostly you'll walk out of the screening thanking whatever deity you pray to that another franchise wasn't sullied forever. Highly recommended.

*I just noticed in my original draft this read  "Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy" which is a very different kind of film that I'm surprised they haven't made yet.

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