The Dark Knight Rises (dir: Christopher Nolan, 2012) Cert: 12A
After four long years of waiting, wondering and hoping, the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman saga is here and boy is it a welcome arrival. With anticipations and expectations set to a sickeningly high level, The Dark Knight Rises has it's work cut out in order to top it's masterful predecessor and to complete the best comic book trilogy ever captured on film, but can the film and the team behind it deliver despite the dramatic weight?
8 years after the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is nothing more than a recluse hiding from the world and Gotham City, however his absence is disrupted by two new faces appearing - Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway); a seductive cat bugler and Bane (Tom Hardy); a terrorist leader who aims to bring Gotham to ashes. Wayne knows that in order to defeat this cruel and calculated villain he must become the Caped Crusader once more but loved ones around him fear for his safety whilst the people of the city still believe he is responsible for the chaos and murder than reigned the streets nearly a decade ago.
The main thing audiences will be expecting upon entering TDKR is whether the film will offer another 'Heath Ledger'. Before his untimely death, Ledger blew the world away with his portrayal as The Joker and since then his role has become one of the most beloved and respected in any Hollywood production. In answer to the above question, no this film does not have another 'Heath Ledger' but does that really matter? Never is there any point where viewers will be wishing The Joker would turn up, nor is there enough time for any such thought to spring to mind. For a film that clocks 164 minutes in length, TDKR absolutely flies by and will take the breath from your lungs in the process.
Nolan's latest is staggering on so many levels that it's difficult which to document first. Like always the film is captured with such skill and artistry that it's a genuine pleasure to watch and absorb. Nolan's direction is so accurate and précised; every detail is rendered and framed with the same amount of attention as say a large set piece or a CGI-heavy sequence. The sheer scale and vision Nolan provides is astonishing; the film is an undeniably grand affair that's budget has been spent sensibly and knowingly. Considering this is an all-out big budget Hollywood blockbuster, underneath the armour and the gadgets lies an art film with a heart beating vibrantly. Never does Nolan allow the film to feel overstretched or unwillingly supported, instead his camera and eye for craftsmanship carries the project with finesse and effortlessness.
Nolan's last Batman outing The Dark Knight was a Film Noir Crime Drama rather than a Superhero tale and the same efforts arise here. The characters within the world of Gotham are mere mortals; a flying bullet to the chest will injure them, a twisted wrist will break and blood will spill. There is no Marvel powers here, only flesh and bone. For the majority of the film, Bruce Wayne is Bruce Wayne, not Batman. Selina Kyle is Selina Kyle, in fact I don't even think she is called Catwoman once. They may be draped in all-black, sport quirky gadgets and flying vehicles but that's as super as TDKR gets and it's all the better for it.
|Still from The Dark Knight Rises (dir: Christopher Nolan, 2012)|
Knowing that each character has limitations opens so many doors for emotional resonance with the viewer; the film's introductory 30 minutes are littered with foul lies about Wayne and Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), bleak colour pallets soak up the skyscraper-laden streets and a portrait of a city in sheer desperation is painted. There may not be much crime on the bitter streets but a sordid, lifeless atmosphere parades. It comments on our economic climate, our obsession with wealth and our longing to put faith in something bigger than ourselves. Gotham is a broken home and it's residents are tarnished with it. The film's themes, characterisation and ideals make for some often sombre viewing. Nolan's world is a cold, unwelcoming and distinctive setting which only further embeds it in reality.
Audiences might be surprised to actually feel moved throughout TDKR too - sequences between Bruce and Alfred (Michael Caine) and good-willed cop John Blake (a simply scene-stealing Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are often profoundly affecting and give the film's drama a razor-sharp edge. However despite this being a particualarly chilling and often shocking picture, Jonathan and Christopher Nolan's screenplay does offer some comic relief with some great gags from Wayne and particularly Kyle.
Much like The Dark Knight, this is an extremely violent film in content but more importantly tone - in the 2008 feature, many were shocked by the sheer deviance of The Joker's actions rather than the body-count making for pitch-black and often distressing viewing. Here we are presented with Bane who is the polar-opposite to Ledger's maniac. Bane is a giant bulk who uses intelligence and brute force to cause chaos and hysteria - his actions are far more psychical than mental and consequently this means a lot of people get hurt and many meet their demise. TDKR is at the top-end of it's 12A rating and should probably be a 15 but all those entering are well aware of Nolan's Gotham so nothing should offend or disgrace - just be prepared to squirm in your seat occasionally and get ready to feel every blow from Bane's thrashing fists.
Wally Pfister's cinematography is utterly majestic; his close work with Nolan on projects truly shows his artistic nature and abilities to frame, compose and construct an image. Swooping aerials, star-soaked skies, dusted rubble and rain-soaked reflections add authenticity, style and depth to the visual field as well as complimenting the tone and setting Nolan aims to formulate. Add Hans Zimmer's surging, menacing score into the barrel and you have yourself an unbeatable movie-going experience. The music is crushing, bruising and apocalyptic; shaking every scene and keeping the hairs stood firmly upright on your neck.
The performances are a universal success - Bale gives his finest screen turn in the franchise by added such great depth and layers to Wayne. His performance is hinged by an overpowering sense of melancholy and dread; he faces a much stronger opponent, both psychically and mentally, he carries the burden of a nation and the crippling likelihood of failure. All these elements add up and create the most realistic, grounded and emotionally challenged Dark Knight to ever be filmed. Bale is nothing short of sensational.
Morgan Freeman, Oldman, and Caine are all excellent in their reprised roles with the latter two offering deep and traumatic ordeals with Wayne and the city of Gotham. Hardy is brilliant as Bane and people should really stop comparing him to Ledger. Bane is an entirely different breed of villain and these are shoes that Hardy thrives within. Those who saw the 6-minute preview last year will quickly recognise the voice alteration too which is a great asset; if you can't understand him now then there is simply no hope for you.
|Still from The Dark Knight Rises (dir: Christopher Nolan, 2012)|
Marion Cotillard is staggering as always here playing Miranda Tate; a Wayne Enterprises investor who has operated a machine enabling clean energy resources for Gotham, but the film's stars are Gordon-Levitt and Hathaway. Blake is the one cop left in the city who is actually good willed and Gordon-Levitt offers a cavalcade of emotional depth with the role. Blake's eyes are those of the audience's; a spectator in Gotham who wants answers, who wants the Batman, who believes in the stories - it's a generally refreshing element to the already extraordinary mix, and then there's Kyle.
So many doubted Hathaway dubbing her unfit for the role, well I bet their lips will be tightly sealed after watching the film. Admittedly I'm a huge fan of Hathaway but bias aside, there is no denying the gravity and effort she has put into this role. Never before has Kyle been so accurately performed and pitched - she's a femme fatale; she'll sob and want reassurance from you before sticking those heels where it hurts and snatching the wallet from your pocket. Hathaway dominates every single frame she enters with such bold energy, beautiful dialogue delivery and wonderful uses of body language. She's sexy, sly, seductive and manipulative - everything Kyle was designed to be. She is the film's performance highlight and deserves her own spin-off movie (Nolan should write/direct it though so we don't have another Halle Berry recap...)
The film's closing 30 minutes are cinema at it's purest and most engrossing - everything comes together in such an explosive, detailed web that viewers can't help but be wrapped up in the action, drama and suspense. It's a thrilling, captivating and quite frankly perfect climax to a trilogy that's so consistent and balanced.
TDKR is why we go to the cinema; it offers everything that a spectator could possibly want - staggering direction, beautiful visuals, fantastic performances and a score that will rumble through to the bone. It's a celebration of narrative, character and artistic expression. Many say Nolan gets too much praise but this couldn't be further from the truth; the man crafts and shapes quality entertainment - films that restore your faith in Hollywood, films that show just how extravagant and magical 35mm can be. He is something of a treasure and his latest is yet another jewel in his diamond filmography. The Dark Knight Rises is without doubt the best film of 2012 so far.
It's simply cinematic bliss - powerful, intelligent, engrossing and gripping. The Dark Knight trilogy ends with a third masterpiece.
By Chris Haydon