The Dark Knight Rises Review By Adam
Disclaimer: In this review I will only discuss (plot-wise) what has been shown in the trailers. If you are anything like me, you do not want this film spoiled for you in any way. You have not invested a decade in this franchise to have some hack spoil its best moments. The fact that other ‘critics’ feel the need to blatantly spoil the story of this film in order to ‘review’ it shows just how out of touch they are with their profession. Do what I do: boycott those arseholes.
2012 is the biggest year for film in the history of the medium. Disagree? At a glance we have new entries in the James Bond, Alien, Lord of the Rings, Bourne, Spider-Man, Batman and The Avengers franchises. Hell, the only thing missing from this year’s roster is a new Avatar film (Sorry, George, but fuck Star Wars). We have major directors tackling major franchises at an alarming rate; it’s truly a good time to be a geek. Film nerds are at such a strange vantage point that only one problem persists: disappointment. We have received an embarrassment of riches lately and, as a result, some of us have become indignant and petulant. Though I find it frustrating (no more so than in the case of Prometheus), I can understand the mindset: we are bombarded with advertising and hype, every film is bigger and better than the last and when our lofty expectations aren’t met, the claws come out. No film is as guilty of this phenomenon as The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR). We have been told: ‘A Fire Will Rise,’ and ‘The Legend Ends,’ and have been treated to some truly spectacular trailers. While I don’t want to go over the top, it is my complete pleasure to confirm: Yes, this film lives up to the hype (for once) and… it might even transcend it.
2008’s The Dark Knight is a pop culture masterpiece. A film of huge scope, serious intent and virtuoso technical credits. Almost everyone liked Batman Begins (I loved it) and we all expected Dark Knight to be really good, but in retrospect, very few of us expected it to be the flat-out knockout and cultural phenomenon it was. Halfway though seeing Dark Knight I thought to myself: I have no idea where this is going, this is fucking EPIC. I had exactly the same thought while watching TDKR. While there are definite similarities between the two films, TDKR is no cynical retread. Director Christopher Nolan has no intention of repeating himself – he has built the foundation of this story and now he brings it to its conclusion.
Despite hack critics thinking otherwise, there is little of this film’s plot that needs to be addressed. Everything you need to know about the film is revealed in the first few minutes, anything else you should discover for yourself in dark theatre. Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight and a reclusive, battle-scarred Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up the cowl. Due to a new piece of legislation that honours the falsely martyred Harvey Dent, fittingly known as the ‘Dent Act’, criminality has dwindled in Gotham City and the Batman is no longer wanted nor needed. But with rumours of a subterranean force gathering in the sewers — led by the enigmatic mercenary, Bane (Tom Hardy) — it may not be too long before the Batman is once again needed.
The acting in this film is phenomenal. Nolan has always had exquisite taste in relation to casting and every choice in this film is spot on. It’s hard to believe now, but universal groans were heard when he cast Heath Ledger as the Joker (I kid you not, people were clamouring for Robin Williams or Johnny Depp). Now it is impossible to envisage anyone else in the part. Tom Hardy has huge shoes to fill in this film, but he pulls it off. Wisely, this is not the Joker 2.0; Bane is a wrecking ball, an unstoppable force powered by an unwavering confidence. It’s a total comic book styling, but Bane constantly remarks on his adversary’s tactics mid-battle (the battles are awesome, by the way) – he is truly fearless. The majority of Hardy’s face is obstructed by a Hannibal-esque mask and it is bizarre to see a whole performance minus a mouth, but Hardy acts with his eyes and his hulking physicality (he is monstrous in this, not male model ripped, but just sheer, imposing muscle) and as a result, Bane is a powerfully intense screen presence. While Bane is not to be trifled with, Hardy follows Ledger’s lead and adds a sly playfulness to this role that stops him from being a one-note villain. Of note, his voice has been overhauled since I saw the prologue six months ago (attached to Mission Impossibe: Ghost Protocol), now it is slightly toffy and theatrical: it sounds like a cyborg butler. Certain lines are still a tad hard to decipher, but that’s probably due to shit being blown up while Bane is talking and not the sound mixing.
The old guard are all exceptional in this entry. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox has the smallest amount of screentime, but his gentle teasing of Bruce and epic gadgets brought a smile to my face. Gary Oldman’s James Gordon sees far more action this time around and it is great to see an actor of Oldman’s talents fully utilized. Micheal Caine’s Aflred Pennyworth is the heart of this film. Caine does spectacular, emotionally wrenching work and I’d love to see him recognized come awards time – he is that good.
The newcomers (and Inception alumni) Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are great, especially Gordon-Levitt as the hot-headed cop, John Blake. Surprisingly, Gordon-Levitt gets the most screentime after Bale and it’s a testament to his acting and charisma that we are so invested in this policeman’s story in a ‘Batman’ film – he never overstays his welcome.
I was a bit iffy when I saw that Anne Hathaway would be playing Catwoman in this film. I really like her as an actress, but Nolan (roughly) eschews the more fantastical elements of the comic books and I thought a purring, leather clad thief would be out of touch with his aesthetics. My worries were completely unfounded – Hathaway steals this film. She is so supremely confident, sexy and physically adept that I was in awe at her performance. I could feel a shift in the cinema when she came onscreen; the audience (and I) hung on to her every word. She also brings a great sense of fun to the film and helps (occasionally) to lighten the mood: It is a full-blown, star performance.
I feel sorry for Christian Bale. Except for Christopher Nolan, no one has put as much into this franchise as Bale. He has built up his body numerous times, spent countless hours in a (I imagine) uncomfortable rubber suit and played this role with unwavering intensity, but for what? Bale has been fucked over and denied his due at every turn. Every actor that has played the Dark Knight has been elevated into the fame stratosphere (people still know who Adam West is), but not Bale. When Batman Begins was released I thought: Sweet. People are going to realise what a great, committed actor Christian Bale is. But no, all anyone could talk about was ‘TomKat’. I cringed as Bale’s moment in the sun was blotted out by Tom Cruise’s couch jumping. Take two: Bale does it all again, then…Heath Ledger dies. While undeniably one of the biggest filmic tragedies of all time, Ledger’s death not only robbed Bale of a friend and a colleague but of critical adulation. Thank fuck no one died or started screwing Johhny Depp on the set of TDKR as Bale does some of his best work in this film – he inhabits the soul of Bruce Wayne. This film (and series) is about overcoming the insurmountable (literarily and figuratively) and Bale has the fire in his belly to convey the drive of a pure hero. Enjoy your moment, Christian. You’ve earned every bit of it.
While not my favourite filmmaker (that would be Mr David Fincher), I admire Christopher Nolan’s skills (and choices) tremendously. With TDKR I realised just how ‘unstylish’ these Batman films are. He (with the help of brilliant cinematographer Wally Pfister) rarely (if ever) uses overt cinematic trickery and he films everything in a clear, matter-of-fact way. He has painstakingly created this world from the ground up and I’m glad he doesn’t obscure it with wild over-editing and random close-ups; in these films the substance is the style. I saw this film in regular cinema, so I can’t comment on the use of IMAX photography, but considering the level of action in this film I would say it would be spectacular. Nolan has done something fantastic and unheard off with this franchise: he has bided his time. He is the anti-Michael Bay in numerous respects – he has only used CGI when something has been impossible to practically achieve and he has never let these films descend into pure action chaos. TDKR is a massive film, but with the exception of Bane’s introduction (a staggering mid-flight hijacking, seemingly done practically), he waits to unveil its scope. This film is the antithesis of The Avengers’ CGI stylings. Even when Nolan goes large (which is frequently) he strains to make every effect appear real. These films will age far better than their peers, and this adherence to practical effects, stunts and extras (there are scenes containing thousands of people) made me raise my eyebrows in awe numerous times.
On the audio side, TDKR is a knockout. All of Nolan’s Batman films have been drenched in atmosphere and have had an intensity that is missing from 90% of their comicbook brethren. I’d attribute a lot of this to Hans Zimmer’s (with help from James Newton Howard) huge, driving scores. Zimmer revisits early threads from previous films, but it never feels derivative – it feels like a continuation. When his (now classic) Inception score kicked off, the film felt positively huge, and TDKR has the same ‘holy shit’ music cues throughout. While I will always love Danny Elfman’s iconic score for Tim Burton’s Batman, seeing Bruce Wayne doing his thing, while rousing chanting fills your ears, is a great consolation.
For all of the successes of TDKR (which there are many), one element struck me above the rest. The majority of modern blockbusters have a serious problem, one that I call 24 Syndrome: it is when we care about characters and their personal fates, but the screenwriters feel obliged to create some world-ending event whether it be needed or not. We care about Jack Bauer, not the faceless, nameless inhabitants of L.A. Almost every big action film has a bomb, a portal or some other bullshit (lizard mutating gas, anyone?) that is going to kill everyone within a ‘twenty block radius’ unless the hero stops it. How many times can we suspend our disbelief? How many times can we see a bomb counting down and go I wonder if he can defuse it in time? I’ve been praying for a film where the good guy and the bad guy duke it out just because they hate each other –fuck the public at large. TDKR is not that film, it’s one better. Through clever writing, Christopher Nolan (with his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer) have managed to make these huge stakes personal: if Gotham falls, so does Bruce Wayne. Rarely, in film, have we understood and sympathised with a hero’s mission as much as Bruce’s.
TDKR is not a perfect film (few films are), but when it fires on all cylinders it enters classic territory. Add to that the fact that this is huge, operatic filmmaking that has heart and does what very few films can (rouse you to your feet) and you have, so far, the film of the year.