|See that black, white and grey? Get used to it. It’s pretty much all there is.|
So here it is, at long last. Arguably the most anticipated film of the decade thus far; climax to what is inarguably the greatest superhero series of all time and would-be usurper to the title of greatest film trilogy. It goes without saying then that The Dark Knight Rises, the final entry in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed reboot of Batman, carries a heavy burden of expectation.
It picks up 8 years after the ‘murder’ of Harvey Dent which has caused Batman to retreat to the shadows for good, and Bruce Wayne with him. Christian Bale’s fallen knight now walks with a cane and has become a recluse of Howard Hughes-esque proportions, deflated and despairing under the weight of regret for events in The Dark Knight, particularly the death of Rachel Dawes. So no eloping with Russian ballerinas this time then.
Indeed this grace is a far cry from the beast that draws him from his hermitage. Bane, played by Tom Hardy, is instead a hulking mass of muscle, a combatant of titanic proportions who is more than a match for both Batman and the entire police force. Drawn from shady origins this mercenary can lay claim to the same rigorous training as Wayne in the League of Shadows. He, however has been reeled in by their extremism and booms that Gotham’s reckoning is at hand. That boom of course, as has been widely discussed, is a muffled one. Bane’s voice, combining Hardy’s cultured English bass tones and the respirator rumblings of Darth Vader, has been the subject of some debate but it is for the most part decipherable. Mostly. What is easier to grasp is his plan, nothing short of an anarchist 99%er revolution. All achieved in Batman’s absence. But not for lack of trying. Yep, Bane beats him. Bad. In the interest of spoilers I’ll say no more but, in a film that is conspicuously lacking in much actual Bat-themed action, the task of saving the city, 24 style, falls to rookie John Blake, played by the ever-likeable Joseph Gordon Levitt, and disillusioned, regret-filled Danny Glover. I mean Gary Oldman.
|How can you not like this man??|
The first question then is does it match the impossibly high bar set by its predecessor The Dark Knight? The short answer is no, not quite. The long answer is this review. The shadow of Nolan’s masterpiece looms large over every aspect of this latest outing, it transformed superhero movies from fun-filled but ultimately empty romps into something more, suddenly they were movies that just so happened to be about a Batman and that just so happened to be drawn from the oft-derided field of comics, a source that now seemed as legitimate and serious as any novel. With this sea-change in mind Nolan has taken this idea even further with his conclusion, a film as grandiose and serious as any epic of old, a spectacular but swollen swansong that at times seems to reach for too much only to slip and struggle in its own unrelenting gloom and morbidity. This time even the colours are grim, all greys and blacks, Pfister’s cinematography isn’t quite as stunning as last time but its still undoubtedly above par.
The Dark Knight rises but at times it seems only an inflated version of its predecessor, as if Nolan’s approach was to supersize his own work. It’s spectacular, that’s beyond doubt, but at times it’s too much; too much spectacle, too much story, too few real moments of the powerful subtlety that populated The Dark Knight. A case in point is a shot in that film where the Joker, fresh out of prison in bombastic style, rides through the city in a cop car. No sound, no explosions, just a madman’s head out a window like a dog while the camera sweeps around him. It’s a spectacular shot and captures his character perfectly. That happens about 15 times in Rises. The ethos is almost multiply by two and divide by explosions. Even Bane’s orchestrated destruction of order seems a citywide continuation of Joker’s chaos theory, where he blows up a hospital Bane annihilates an entire city. It isn’t helped that he’s a weaker antagonist than Ledger, lacking the manic intensity and terrifying presence of that performance. He’s physically imposing but just can’t elevate it to that next level in the scenes where he should dominate the screen, coming off as little more than a boss character at times.
|Just wouldn’t be Catwoman without leather. All the leather.|
It’s also stricken by the same malaise as the climax to that other great superhero trilogy, Spiderman 3. Both went all out to match the hype and, despite Nolan’s final piece being immeasurably superior to the trainwreck that closed off Raimi’s, both fell short. Even if only slightly. Both are overlong, this clocks in at near the 3 hour mark, and both attempt to cram too much in. No less than four new major characters are introduced, each with their own story to tell. Some, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway’s scene-stealing, and just generally stealing, turn as thief extraodinaire Catwoman(a rare injection of humour and spice in to the deadly serious mix), stand out more than others, such as Marion Cotillard’s indescribable CEO. Indescribable in that she brings nothing to the table however. And finally, as noted before, both are at times almost farcically serious and ‘dark’. Although this for the most part pulls it off admirably, it is punctuated by slow periods and lacks the same tension as The Dark Knight.