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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

We interrupt this week's typically untimely reviews for something that is actually coming out AFTER I've posted the review. And yes, to all of you worried about such things, this is a spoiler-free review.

Check it out also at Channel 24

What it's about

Eight years after the the death of Harvey Dent and the outlawing of Batman, Gotham seems to be a brighter, safer place but, no longer needed or wanted by the city he swore to protect, a physically and spiritually broken Bruce Wayne spends his days locked up in his mansion, away from both his life as Batman and as billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne. It's not long, however, before he needs to come out of hiding in both his guises as he is confronted with a crumbling business empire and a new threat to Gotham in the form of Bane, a villain with a link to Wayne's past who is intent on showing just how fragile an illusion Gotham's new gleaning sheen really is.

What we though

The Dark Knight Rises has a lot to live up to. Very easily the most eagerly anticipated film of the year, it not only has to provide a satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan's wildly revered Batman trilogy, it also has to live up to the increasingly acclaimed directorial career of Nolan himself – all the while working as the biggest summer blockbuster in a year when Joss Whedon's Avengers already seems to be the superhero film to beat. No pressure at all then.

The Dark Knight Rises doesn't have the luxury of just being a “good movie”, we are now at a level where the only way it could possibly live up to expectations is by being a “flabbergastingly brilliant movie”. The only two other films released this year that had even remotely comparable levels of hype were The Avengers - which, by all measures, more than lived up to its five years of build up – and Prometheus – whose inability to live up to its promise of Ridley Scott's Second-Coming-like resurrection of the Alien franchise made it look a whole lot worse than it really was.

Well, Nolan, DC Entertainment and, of course, we, the audience, can breathe a sigh of relief: judged on its own terms, The Dark Knight Rises is a very good, if flawed art-house superhero spectacle - as a conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy though, it's entirely beyond reproach and more than matches our greatest hopes for it. As the end credits roll, not only will audiences have been witness to a truly great, genre-pushing superhero film, but one that firmly establishes Nolan's Batman trilogy as one of the very few truly consistently excellent trilogies in celluloid history.
This does of course mean that before so much as stepping foot into your local cinema to catch what is certainly going to be one of this year's most talked about films, it is absolutely imperative that you have seen Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In fact, even if you have, it's worth digging them out to prepare yourself for The Dark Knight Rises. It's not so much that you won't understand the film without being familiar with its two prequels, it's that you will get so much more out of it when you can clearly see just how perfectly Nolan has pulled all the diverse story and thematic strands from three different movies into one breathtaking finish.

If Batman Begins was a very focused hero's journey and The Dark Knight was a more expansive crime drama that centred as much on the hero's city as the hero himself, The Dark Knight Rises maintains the scope of the latter, while delving further into the idea of Batman as a symbol of hope. It's interesting that, unlike The Dark Knight, Batman is squarely at the centre of the film, even if he spends a fair portion of it off screen for plot purposes.

More than just an amalgamation of the two previous films though, Rises has a a very unique tone, in large part due to the introduction of Bane, a villain quite unlike any we have seen in the last two films. Nolan notes that his intention for this film was to introduce a villain that challenges Batman on a purely physical level – and if you know anything about the comics (and, incidentally, the more you're familiar with the comics, the less the film's twists and turns will surprise you – this is the most faithful Batman film to date), you will know just how much of a challenge he is. Tom Hardy is spectacular as Bane - even if he is burdened by the fact that his highly processed voice ad entirely covered mouth makes him somewhat hard to understand at times - playing the character as a purely and brutally physical force of nature. It's hard not to miss Ledger's Joker, but it was a very smart move on Nolan's part to go for an antagonist that is the Joker's complete opposite.
If the film does have a problem, it's that its rigid three-act structure means that the first third of the film is all about setting the pieces in motion and with this many characters and plotlines, a few of the film's most promising elements seem underused in the film's final two acts. Still, with a finale this gripping, this explosive and this simultaneously open-ended (though it's unclear how open ended it truly is) and satisfyingly conclusive, it's hard to care. Especially because this essentially means that the film's biggest crime, aside for being slightly wonky pacing-wise, is that it leaves you wanting more.

The great things about the film are almost too many to mention. Bale offers up his best performance yet as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, while Garry Oldman's spectacular turn as James Gordon remains the heart of the franchise. It's pointless at this stage to gush over just how great Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are in their roles, but lets just say that the most heartbreaking moments of the film come down purely to Caine's beautiful portrayal of Alfred as Bruce Wayne's surrogate father. The newcomers are no less impressive, but the less said about what Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon Levitt's roles are in the film the better. And then there is Anne Hathaway who all but steals the show as the the big screen Catwoman that us fans have been waiting for. They can't announce a spin off soon enough.

The true star though is Christopher Nolan who, with the the substantial help of his long time DP Wally Pfister, creates a truly singular superhero experience. The film looks gorgeous but never at the expense of Nolan's faultless storytelling instincts. It may not be perfect but at nearly 3 hours in length and featuring a dozen or so pivotal characters, it's still astounding just how focused and tightly controlled The Dark Knight Rises ends up being.

It is less “high-minded” than the Dark Knight (and it's not quite as good overall, to be fair) but Nolan has still created a highly ambitious superhero epic that sets a new high water mark for what the genre is capable of, all the while delivering the kind of spectacle that only someone as devoted to the physical aspects of filmmaking can pull off. There is some CGI, to be sure, but this is the first blockbuster in a while that is sure to have audiences wondering just how the hell he managed to pull off all those incredible set pieces. And in this day and age, that's no small feat.

Is it the best superhero movie ever? Who knows and, frankly, who cares. All you need to know is that The Dark Knight Rises is an incredible piece of work in its own right and a truly stunning conclusion to a series of films that collectively bring new meaning to the word “epic” . Who on earth knows where Warner Brothers are going to take Batman next but one thing's for sure: they're sure as hell going to have their work cut out for them.


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