20 July 2012


This review is SPOILER-FREE. There will be no plot spoilers here, but I'm going to write a more in-depth discussion of the movie sometime next week.

It is really, truly difficult to know where to begin with The Dark Knight Rises. Having recently revisited Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, this conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy feels simultaneously like an amalgam of the best parts of those two very different films, and yet another completely different film to round out the three. What we have here, is a complete storyline told over a trilogy of three very different films.

For one thing, I can say that in all my speculation about this finale, I hadn't anticipated that we'd find Bruce Wayne so mentally and physically withdrawn at its beginning. Eight years after Batman took the rap for district attorney Harvey Dent's killing spree, Gotham City has become somewhat safer, with the mob locked up in the wake of the legally dubious Dent Act. Batman hasn't been seen in all that time, but the arrival of Bane, a masked terrorist with sinister designs for Gotham, and mysterious cat burglar Selina Kyle, each serve to draw the Dark Knight out of retirement.

First off, one of the things that surprised me about this film is how little Batman is actually in it. There's plenty of Bruce Wayne, as the film aims to bring his story to a conclusion, but due to the aforementioned circumstances, it's about an hour into the film before we see the caped crusader in action. With more for Christian Bale to do than there was in The Dark Knight, he gives his best performance of the three films, desperately sad and resentful, before doing much as the title suggests, and getting back into the swing of things.

Not that it's a smooth incline- indeed, one vertically oriented set, glimpsed in the trailers, recalls the perilous well at Wayne Manor, into which young Bruce fell in the first scene of Batman Begins. Despite Nolan's protestations that he never intended to make more than one Batman film, the third and final film continues from the conclusion of the previous instalment, but also draws on major themes and loose ends from the original, bringing the three separate parts to a cohesive whole.

As with The Dark Knight, the film adheres to the adage that while Superman represents the way in which America sees itself, Batman is the way that the rest of the world sees America, and its politics err towards the conservative. After the parallels between the Joker's reign of chaos and the war on terror, the film's apparently coincidental parallels with the Occupy Wall Street movement are a little muddier, reflexively representing both an audience in-point, and an admonition of the massive social upheaval that occurs. Happily, this is epitomised by Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, who's just plain amazing throughout all political and tonal shifts.

Completely proving the naysayers wrong, Hathaway is a Catwoman which by any other name would still be perfect, in much the same way as Heath Ledger inhabited the Joker. I'm not comparing it directly to that Oscar-winning performance, because Selina is a hugely different character. The scenes in which Batman and Selina (nobody calls her Catwoman in the movie) fight off goons together are terrific- Nolan's action directing as improved a lot since his first Bat-film, and the banter between the two lends a sense of fun to the proceedings.

There's a gulf between the Joker and Bane too, between the challenge to Batman's morals, and the sheer physical superiority that Tom Hardy gleefully throws around. His voice sounds variously like Sean Connery trapped inside a tin can, and Ian McKellen wearing a Vader-style respirator, but I didn't find it as annoying as some might, and Bane is a very threatening presence throughout the film. I also enjoyed the fight scenes with him and Batman, but not in the same way as those with Catwoman- the most effective of these takes place without the backing of Hans Zimmer's rollicking score, and the impact of each blow is enough to make you wince.

The script, once again penned by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan, is absolutely enormous in its scope, and so we find a lot of time for ancillary characters, all of whom have a lot to be getting on with in the grand scheme of things. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an altruistic cop called John Blake, whose arc takes up about as much of the film as Batman's, and returning characters like Alfred, Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon are all front and centre too. Gary Oldman has stood out in all of these movies, and Gordon is as affected by the events of the previous film as our hero, while Michael Caine gets some moving scenes too, desperate for Bruce to stop hurting and start living.

Nolan's ambition, with each and every event picture that he puts out, is such that most of his second-act dust-ups would serve as magnificent finales in most other movies. Somehow The Dark Knight Rises keeps the pressure mounting all the way through, much like that refrain that you hear in Zimmer's score, with the Arabic phrase for "He rises" being repeated, even more loudly and quickly. If you want to compare to The Avengers, this year's other humungous comic book movie, then the action here looks more impressive, for Nolan's commitment to in-camera effects and the superb cinematography of Wally Pfister.

Of all of the Dark Knight trilogy, this one feels closest to the comic books. Not only does it borrow from graphic novels and comic arcs like Knightfall and No Man's Land, much as its predecessors sparingly borrowed from The Long Halloween and Year One, but the scale of it feels a little broader than the determinedly real-world approach of the first two films. From that banter between Batman and Catwoman, to the introduction of a military prototype aircraft called the Bat, the arrival of more larger-than-life elements feels hard earned, and retains consistency with what has gone before. Elsewhere, it still manages to feel like an emotional blockbuster, as well as a visceral one- there may be tears before the credits roll.

The Dark Knight Rises caps that rarest of things- a consistently good trilogy of movies that tells a complete story. Nolan reaps the benefits of telling a finale, in a marketplace that's saturated with everlasting franchises, and amps up the spectacle to new heights without sacrificing his aesthetic. If The Dark Knight was Batman's Godfather II, this is his Return of the King, a comparison that can work both ways. If you found that film over-long and structurally messy, you may have problems with this one. But as a fan of Return of the King, I mean to say that this is a true epic, with massive emotional resonance, jaw-dropping action scenes and a cast that come together to make a completely satisfying conclusion to Bruce Wayne's story. Why do we fall? So that they can make movies about getting back up again.

The Dark Knight Rises is now showing in cinemas and IMAX screens nationwide.
If you've seen The Dark Knight Rises, why not share your comments below? My thoughts are with the families of the victims of the Aurora midnight screening shooting in Denver- truly tragic that we live in a world where people are killed so horribly, just because they went to see a movie.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Solid review Mark. This is probably my favorite movie of the year for one reason and one reason only: it was probably, if not, the most epic piece of cinema I have seen in quite some time. Great send-off to everybody’s favorite caped-crusader, even as sad as it may be. Now it’s just time for Superman to hit that big-screen once again.