Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The epic conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy unleashed itself upon the world a little while back now (I’ve been struggling against faulty laptop equipment and the BBC’s non-stop coverage of the olympics to get this review out). The hype for this film has been on overdrive for over a year now and after the reaction to Prometheus‘s over-hyped release a couple of months ago doubts started to arise as to how on earth this film could live up to the bench mark set by the advertisers, let alone The Dark Knight.

Compared to the dark humour of the last film, perfectly injected through the use of the Joker, this film is jet black. There is a sense of overwhelming threat from the start as Bane (Tom Hardy) is introduced in a visually stunning scene where an aircraft is wrecked and everyone in it killed by Bane and his henchmen while it is being suspended in mid-air by another plane.

This dread is kept up the whole way through the movie by an excellent score by Hans Zimmer, it is effectively the heartbeat of the piece. It is also sustained by the pace of the story; lots of bad things happen before Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gets back in the cowl, in fact it’s about half an hour before we get to see Batman in all his growly glory.

We get reintroduced to Bruce and Alfred (Michael Caine) whose quarrelsome father-son relationship has gotten no better due to Bruce’s unwillingness to move on after giving up the mantle of Gotham’s protector as well as the death of Rachel Dawes, his love interest from the last two films. We also catch up with Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon who is still conflicted over the glorification of Harvey Dent. There are a couple of new cops; Foley (Matthew Modine), the man looking to replace Gordon and representing the lazy side of Gotham PD after eight years of crime free streets thanks to the Dent act, and a ‘hot-headed’ youngster called Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who appears to hold the same ideals as Gordon and is a thorn in the side of Foley.

Another new protagonist is Selina Kyle, who is finally given the correct treatment in this film. She is a bitter, independent, yet fragile thief who hasn’t been given superpowers by being licked by cats! Anne Hathaway plays the part to a tee with the perfect balance of venom and humour.You can also never guess when she’s on Batman’s side or when she’s leading him into a trap.

But the show stealing villain in the picture is Bane, the super-powerful mercenary who we are lead to believe grew up in a subterranean prison. A lot has been made of Tom Hardy’s performance as well as the effect on his vocal. Personally I didn’t find the voice much of an issue, there were a couple of lines I couldn’t quite make out, but then most of the cast mumble their way through some of their dialogue too. The main problem with Bane’s voice is that you can’t see his lips move, and it’s this that is giving people such a hard time. You just need to tune your ear and you’ll hear his dialogue fine.

Given that half his face is obscured by a mask Tom Hardy’s performance is as immense as his physique. His choice of voice is the utter opposite of what you would expect from the Bane character, instead of a guttural, neanderthal voice he speaks eloquently, like an English dandy. This might sound strange at first, but is in fact a master stroke, giving the character a real sence of depth and intrigue.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away – and I’d be here all day if I even tried to give you a synopsis – but the film juggles quite a few story arcs and character progressions. The pacing is excellently handled making a two and three-quarter hour film fly past and leaving you wanting more, it never drags and never feels like it’s rushing (though there is a point at which you wonder just how long the city has been in the situation it is plunged into, or how quickly Bruce Wayne can recover from a horrendous fight with Bane).

The fight scenes are particularly stripped back and brutal looking in this film, there are two big fight scenes between Bane and Batman both of which have horrible, bone-crunching sequences which will make you wince. For example, the final fight on the steps of a public building includes a sequence where Bane pins Batman against a pillar and lands such rapid-fire, hard looking punches into Batman’s body that I actually flinched. When Batman ducks out-of-the-way Bane continues to punch into the marble pillar with blind rage, which is genuinely scary, added to by the fact there is no score through the entire scene, just the sound effects which are perfect.

In the final minutes there appear to be about four endings, one of which is perfect and involves just Michael Caine’s subtle performance in tight close-up (in fact Caine gives at least two very emotional performances that tug heavily at the heart-strings). But the other ending shots make you want more from the film. In the end I think Nolan has created an ending that you can read what you want into because Nolan is one of the only directors daring enough to leave things ambiguous and isn’t chasing another sequel, though I’m sure the studio would be foaming at the mouth to have him helm as many more of these films as he could.

This is Nolan stepping out the ring undefeated after making a trilogy of superhero films that are grounded in a believable reality, not drenched in loads of CG and actually play more like art films or classic noire detective storeys than any Summer blockbuster ever has. This trilogy is a masterpiece and The Dark Knight Rises is the only way it could be played after the hugely successful The Dark Knight.

The Bat is dead(?), long live The Bat!

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2 Responses to “Review: The Dark Knight Rises”

  1. The New Yorker complained that much of the dialogue is inaudible and the lousy lame Bane didn’t help. A disappointment.

    • I thought the Bane character was pretty good actually. Alright he wasn’t much like the comic book character, but then neither was Ra’s al Ghul and he worked fairly well.

      I think it was difficult to cast any villian after Heath Leger’s Joker. Bane is supposed to be fuelled by ‘venom’, but really, appart from that his story line is very similoar to that of hhis comicbook counterpart: He grew up in a prison where he gained his strength and increased his knowledge and intellect and then fought his way out and terrorised Gotham eventually confronting and guessing the identity of Batman.

      I think it was a mistake to cover his mouth and distort his vocal, but apart from the drug taking I thought he was a pretty interesting character and more than a match for Batman. Anyhow, he’s not the main villain, he’s just the muscle!

      Ithought it was a good ending to the trilogy, but not as good as The Dark Knight.

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