Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises
Originally published on The Andy Gaudion Blog: http://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/category/guest-posts/
One of the hundreds of online fan-made posters for The Dark Knight Rises summarises Christopher Nolan’s Batman cycle in three phases: begins, falls, rises. After the gothic noir of the origin story (Batman Begins) and the chaotic crime epic (The Dark Knight), Nolan has set both the Caped Crusader and himself a pretty hefty challenge to rise to for the final lighting of the Bat-signal. Rarely has a film had this level of anticipation fastened to it: in the wake of a towering sequel which broke the boundaries of what comic-book films could achieve, the hype and expectation burdened upon The Dark Knight Rises was enough to leave cinemagoers buzzing with countless anxious questions. Will it tarnish this otherwise-perfect series? Will it be too overcrowded? Will Catwoman fit into this world? Will it be better than The Dark Knight?
But at last, it has finally been released, and the story of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is done. And audiences everywhere can breathe a collective sigh of relief: it’s a blistering, thrilling, glorious conclusion to a much-loved series. Nolan has been slowly honing in on a masterful filmmaking formula over the last few years, and The Dark Knight Rises is yet another gem to add to his already-gleaming catalogue. With his directing skills stronger than ever (action sequences are now much clearer and crisper than the dizzying fights of Batman Begins) and with a head-spinning array of ideas and possibilities corralled into a cohesive, intelligent thrill-ride (big props to Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer), Nolan bows out of Gotham on a high note.
If you don’t mind (and you probably won’t at this late stage), I’ll try and leave out exposition and lengthy synopses, because I think everyone’s tired of re-reading the story so far after countless other reviews, articles and the like. Besides, it’s now August 2012, so only those dwelling under rocks will be unfamiliar with Batman’s arc. Suffice to say, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) isn’t in the best shape, and nor is Gotham once the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) rolls into town, intent on bringing the city to its knees.
As with most finales, the scope has been widened, the stakes raised, and the scale enlarged to end proceedings with a bang. The team have returned with a story which picks up where The Dark Knightleft off, and several threads from the previous films have been consolidated, lengthened, and neatly tied up. Bale is definitely centre-stage this time around, as Wayne’s story is brought full circle. The film does a great job of exploring the tortured psyche of the tragedy-stricken hero, with both sides of his character investigated. Bale’s performance here is his strongest in the series, as he invests Wayne with a poignant vulnerability as he undergoes his most exhausting journey yet. It’s a real tightrope act, with Bale just about managing to remain the central focus of the film, even with such a strong supporting cast and while facing off against such a monstrous adversary.
The rub with playing the villain in this film is that expectations have been raised to skyscraping levels after Heath Ledger’s masterful turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Tom Hardy was always going to have a mighty shadow to try and escape from, but a number of critics have dismissed his Bane – muscular, logical and ruthless – as disappointing in the wake of Ledger’s anarchic, cackling clown. But this is ridiculously unfair. Both villains are separate creations with different character traits, methods and backgrounds (both in the film universe and in the comics), and should be treated as such. Comparing one to the other is kind of ludicrous, especially since within their own roles, both actors deliver to the best possible standard. Yes, Heath Ledger was a truly exceptional actor. But then, so is Tom Hardy, and the Bane of this universe is absolutely terrifying. Working from behind that creepy (but cumbersome) mask, Hardy pulls off a fantastic feat with simply his eyes, body language and that voice: an unsettling, croaky tone which bubbles over with confidence and malice. And yes, it’s understandable! Okay, there are times when a line or two is indecipherable (I’d argue that the placing of Hans Zimmer’s otherwise-wonderful score slightly too high in the mix plays some part in that), but for the most part, Bane’s voice reverberates with a booming menace.
And he’s surprisingly charismatic, too. One of the film’s best scenes focuses on a furious tirade from Bane as he stands astride a familiar-looking vehicle, making his plans clear as he raises his own army in the battle for Gotham. Even behind the mask, the anger, disgust and traces of a sick, facetious pleasure punctuate every syllable and gesticulation. And in the fight scenes, too, he is as intimidating as he looks. There is one moment in particular when Bane completely lets loose in a rapid-fire flurry of fists, and it’s a truly horrifying sight as the behemoth smashes through concrete and more while snarling like a wild animal. This time around, you genuinely fear for the people of Gotham, and for Batman in particular: as comic-book fans would put it, Bruce Wayne should watch his back.
As for Anne Hathaway, let’s just say that all those who balked at the thought of her portraying Selina Kyle are probably wiping egg from their collective faces right now. And yes, I was among those naysayers. But stab me with a sharpened heel, Hathaway’s performance is absolutely wonderful, with her character (the title ‘Catwoman’ isn’t actually used once during this film) capable of holding her own against the big, brutal boys of Nolan’s Bat-verse. She lands in this world on two nimble feet, bringing with her several crucial ingredients for this incarnation of the ambiguous Kyle: humanity and humour. The final creation is a cat burglar who feels authentic and believable.
She almost steals the show, but not quite. Everyone is given time to shine here: Gary Oldman remains pitch-perfect as the weary-but-resolute Commissioner Gordon; Morgan Freeman enjoys an expanded role as Lucius Fox (more integral than he’s ever been in this saga); and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets to sink his teeth into one hell of a role as the young, idealistic cop John Blake, who has a character arc so juicy that one almost forgets that he’s only just been introduced into the series.
Of course, what with this being the final episode of the trilogy and all, emotions run high. Anyone who argues that Nolan can’t hit viewers where it hurts (the tear ducts) might want to reconsider their arguments: there were about half-a-dozen moments in the film where things got more than a little misty for me. A good number of those belong to Michael Caine, who pulls on the heartstrings something awful on at least four occasions, most achingly so early on, when Alfred recalls his saddened trips to a particular café. And some pretty dark depths are plumbed in the story, with Bruce Wayne reduced to his lowest ebb and Gotham precariously positioned in the hands of a seemingly indestructible, tactical enemy. Unlike the breezy (but no-less brilliant) Avengers Assemble and the competent-but-underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man, here you get the impression that things really could go catastrophically wrong. Gotham might just be reduced to ashes after all.
But it’s not all tears and fears: as with its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises never loses the light completely, with witty barbs and dry quips sprinkled throughout the darkness, most of them courtesy of Hathaway, who can spark one-liners as deftly as Kieran Culkin’s Wallace from Scott Pilgrim. And thankfully, the light touches of comedy never overbalance the tone, seldom spoiling the mood or flow of the scenes they accompany.
This is crucial, because as with the previous films, the emphasis is firmly on making this realistic, and everything feels organic to the tone of the trilogy, while also feeling relevant to modern climates: economic collapse, terrorism and fears of impending apocalypse all inform the film’s action. It also helps that Nolan isn’t that keen on CGI, and as a result, the special effects are never short of breathtaking, lending the action sequences a real sense of high-stakes urgency rivalled by few other blockbusters. Football stadiums erupt, bridges crumple and huge-scale chase sequences are orchestrated, with the latter moments seeing Batman piloting a high-tech (and pretty freaking cool) new toy from Fox’s funhouse.
Perhaps inevitably, there are flaws. There are a fair number of plot-holes which have the potential to nag away at you for a while, and personally, I would’ve liked to have seen further exploration and characterisation of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Peter Foley (Matthew Modine), whose stories are engaging, but feel lacking in places. But then, with the film already spanning a bum-breaking one-hundred-and-sixty-five minutes, it’s understandable that some of the finer points have been left aside.
So no, it’s not quite perfect. But let’s leave it to the forum fanboys to make mountains out of these molehills. The bottom line is this: I haven’t seen a film as exciting as this in quite some time. With outstanding performances all around, some genuinely heart-racing action sequences and a potent emotional punch, Nolan has concluded his trilogy in true style. Have no fear Mr. Gaudion – it’s the finale Batman deserves.
5/5 – Sure, it has its inevitable flaws. But The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant rollercoaster ride which ties the trilogy together with a hugely satisfying finale.