Jul 212012
 

Epic. Epic is a word bandied around a lot nowadays, and one heavily used in the promotional material for The Dark Knight Rises, but is this new Batman movie really the epic conclusion to the Dark Knight legend, and the perfect end to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy that we’ve all been promised? Sadly not.

Taking place a full eight years are the events of The Dark Knight, we find a now Batman-less Gotham City (as The Caped Crusader has been absent ever since he took the rap for killing well respected DA Harvey Dent) relatively free from crime, and largely ignored by former billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale); who, since his stint as The Dark Knight ended, has become a bit of an invalid, and full-time recluse.

Nevertheless, being a Batman movie, Wayne is tempted back into his former crime -fighting ways after rumours of a huge criminal underworld begin to emerge, he hears news of a dangerous criminal named Bane threatening to destroy his fair city, and returns to reassure the faith of his friend Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who’s carried the secret of Dent’s death since it happened, and suffers a devastating attack at the hand’s of Bane’s henchmen.

What follows is then a battle for the city that amounts to nothing short of war (as noted by several characters, repeatedly, whenever possible), and becomes a terrifyingly realistic tale of a city under siege; silly costumes, flying tanks, lazy dialogue, and funky gadgets aside that is.

Plot-wise The Dark Knight Rises is fairly solid, despite being utterly predictable (down to every last twist, turn, supposed character ‘revelation’, or ‘feel-good’ moment in the closing scenes; some of which really didn’t need to be shown, but unfortunately can’t be explained without spoiling too much), and there’s no denying the scale of the movie is absolutely huge; the scope of The Dark Knight Rises blows the lid off Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (both of which could have had Gotham as a stand-alone city where the rest of the US, and basically the world, may as well have not existed, aside from that quick trip to Hong Kong); bringing in the National Guard, the President, and even expanding the feel and size of the city to create something which is, actually, best described as an epic showdown.

But the trouble with The Dark Knight Rises isn’t the plot (so much), or the scope, or even the effects or actors; as the special effects are amazing throughout (although that football scene looked a little off), the returning cast (which includes not only Bale and Oldman, but Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman) is as brilliant and well suited as ever, and the new additions are also perfectly placed; it’s a whole host of niggling little problems that simultaneously make the film a little irritating, and don’t seem to fit the reality we’ve invested in so far.

Headlining the list of niggly issues is The Bat (better known as the Batwing for comic book, cartoon, or older movie fans); Batman’s flying Batmobile; which not only had a God-awful design, but moved unrealistically, just seemed far too fantastical for the ultra-real universe Nolan created in Begins, and eliminated any sense of danger Batman previously found himself in. On top of that, the terrorist’s plot is far too big for it to never have been discovered beforehand, and after the scale of their main attack it feels like you’re watching a Tom Clancy movie, rather than a Batman film; a lot of which is down to the fact that so much of Rises takes place in broad daylight (or at least twilight; it might be early evening, but you can see perfectly), some where the shadow-master Batman really doesn’t belong, because when you see a giant Bat and a giant Cat, walking hand-in-hand down the road at noon, it just looks farcical, and is more reminiscent of a laughable fancy dress party than a gritty superhero movie.

Catwoman’s another failed element of this film, as while Anne Hathaway (Love & Other Drugs) was perfectly cast as the feline femme-fatale; not only looking the part, but being utterly and completely believable as the master manipulator she is (able to effortlessly switch between the sassy cat burglar and scared vulnerable woman at a whim, and able to make anyone fall in love with her just as easily), the script totally underused the character to the point that she seems like nothing more than fanboy-pleasing filler material, and could have been removed without anyone really noticing.

Tom Hardy (Warrior) is also excellently placed as Bane, and manages to convey a whole range of emotions with little more than his eyes (as half his face is covered by a mask). And despite his rather annoying voice (which can be a little difficult to understand here and there), he’s every bit the powerhouse he needs to be (just look at Warrior or Bronson, and you’ll see Hardy has no problem bulking up when he needs to), and a true wrecking-ball that’s every bit the opposite to Bale’s sleek and nimble Batman, making him totally believable as a truly dominant force to be reckoned with, and a man that really could kick the shit out of Batman, or even break his back (like he did in the comics), if the occasion called for it.

Rises has it’s fair share of great moments, and the first real fight between Bane and the Bat is a true example (though it, like the entire film, may have benefitted from raising the rating to a 15, and going that little bit more violent – then again that’d ruin the studio’s bottom line wouldn’t it?), as are the touching moments between Wayne and his butler/father-figure Alfred (Michael Caine); introducing a deep and gripping family drama into a superhero movie and proving that Caine is still one of the finest actors around; and some of the Cat’s various interactions and fights alongside the Batman, though as well as these great moments, the interesting harks back to Begins, and the some of the more fun dialogue moments (“I will break you!”), there’s also a good chunk of material that may move the story along, but does nothing to satisfy anywhere else.

In fact the way in which this film is linked to the first film in Nolan’s Batman trilogy, is fitting, and works exceptionally well (one though specific character revelation could have been handled a little better, and expanded to make more of an impact); The League of Shadows returns in a big way, attempting to sack Gotham once more, and with The Dark Knight Rises returning to revisit the influences of Bruce’s mentor Ra’s Al Ghul, and his beginnings as the Bat, Nolan’s superb trilogy has come full circle, to reach a satisfying end that will please almost every fan, niggling issues aside.

Overall the problems with The Dark Knight Rises are nothing major, and probably sound fairly petty, as each on there own would be a forgivable little blip in an otherwise excellent film, but added together the collective weight of the little problems can’t help but drag the whole film down; a shame when it could have been fixed so easily; dialogue that’s inserted blatantly to explain things to newcomers is a distracting annoyance that should be removed (filmgoers aren’t daft, and would easily catch up), having an invalid strap-on a brace and suddenly return to be the ultimate crime-fighter doesn’t seem entirely plausible, and having a nobody just guess Bruce’s alter-ego and then having Bruce confirm it seems a little screwy; yet a little more violence, and possibly splitting the lengthy film into a pair of two and a half hour movies would have given Nolan all the space he needed to have really beefed up the involvement of Catwoman, had a couple more Bane Vs. Batman fights (with a better end to the final one), as well as perhaps properly introducing a character to take up the mantle of The Caped Crusader in the future.

So in the end, it’s not the cinematic masterpiece we were all hoping for, and it does have plenty of problems, but there’s no denying the fact that Christopher Nolan has done something wonderful, original, and exceptionally bold with his superhero franchise; by not only expanding the scope to create a truly huge movie, and fantastically tying in the first film to ensure that the journey as a whole makes sense, but actually finishing a superhero franchise on a high, something which has never been done before, and is actually handled rather well here.

Sure, there’s plenty of little things that could have been improved upon, but for anyone who’s a little less picky about their Batman tales, The Dark Knight Rises is a brilliant end to a brilliant trilogy, and a movie that all other comic-book films should aspire to; not because it introduced a couple of famous villains, or some fancy new gadgets, but because with great actors, and a complex and believable story, you can not only make a superhero movie for everyone, but close a franchise with such gusto that it makes the entire series work better as a whole.

Previous franchises have all ended when the takings dipped, and those poor movies dragged the entire franchise down (admit it, you thought higher of the first Spider-Man before you saw Spider-Man 3), but here Nolan manages to turn that on its head and close with a great tale, giving The Dark Knight not only a fitting return, but a solid and respectful end (to a point). The Dark Knight Rises may be the worst film in the series, but it’s still a solid movie that’s well worth a watch, should be seen by everyone at least once (preferably in IMAX, as the hour of IMAX footage does look truly stunning), and will undoubtedly make it onto my Blu-ray collection as soon as its released, and probably in every special/limited/ultimate edition released thereafter.

It has it’s problems, but The Dark Knight Rises is the best end Batman’s ever had, a fitting conclusion to a brilliant franchise, and a film you should go and watch. Right now.

Matt Wheeldon.