Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Friday, 20 July 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises, if not to new heights, then to a thrilling finale

The Dark Knight is risen. He is risen indeed. Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film promised to be an epic conclusion to The Dark Knight saga, and it is truly epic in ambition, scale and action. Though there is no use in claiming that The Dark Knight Rises is perfect, for those who are fanatical about the films it should be an incredibly satisfying end to the trilogy.

We return to Gotham eight years since The Dark Knight. The streets have been cleaned up with the help of the heroic example of the myth of Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse and Batman is no longer required. All seems well. However, a new villain is on the horizon in the form of the masked man-mountain, Bane. His intentions are unclear. All that is apparent is that he should be feared. As dangers mount, will Batman return?

The film starts off much more in the vein of Batman Begins than in that of its sequel. There are a few quips (the movie is not humourless) but, crucially, there is a more apparent emotional core than there was in The Dark Knight. This is most clearly seen through the increasingly strained relationship between Bruce Wayne (the ever-excellent Christian Bale) and his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine being absolutely brilliant). Wayne has given so much and has gained nothing but depression and loneliness. All that seems to be left for him is death, and Alfred has “buried too many members of the Wayne family”.

The threat of Bane, combined with the complacency of the police, forces Bruce Wayne to put the cape back on. Indeed, Bane is a fearsome villain to watch, with his brutal physical presence and cultish zeal. Whereas The Dark Knight’s Joker illustrated chaos and a belief in the corruptibility of even the whitest knight, the thinking behind Bane is more intriguing, if less clear. Bane’s rhetoric to the people of Gotham is not too dissimilar to that of the TEA Party or, bizarrely, UK Uncut. As Gotham descends into the anarchy wrought by his terror, Bane’s rhetoric transforms the city not into a utopia that either side of that divide would like, but into total and brutal disorder. What we are left with is a warning: be careful what you wish for, as you might just get it.

Batman, meanwhile, is diverted to a pit-prison where the inmates are taunted by the apparent possibility of being able to climb out. However, it is this middle period of the film where things almost begin to unravel. There’s no defending aspects of this section. The whole thing is all over the place. In the pursuit of the epic, Nolan shows that same sprawling lack of control that is present in The Dark Knight, but he also indulges in moments of sheer nonsense. Lines like “Whatever it is, it’s nuclear” and a cameo appearance by an alumni of the franchise are laugh-out-loud funny and, dare I say it, stupid. There’s a Prince of Persia bit which is just nonsense. Oh and, on top of this, you have the otherwise brilliant Tom Hardy’s Bane being muffled by his mask to the point of all too frequent inaudibility. For a while, a thought crossed my mind: has Nolan gone too big? Has he blown it?

The good news is that the final hour is just magnificent. The scale of Nolan’s ambition may have led it down some very silly paths at points, but it’s worth it for the climax. Gotham is essentially in civil war, and Nolan directs the melee with verve and confidence. It’s fantastically easy to follow, and thrilling at every turn. However, there is a heart throbbing in this film. One rides the highs and lows with these characters, even though many aspects of the plot are predictable. To that end, mention should be made of Anne Hathaway’s great performance as the sexy Catwoman, and not should be taken of another impressive performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt who is turning into a real star (he’s come a long way from that floppy-haired kid in 3rd Rock from the Sun).

The whole cacophonous majesty of the thing crescendos to a thrilling conclusion which is not about cold ideas (as The Dark Knight perhaps was) but is one of genuine emotion. This means that despite everything – despite the messiness, the lack of control, the sheer nonsense, the predictability of certain plot-points and the utter craziness of some aspects of the script – you are left completely satisfied, because you don’t care about the flaws. Nolan doesn’t allow you to. Throughout 164 minutes of running time, Nolan keeps you totally gripped, absorbed and holding your breath. Besides you should never think that you’ve out-thought the master. No-one constructs endings better than Nolan and, sufficed to say, with this mother of all endings, you’re in for a really great ride.

Rating: A-

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