The Dark Night Rises – Review

This week excitement levels reached fever pitch as I anticipated the global release of The Dark Knight Rises. All week I have watched the first two films, read countless comics, and rocked back and forth until Friday arrived. This review will be spoiler heavy so do not even think about reading this unless you have seen the film. You have been warned.

My biggest problem with these films is that I will never be able to experience them for the first time ever again. Christopher Nolan can be assured that he has put together the greatest trilogy of my life time, yes much better in my opinion than Lord of the Rings.

The film starts off 8 years after the events of the Dark knight, and we find our heroes in a very different place than we left them. The Batman has not been seen since that faithful night, taking the blame for all of the chaos left behind by Gotham’s white knight. The Dent act, named in honor of Harvey has completely destroyed organised crime in the city and lead to 8 years of prosperity for the ruling class. Bruce Wayne has been left a complete recluse, never seen in public in the preceding 8 years. He walks with a cane his body ravaged from years of being Batman, but here lies a man whose spirit is broken thanks to the events of the previous films. Gordon’s life has also been changed significantly. His wife has left him, taking the kids with her and he has been playing the role of Dent cheerleader despite his obvious issues with that. Gotham may have profited but their sacrifice weighs heavy on both of our heroes.

The film takes the first 60 mins to put all of their pieces in place which I think is such a rarity in a summer blockbuster that it has to be celebrated.  We get a slow build up, which when the pace is ratcheted up leads to incredible pay off in the final act. People have complained about the pacing of the film, but for me it was like floating in a stream in the beginning, before the current starts to become irresistible in the middle, at the end you can see the waterfall and no matter what you do you’re going over the edge. That is textbook film making, and in our CGI heavy, dumbed down, box ticking Hollywood that has to be celebrated.

Michael Caine gets some fantastic material to work with as the faithful carer to the increasingly damaged Bruce. Gone is the wise cracking of the previous two movies, and in its place is the wet eyes of a Man who really cares about his surrogate son. I was off as soon as he started welling up I’m not ashamed to say and a scene at the end of the movie had me sobbing into my shoulder. Again credit has to go to Nolan for drafting such a wonderful cast right from the get go.

The film kicks into gear when Batman returns in act two, complete with a few new toys. The Bat for me was  brilliant even if its first appearance was more than a little convenient. It made me forget that the batmobile is nowhere to be seen in this film.  It really is in this section where we get such a fantastic impression of our protagonists Selina Kyle and Bane.

Selina Kyle for me is the complete surprise of the movie. I remember a year or so ago, I was sitting in my front room when the news was announced and my best friend was incredibly disappointed with the selection. I just turned to him and said ‘in Nolan we trust’ as I remembered a similar reaction from myself when Ledger was cast in the Dark Knight. Anne Hathaway puts together a performance as Catwoman, (never referred to as that in the whole film) that’s strong, sexy, vulnerable, and likable all at the same time. You can tell she isn’t a bad person, just someone completely in over their head.  It’s such a different take on the character than the Batman Returns version but for my money it completely eclipses it. I was never a fan of Hathaway but colour me converted.

Tom Hardy had an incredibly hard brief when he took on this role. Bane at no point takes off his mask, you can never see his mouth at all, so all of his acting talents are plunged into his eyes and physique. In every scene he is completely menacing and reminded me of how I felt watching The terminator.  A lot has been said about his voice and the fact some lines of dialogue had to be tweaked after test screenings. I watched it in a large cinema and I have to say I only caught about 85% of what he actually said in the movie, and I did find myself straining my hearing every time he came on the scene. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the character though as I felt the threat was always on how he was saying it rather than what he was saying.  There has also been criticism on the voice Hardy chose for the character, some going as far to claim it didn’t suit the imposing nature of the character. For me the voice he chose left me with the feeling that Bane was more than muscle bound Pshyco. This was a man with intelligence, unlike the joker he was following a plan, he was a believer in his cause, he just happened to also be a complete machine.

Act two comes to an end after a visceral and manic fight between bane and batman. This scene for me was one of the most powerful in the trilogy. We have seen Bruce pushed to the very limit during the last few movies but we have never seen him break the calm façade as Batman. During this fight Batman Bleeds, He gets up from uppercuts and roars at the top of his voice as each punch seemingly has no effect, on the younger, stronger opponent.  Bane’s fighting is ill disciplined, frantic, powerful at some points as the blows rain down over and over again on our hero it came across as disturbing. I found myself whispering at the screen, ‘Come on Batman, go for the mask’. This feeling of trying to gee on characters on a screen hadn’t really been felt by me since I was a child and in a lot of ways explains how I felt about this movie. The act ends with Bruce broke in two and cast into the depths of an underground prison to watch Gotham’s Reckoning.

The final act begins with the reveal of Bane’s plan. A series of bombs completely cuts Gotham off from the outside world and traps their police force underground. Bane paints himself as the great hope for the lower classes and encourages them, to rise up and take what’s theirs. He backs up the threat with a mobile nuclear device stolen from Wayne Enterprises and several Prototype Batmobiles. Meanwhile a broken backed Bruce watches on in horror from his cell. With Batman out of the picture light gets shed on some of the excellent supporting cast. Oldman again gets plenty to do as the inspirational commissioner who puts together a rag tag group of rebels to try and take this city back. Morgan Freeman, who is criminally underused in the previous movies, even gets in on the action throughout this final act. My favourite new supporting cast member has to go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. JGL does a great job playing a cop that is able to work the angles and put the pieces in place. He discovers Batman’s identity early on thanks to the number of similarities in their character. In a lot of ways he becomes a bit of a sidekick and I whopped a bit when his full Name Robin was revealed near the end.

For all the great performances this is a film about Bruce Wayne and Bale completely owns the character. He finds new ways to make this man interesting he adds vulnerability, fear, hatred to the themes of vengeance and sacrifice. He paints Wayne as a tragic figure, someone who is happiest in his own suffering, willing to put it all on the line for a city that will never love him. He is a man to be pitied never getting over the tragic death of his parents so young and the love of his life in the last movie. The strength in this movie is the central theme of Bruce’s struggle back to the world of the living having been more or less dead for years. His climb out of the pit at the start of Act three emotes so much imagery that people will be studying the themes for years to come.

The decision to film large part of the movie using Imax cameras is a masterstroke, with celebrated Cinematographer Wally Pfister crafting scenes with so much detail and depth that only multiple viewings can possible take it all in. Nolan and Pfisters Gotham is a fantastic achievement in Colour and identity and their knowledge of the craft is up there with movie royalty. Nolan has improved his filming of action scenes progressively over the trilogy and I feel this is his best attempt yet during those moments. His direction though is always strongest in the smaller character driven scenes and again he handles them with great aplomb.

Hans Zimmer’s score is intense and bombastic, perhaps a bit too much. I find that Music in films should complement the action but never over dominate, and at times I felt Zimmer’s score  interfered with what was on screen. At certain points the volume was cracked up and bits of dialogue for me were completely missed. I hope the Bluray will relook at the sound editing here and readdress some of the obvious issues here.

The ending will not be to everyone’s taste, but for me it was excellently handled and a fitting end to Nolan’s Trilogy. The last 20 mins carries with it the signposted reveal of Cotillard being Talia Al Ghul. I had that sussed since the casting and wasn’t surprised at all to see the twist. I was a bit disappointed with the reveal leaving Bane as little more than a faithful hound. His death again wasn’t very fitting to the good work put in by Tom Hardy but these are minor gripes. The resolution of the nuclear bomb will divide fans as to what Batman’s fate actually was. For all intents and purposes the film pushes you to believe Bruce survived the nuclear explosion by using the much talked about auto pilot, but there are enough film tricks in there to leave other viewers with the view he died heroically. For me several scenes cast doubt. Selina Kyle asks can the Bat use auto pilot and Batman says it doesn’t have any, if the café scene with him and Selina actually happened then why lie about it there only to reveal later that he was alive. My second point is that it clearly shows Batman sitting in the cockpit of the Bat five seconds before the bomb explodes. Bruce could have put all of those instructions for Gordon and Blake in his will prior to his first face off with Bane just in case the worst happened.  Finally the scene with Alfred could also be a figment of his imagination (he was getting on a bit ha ha). I just love that there is enough evidence on both sides to choose your own ending. I preferred his death as I feel The Bruce Wayne who gave everything for that city would never have trusted the safety of its citizens to an untested Auto Pilot.

All in all I think you can tell I loved it albeit no film in my opinion can be perfect and the same is true here. I think in time this will be my favourite of the three but The Dark knight for me was more instantly satisfying than this movie, and that is not a slight at all. I would hate to be the person who has to follow these three movies as you have such big shoes to follow. The ending leaves It open for further sequels with JGL in the cape and the cowl I imagine, and to be honest this fanboy wouldn’t mind returning to this world without Bale or Nolan. I just hope we don’t get an Amazing Spiderman type reboot in 2 years’ time complete with Origin story. Either continue this story with Levitt or reboot without the origin, I think a generation of fans know it by now.

9/10

Amazing, fantastical, epic a must watch

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