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Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises




I flirted with the idea of writing a spoiler-free review of Christopher Nolan's conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy but could not bring myself to do so. So, here's a very spoiler-filled review instead. I won't talk too much about the plot detail, but much of its skeleton is here and several of the big surprises - along with the ending of the movie - will be discussed in detail. You have been warned... Go away NOW if you don't want to know what to expect!

To begin with, let's remind ourselves of how things stood at the end of The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent, driven mad by the Joker's unrelenting picking and poking, threw murderous revenge about the city of Gotham, killing plenty. As Gotham's 'White Knight' it was important that the people of Gotham didn't lose their belief in him - and a brighter future - so Batman decided to take the blame for Dent's crimes and became the outcast. Gotham now believed it was he who was responsible for the murders committed by Dent. It believed that Harvey Dent, their guiding light, was murdered by the Batman. Batman is now Enemy Number One.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up this thread eight years later. Batman hasn't been seen since the night Dent died but, thanks to the Dent Act - a patriot act of sorts - there is little need for Batman as we, the audience, know him. Organised Crime is non-existent. The police are dealing just fine with the bag snatchers and joyriders that remain the only real threat to law and order in Gotham City. That is until a new threat surfaces.

A terrorist known as Bane has appeared. I won't give away the plot blow by blow, but it's fair to say that a complex plan involving identity theft, bankruptcy, civil unrest, moral outrage and a nuclear device means that Gotham once again needs the Batman - now more than ever!

And there's the snag. Bruce Wayne is a physically unsteady, emotionally broken man now. He needs a cane to walk. He has no cartilage left in his knees. His brain is a mess, thanks to all the concussions he's suffered when he was wearing the cowl. There really is no Batman anymore. And for a startlingly long time during the first act of this movie you'd be forgiven for thinking - if you didn't know better - that Batman would not be coming out to play today! Lucky, I guess, that Commissioner Gordon is still on hand to be the moral warrior. Except, he's not. Incapacitated during a raid he should have known to avoid, this once whiter-than-white man is now living under the shadow of the blackest of secrets. Only he knows that Batman is innocent and the people's hero, Dent, died a murderous, vengeful monster. And when the secret comes out it's a rookie detective, John Blake, who takes the hit the hardest.

Talking of hard hits, Bane is slowly tearing the city apart from within and Wayne has no choice but to get suited up and do what he can to stop him. This is where he takes the hardest hit of all. A one-on-one encounter with Bane is the straw that breaks the camel's back (or should that be the massive hulk of a terrorist leader who breaks the Bat's back?) ending Batman's time in the cloak and sending a ruined (and penniless) Bruce Wayne into hell.

Story-wise, I'm saying little more in detail. I've said too much already but you can't complain because I bloody warned you I'd be pulling no punches when it came to spoilers. And I have hardly started spoiling it for you! The best is still to come!

The hype for this movie was immeasurable. How on earth could it ever meet the expectations piled upon it? Some may have asked how it could possibly live up to The Dark Knight! Now, The Dark Knight was an exceptional movie. Batman Begins was, in my opinion, just great. The Dark Knight Rises would have to blow us all away or be seen as a failure. Well, for me, personally, it absolutely did not disappoint.

More than that, it exceeded my expectations (which were high) and managed to not only surprise me with events I had already read about online before I saw the movie but surprise me with events that I'd managed to miss when reading.

Technically there is nothing at all I can find to pick at. The look and feel of the movie is perfect. The performances are outstanding - even those with minutes of screen-time rather than hours (there are a lot of supporting characters!) shine. Not a single minute of Rises' gargantuan one hour and forty four minutes running time drags. In fact, I could easily have sat through a further thirty or so minutes and watched some of those supporting characters develop a little more than they did. Which is not to say they weren't developed as it is!

Christian Bale gives his finest performance as Bruce Wayne (and matches the growling intensity of The Dark Knight as Batman) and, obviously, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and (a slightly underused) Michael Caine are wonderful! But it's the new additions to Nolan's trilogy that are the most complex and interesting characters in this movie.

Tom Hardy excels as the terrifying and often horrifying Bane, probably the character who is taken furthest from his comic-book roots for this movie. Doing more 'proper acting' with his eyes than should be possible, his masked criminal mastermind is just a step above Ledger's Joker in terms of sheer uncomfortable realism, in my opinion at least. But his intelligence and physical superiority means he was never going to need to worry about getting his arse kicked by Batman. He is, in all aspects, the stronger man and Batman is absolutely no match for him, whereas the Joker was a maniac with a stick, poking the Batman, begging to be beaten. 

The voice? Ah, yes. The Voice! I didn't have a problem at all understanding what Bane was saying behind his mask, but - as I've heard another reviewer say - it's a bit like the aural equivalent of 3D. Just as it takes your eyes a while to forget it's watching a 3D film and enjoy it so here it takes a while to 'get over' Bane's odd diction and almost-unidentifiable accent. I think his voice is incredible, personally. Strange, uncomfortably chirpy on occasions and completely unique. Bane is definitely the greatest threat Batman (and Gotham) has ever had to face, simply because HE COULD WIN!

Then there's Selina Kyle (Hathaway) who, throughout the whole movie, is never once referred to as Cat Woman. And I'm pleased. Hathaway gives a career-defining performance as the most believable Cat Woman we've ever had. 

She combines clever and capable with sassy and sexy and never once feels like a cardboard cutout Doctor Who companion. Every second she's on screen - whether imprisoned, thieving, riding a bike, kicking people in the head or simply purrrring honey-coloured threats at old Batty Bats - is a pleasure to behold. When she puts her night-vision goggles up onto her head they look like cat ears and she has a tight black suit she wears when she burgles places, but that's as much costume as we get. Outstanding.

But the brightest light in all of this is seemingly ordinary but totally moral and committed rookie detective John Blake - a throwaway performance of the best kind; the complexity bestowed in this character seems effortless coming from Joseph Gordon-Levitt - who refuses to give up the good fight, even when Batman is forced to. 

He is every inch the hero Bruce Wayne is, which pays off for fans when he's revealed to have been Robin all along. No costume. No mask. Just a very capable, very motivated helping hand. The reveal itself is cheeky and some-though-not-I may say tacked on; a simple "you may have my legal name on the form..." to the executor of Bruce Wayne's last will and testament (more about that in a second) and her reply of "you should use your legal name more often. It's nice, Robin" or words to that effect. And as soon as the word pops out of her mouth you realise that, OF COURSE he's Robin! He has been since about 30 minutes into the movie. And you didn't even bloody notice. 

But here's the thing. We're being led up a blind alley. We have been for years. Bane isn't the main villain here, regardless of how this movie was promoted. Oh no, not at all! He's A main villain, yes. But he's just the wheels of a much larger machine. The League Of Shadows have finally put their plan for Gotham into action, now led by Talia Al Ghul (masquerading as Wayne Enterprises board member and Bruce Wayne's love interest Miranda Tate, played by Marion Cotillard). 

The weaving and twisting and fraying of back-stories is meant to trick you into thinking that the 'one escapee' from the notorious hell-hole of a prison - where a crippled Bruce Wayne is sent by a victorious Bane - 'a child' referenced throughout the last two acts of this film is in fact Bane. Though, when the next almost-reveal is that the child's father was a mercenary called Ra's Al Ghul, those of you who know your comics will suss the misdirection immediately. But all the same, it's a lovely misdirection and a great way to up the jeopardy at the eleventh hour.

Throw everything I've talked about above (which is a lot, so thanks for your patience) together and you reach an ending that will thrill. 

Bruce Wayne is dead, disintegrated in the neutron blast that would have demolished Gotham if not for the Batman's timely arrival and self-sacrifice. His estate is divided up. Property sold on. The day saved. The enemy defeated. The bat cave passed into the trusted hands of John 'Robin' Blake. Nightwing? Possibly. Or just the man to carry the Dark Knight into the future. What better time for Alfred to grab a coffee at his favourite Italian cafe?

Some will say the ending is open to interpretation, others will disagree. I think it's pretty clear what the ending is actually all about. I think interpretation is one thing, not looking at the screen so you're able to interpret as you see fit is quite another. But what this ending is - without question - is fitting and satisfying. I loved it.

This movie has heart. You really care about the characters and their motives. Even the villains drag a cold, clammy, long-withheld empathy from your rigid bones. You'll laugh, you'll cry etc. But this film also delivers action on a truly epic scale. New toys like The Bat - an armored tank/helicopter - and Batman's EMP rifle are enough to keep the cool quota up without setting a foot into unbelievable territory. And The Dark Knight Rises has one of the best fight sequences I've seen for a while. Seeing your hero pounded to a pulp and left broken by the bad guy is a terrifying thing to witness in itself. The combination of pure joy and 'all in a day's work' that Tom Hardy manages to portray when he leaves Batman's shattered cowl in the gutter is enough to send shivers down the spine of any Batfan. 

I've talked and talked, yet tried to be as balanced and withheld as possible with my gushing enthusiasm and praise, but I'm still unable to find a single thing to complain about. This movie is the perfect final chapter to what is undoubtedly the greatest superhero trilogy every committed to film. The film as a film is near-perfect, only losing credibility points as possibly the best crime drama/disaster movie of the last fifteen years due to the fact that its main character is dressed up like a bat. There is so much more I have to say but this post is already almost as long as the movie it's about, so I'll sum up (though, expect edits after I been to see it again).

Batman Begins was fantastic; a new, more realistic Batman for an ever more demanding audience. The Dark Knight was, thanks to stellar performances all round and a genuinely iconic take on an iconic villain, exceptional. But The Dark Knight Rises manages to pip its predecessor to the title of "Best Comic Book Movie Ever" through sheer intelligence, spectacle and a chillingly resonant and relevant story. Perfect performances. Perfect Pacing. Perfect end to a perfect story.

Nolan's trilogy may be over but there are so many places this could go from here... Rise.


(It would be 10/10 but I want to see it again before I blow my last 0.5)

EDIT: Saw it again yesterday. Wow. The score goes up! 10/10!