Dark Knight Rises, The Review

Title: The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale,
Tom hardy,
Anne Hathaway,
Michael Caine,
Genre: Action, Superhero
Runtime: 2 Hours 45 mins
Music: Hans Zimmer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Certificate: US: R
UK: 15
Release Date: US: Jul 20 2012
UK: Jul 20 2012
See If You Like: Batman Begins,
The Dark Knight,

Well, it’s finally here. Christopher Nolan finishes off his Batman masterpiece trilogy with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, but does an ambitious storyline, and back-story soaked villains, compete with an actor going far beyond the call of duty to create a lasting impression with audiences and thus raises their expectation (as Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight)? In a way, No.

Eight years have passed since the end of The Dark Knight, with the Batman retired and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, The Fighter) in seclusion in Wayne Manor. A meeting with master thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, Love & Other Drugs) sets Wayne on a collision course with the masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy, Bronson) and the returning League Of Shadows, and after a crippling fight with Bane, Wayne must retrain himself to the peak levels he was before in order to take back his beloved Gotham City before Bane destroys it.

With Nolan finishing off his epic Bat trilogy, the usual suspects of Bale as Batman, Michael Caine (Harry Brown) as loyal butler Alfred, techy Lucius Fox played by Morgan Freeman (Invictus) and Gary Oldman’s (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) put upon Commissioner Gordon have not gone away, and do their usual reliable jobs to breathe life into these iconic characters.

More interesting however, was finding out how Nolan’s obvious favourites in Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (500 Days Of Summer) would do in the Batman universe after appearing in Inception. Gordon-Levitt is John Blake; Gordon’s trusted favourite of the street cops; and he does a decent job as the one who keeps the police together after Bane takes over Gotham, and is reasonable in a leader role, although the end of his story arc is really, really stupid.

On the other hand, Hardy does an excellent job on-screen as the imposing physical monster that is Bane; he looks like he could crush you with his bare hands and could easily lead an army, but what went wrong is the stupid voice dysfunction they used? It fits in with Bane’s mask, and makes him sound grotesque, but in places it’s almost inaudible, and very difficult to listen to; making it off-putting, and spoiling the otherwise great job Hardy does.

Hathaway is the other notable addition, and despite a dodgy love story with Wayne she is pretty watchable as Kyle and her costumed counterpart Catwoman. Her movements are very cat-like, slender and agile; almost like a ballet dancer; which is what Catwoman should be, and Hathaway’s Catwoman is an improvement on the PVC doll in Batman Returns, and the abomination of the self-titled movie, with the latest movie adaption owing a lot more to the comics; with her hi-tech gear and practical costume.

After hinting in my Batman retrospective that combining three comic book storylines would be a challenge, it’s one that doesn’t entirely pay off here. It’s not because of the original source material; there are great nods to all three (with No Man’s Land forming the basis of most of the plot of the film); but that everything interesting about that story gets shunted to the side for a bog-standard nuclear bomb threat. It felt like watching The Rock again, with it’s “surrender now to our demands or we will blow up Gotham” level of villainy – which is, to be honest, plain and dull. It’s a decent plot, and its themes stay engaging throughout, but fans have been expecting more substance and a bit of originality.

Raising the themes of finality and endings was more interesting, and led to the slow but brilliant build where the injured Wayne putting back on the Bat-suit is just the start of the end of the Batman story, and when he gets his back broken by Bane it doesn’t force the idea that Batman is immortal. Instead, it establishes that he is just a man and is no longer the symbol he wants to be. A lot of people might not be comfortable with this Batman movie not featuring a lot of the Batman, and it does feel more like a movie about terrorism than a Batman story, but that reflects Bruce Wayne’s crippling injury, and his recovery after being out of superheroics for so long. Slightly misleading yes, but as a character piece it’s bloody brilliant.

Rises isn’t as accessible as it should be though, as a lot of the movie fans Batman picked up after The Dark Knight won’t have a bloody clue about the plot elements carried over from Batman Begins; most probably didn’t have the patience to revisit Nolan’s starter and see the original attack on Gotham by the League Of Shadows and Ra’s Al Ghul; and there’s a lot of back-story there that will lessen the emotional impact of the twists and turns that this plot takes for anyone unfamiliar with the history. The events of The Dark Knight aren’t ignored, as it turns out Harvey Dent’s death in that film did a lot of good for Gotham City, but a one-liner explaining what actually happened to The Joker (since he’s surely still around, and Heath Ledger’s superb performance leaves a big enough impression for people to care and ask where he is) would have been a welcome addition.

Nolan’s direction is still top notch, and he completes his Batman saga with love and respect to all characters involved. He got round to throwing in Bruce Wayne showing off his detective prowess at the start of the film (something which was immensely satisfying), and even though the balance between the incredible amount of story and audience interest is on a very fine line, he pulls it off here (unlike his failure in The Dark Knight). The best thing though has to be how he takes supposedly “dark” hero films like The Amazing Spider-Man and crushes them, by making The Dark Knight Rises double dark; with themes of superior opposition, beating the impossible in any way necessary, and finality, it’s hard for this to be a jolly film. But this is Batman we’re talking about and he is definitely not a happy character to reflect the issues raised and resolved.

If there was one critique in the film’s technical quality, it’s that there’s hardly any emphasis on Bane lifting Batman up and breaking The Caped Crusader’s back; this could have been the film’s crowning highlight and the everlasting memory that people take home with them. Instead, it just happens. It’s almost as if Bane pathetically chucks Bruce over his knee. There’s no sick bone-breaking noise, and the music doesn’t fit the tone or timing, for there to be real emotional impact. The build up and fallout immediately after this moment is fine, and really far better than the actual event that is trying to be more important than it is.

The action is very enjoyable; from the brutal fights between Bane and Batman to the breath-taking plane kidnapping at the start of the film; everything is well shot, and there’s enough time for scenes to leave an impression. Take the plane kidnapping, when Bane jettisons the ruined jet, the camera keeps looking down on the falling wrecked jet until it hits the ground, to give a real sense of scale. The cinematography is top notch too (which is common for a Christopher Nolan film); and it’s easy to note the appropriate levels of darkness reflecting Batman’s work, but the extra little bits of magic are even better; like in the sewer fight between Bats and Bane, where the lighting adds to Bats’ soaking wet cloak, and it all adds to the deserved technical skill Rises undoubtedly has.

So, is The Dark Knight Rises the biggest movie ever to be released at the cinema? No. It’s not. It is a very, very good, great, amazing, excellent film, just like it’s predecessor. However, that film was riding high on a wave of emotion and goodwill after Heath Ledger’s death that made it out to be better than it actually was. Here, after the bar was set so high with audience expectation, there wasn’t any way for this to be on the same level or better. It’s not even the best comic book movie of the summer; Marvel Avengers Assemble comfortably retains that crown (although perhaps there’s time for Dredd to have a say?).

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises very comfortably finishes off Nolan’s trilogy with no loose or open threads for anyone to carry on where he left off. It ensures the protection of his baby, and perhaps the most “perfect” movie trilogy ever. It’s a very good, borderline classic, film, but there are a few flaws, and the shadow of the more popular Joker-centric Dark Knight, that prevent it from scaling the summit of impossible expectations it faces. Still, The Dark Knight Rises is definitely worth watching, and the must see summer blockbuster I have been waiting for.

Terry Lewis@lewisonlife

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Ratings 09