Friday 20 July 2012

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

"When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die"

This review may contain some minor spoilers.

Eight years on from the events of The Dark Knight, Batman (Christian Bale) returns to the city that branded him a criminal to save them from a new enemy, terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). 

Christopher Nolan's first two Batman films are seen as something of a benchmark as superhero films go; 2005's Batman Begins reintroduced The World's Greatest Detective to cinema-goers in dark and gothic fashion, followed by 2008's even darker The Dark Knight. Not one to disappoint, Nolan has done it again, with The Dark Knight Rises perfectly ending the trilogy in heart-poundingly tense and dramatic fashion.

The stakes, and the scale, are higher than they have ever been before, with the isolated Gotham City in a state of civil war and on the brink of annihilation. When the action kicks off in the film's final third, it's bigger than we have ever seen in a Batman film. It is also the most emotional Batman ever, with plenty of scenes that'll bring a genuine lump to your throat. The Avengers this ain't.

"I'm not afraid, I'm angry"
Going in, it felt as though one of the film's biggest drawbacks would have been it's long running time; at over 2 hours and 45 minutes it is something of a marathon event. This however turned out to be not the case at all; if anything, the time flies past so that it barely feels like 2 hours. The film is paced impeccably and never feels like it drags, even in the plot-laden first hour. This fairly plot-heavy opening hour is probably the film's only minor downside. As Nolan attempts to weave together all the necessary strands for the film, such as introducing a plethora of new characters (Bane, Miranda Tate, John Blake, Selina Kyle, Daggett), as well as recap the fallout from Harvey Dent's death, it can feel quite complex. For people new to the franchise, and therefore unfamiliar with the existing core characters, it would be hard to follow at the best of times.

Not that you can expect many people you haven't seen Batman Begins or The Dark Knight to be in the audience anyway; as a concluding chapter in a trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises completes one entire story that started eight years ago. Not only does it begin with a memorial to TwoFace/Harvey Dent and see Bruce Wayne continuing to ignore the cape and cowl as a result of his death, but it sees the return of some old foes from the first chapter.

Anne Hathaway was purrrrfect as Selina Kyle/Catwoman
On the whole, The Dark Knight Rises has more in common with Batman Begins than The Dark Knight, which I really liked. As a story, it focused more on Bruce, not Batman. Also, it  gave less focus to the villain. Something The Dark Knight did well was really hone in on the relationship between Joker and Batman but it meant that the focus wasn't solely on the titular Knight. Not so in this one; this story is all about Bruce/Batman and not about Bane. Sure, Bane is the main antagonist, but he merely serves the purpose of giving Bruce the motivation to return as Batman and little more than that. It is good however that Bane is a physical opponent that tested Batman's strength, something that Scarecrow and Joker could never have done previously. The films centre-piece, a tense face-off between Bats and Bane is brutal and crushing, a stand-out scene. Fans of comic book series' like Knightfall won't be left disappointed...and I'll leave it at that. It is a little hard to make out some of Bane's dialogue at times and, with the mask covering most of his face, Tom Hardy's performance is a little inscrutable. He did well to come across as brutal and uncompromising, as well as intelligent and calculating but at the same time, wasn't a patch on the late Heath Ledger's cackling, psychopath Joker.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake
Christian Bale was brilliant as Bruce Wayne/Batman and probably gives his best performance of the trilogy here. He brings the necessary emotional gravitas as Wayne (especially in the film's pain-stricken middle third), as well as the imposing strength and weight as Batman nearer the end. Other returning actors such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, as Alfred, Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox respectively, were also excellent, the first's anguish and pain at a watching a dedicated Bruce Wayne force himself back into action is especially poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also solid as hot-headed detective John Blake.

The real star of the show however was Anne Hathaway; Her husky and breathy voice, jet-black hair and slinky frame have made her absolutely purrfect for the role as morally ambiguous cat-burglar Selina Kyle. It was always going to interesting to see how she fitted into Nolan's hyper-realist universe but everything about her character fits in well with the surroundings; her masquerade mask, utility belt, lycra catsuit and cat-like vision goggles are a far-cry from the stitched-leather suit paraded around by Michelle Pfiffer in Batman Returns. It's a shame her character has only been introduced in this final chapter; the banter between her and Batman is very funny and allows for the mood to be lightened ever so much.

Technically, The Dark Knight Rises is also a marvel; it is shot beautifully, with snow-covered, war-torn Gotham evoking images of the 9/11 attacks. Nolan's ability to tug at heart strings is shown best here; a destroyed football stadium, an American flag in ruins all resemble all too familiar images of our own world. In addition to the fantastic cinematography, Hans Zimmer's rousing score perfectly complements the ideas of revolution and uprising that Bane insights.

The big question is however, is it better than The Dark Knight? Well, Part 2 of the trilogy does have stronger villains in Joker and Two-Face but then Part 3 has the necessary pay-off and closure, as well as additional allies for Batman in Kyle and Blake. In my opinion, the two stand on-par with one another as both are breath-taking and emotional films that convert real-world themes like the War on Terror and the GFC into mass cinema-friendly characters, settings and plots.

Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is sublime and heart-pounding. It is an epic conclusion to the trilogy in almost every way and fully-deserving of all and any acclaim it receives. It is one of those films you walk out of the cinema already wanting to see again. I give it 9/10. 

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic review :) But you forgot to mention that the only real problem with this film is Bane's mask hides Tom Hardy's gorgeous lips :)



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