Friday 20 July 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Year: 2012
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Christain Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Micheal Caine

So it's here. The Film that most people have made their mind up on has finally dropped. My thoughts on the furore that has transpired before (critics recieving death threats for bad reviews etc) are quite simple. If you believe someone should die because they don't share the same opinion on a film as you, anonymous or not, you've displayed that you are a simpleton. My only question to you is, why be so quick to show that? It is worrying you may have a job and work with people, while harbouring such views. Help is needed. Case closed.

Most of Nolan's films have relied on obsessive personalities who clash despite being either side of the same coin. That the people in play are so obsessed with a particular subject that they themselves don't see how close to each others edge they are, or how blurred the lines have become. The Dark Knight's (2008) comparisons to Micheal Mann's Heat (1995) are not just in stylistic choices but their themes. These men that "do work" are not only co-dependant on each other they are almost one and the same. This has always made Nolan's characters engaging to me.

This is the crawl space where Nolan's latest film, The Dark Knight Rises, is at most effective. When the film focuses on the ideals of these characters, and how fractured they could become, I was fully engaged. Bane as a physical presence is the match against Batman that one would expect. However it's the intellectual pursuit that pushes the film above more common affair. Like what came before for it, there is a fight for the soul of Gotham city. Issues of trust, control and resources flitter in and out of this large scale blockbuster, and while Nolan doesn't usually state too much when it comes to the political intent of his movies, this film seemingly wears its relatively conservative morals on its sleeve. The film however isn't simplistic, tubthumping piece. It does go deeper. Everyone has a little red in their ledger, and the effects of what came to play before have taken their toll.

This is not just in the physical aspect. Eight years since the events of The Dark Knight, we see a different Bruce Wayne. Not only is he less limber as before, he is now a person who has let his personal malaise infiltrate his mind. Such pain for what he has lost as allowed negligence to fester in the minds of those in the privileged circles that a man like Wayne run in. To some this will remind them of the boom days before 2008. In comes Bane, a Tyler Durden-style agent of fear. More calculated then what was seen before, and twice as hungry. With him he bring not only an army of have nots, but the fearful ideals of the past that Wayne strived to alter and evolve.

Like the two previous films The Dark Knight Rises main plot is once again, in essence another simple terrorist act. This could be considered, to some, as a hindrance. Nolan's 2008 sequel The Dark Knight, had a focus on pure chaos that felt, darker and more troubling than here. Heath Ledgers Joker brought forth an unpredictability that truly stood out amongst the three films. Chaos for the sake of chaos, felt more damming and dangerous than here in which a feeling of history repeating itself looms over the concluding act. Rises connects itself a lot more to the 2005 Batman Begins than it's predecessor. This isnt a bad thing, as the film ties itself with the series well as a whole. However it is hard to feel as excited as ultimately they films screenplay has to find a heap of convolution in order to make things appear as things have progressed.

The films main weakness is in its structure. We are brought back into the world and characters well enough, however some of its storytelling feels lacking. Lots of characters, lots of motivations, but not all feel needed. Once or twice, scenes just don't have the weight I expected, with one character relationship feeling a little out of sorts. I must also add that Nolan will get away with one or two moments of awkward exposition and pacing issues that another filmmaker could have got crucified for in a "lesser" film. mostly because as the fanboys have clearly shown, it's "Batman" and it's "perfect" even if they haven't seen the movie. I myself will let some things slide, partly because Nolan is so assured with his direction of proceedings. By the time we reach the final destination, Nolan brought me fully round, with many of my issues feeling like the nitpicks they are.

The Dark Knight Rises for me the film works best when the ideology comes into play. When the obsession is in the forefront. Wayne's inability to trust those around him. Bane's grandstanding oratory on "liberation". The effects of what Gordon did eight years ago, and how that weighs on him (call this Smiley-lite). All done for the name of justice. When you pull out and look at the big picture, Nolan's themes are extremely lofty and the tone is set perfectly. The scope is epic in size and although it wobbles like a spin top at times, the ambition is overwhelming and execution is more than admirable.

To carry all this on their shoulders, is a strong ensemble cast. Hardy's Bane is a grand display of dominance. Forget that his voice sounds like Sean Connery in the underwater sets of Thunderball. His presence is missed when he is not on the screen. A calculating and sardonic persona only matched with his hulking physicality. Ledger's Joker was always going to be difficult to top, but Hardy doesn't put a foot wrong. I love the performance. Bale gives a more subdued display, with smaller emotional beats, however as Wayne/Batman has more to do in terms of range, you see why Bale was picked. It is his strongest performance of the three films. Micheal Caine gives emotional heft, while Morgan Freeman expands on his Fox role. Hathaway, who was given the most grief when picked as Catwoman/Selena Kyle absolutely shines here. Her sarcastic, devil may care approach to the role shows that she is just as fearless as Ledger was four years ago. Joseph Gordon Levitt maintains a good level of work while Gary Oldman needs no more plaudits.

The creaky link is in newcomer Marion Cotillard who suffers as her character feels underwritten until much later on, when it feels too late. Once the story reveals itself more, it's hard not to feel that the role is a tad wasted. Juno Temple also appears in a limited role that means well but adds little.

The swansong feels long but it doesn't bore. I didn't find the set pieces as thrilling as The Dark Knight but they hold their physicality well. The film as a whole puts forth an interesting and board view point on capitalism and tries its best to answer. It succeeds for the most part, but it accomplishes more with how it deals with internal pain. It doesn't have the manufactured emo navel gazing of The Amazing Spiderman. What it strives for it does so earnestly. It allow many elements of the series to come full circle and paints an elegant picture of what can be done with comic source material when used the right way.

Upon leaving, I realised that not only hadn't I touched the rest of my popcorn (half a large left), I had also knocked it over and spilt it without noticing. That to me is a good sign of how I felt about the movie. I will be watching The Dark Knight Rises once more with friends to embrace what I may have missed. This is how a movie fan should show their affection to the cause. With love and dedication to the material, not bile or hatred to others. A hater hates. A lover watches.

Note: The some of this review was written before the tragic events in Colorado. May peace find those involved at such a difficult time.