Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Seven years ago Christopher Nolan unleashed a film that was to be the start of a new Batman franchise. Batman Begins wowed viewers and took them back to the dark, gritty roots of the character that had been defiled by the gaudy neon paint of the characters previous outing, Batman & Robin. Four years ago Nolan followed up his origins story by pitting the hero against his ultimate long-standing enemy, The Joker. An immaculate performance and brilliant storytelling propelled The Dark Knight to comic-movie history, securing the franchise as the creme-de-la-creme of superhero films. Nineteen hours ago I sat in my seat at my local Odeon and watched the trailers roll before the third and final film in Nolan's trilogy began, The Dark Knight Rises.

*WARNING* May contain mild spoilers.

The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan // 2012 // 12A // 164 mins

Eight years after Batman took the blame for Harvey Dent's crimes and death, Gotham is now a city free of organised crime and experiencing a time of relative peace. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has hung up his cape and cowl and become a recluse, hidden within the shadows of his own home and shying away from any form of socialisation. Cue terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), who enters Gotham with the sole intention of bringing the city to its knees and drawing out its masked hero, so he can break him for good. Adding further spice to this boiling pot of storylines is sassy cat bulgar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), whose interference with the Wayne family safe places her on the radar of the Batman.

The plot is a slow-burning one. With an eight-year hiatus between this story and the last there is a lot of ground to be covered in order to bring viewers up to speed with the developed plot lines and new additions to the cast list, of which there are many. The result of this is that the films opening feels like a 'previously on...' segment, which creates an unfortunate contrast to the incredible prologue of the previous film in the series. The Dark Knight Rises does receive its own large-scale opening set-piece, which very nicely sets-up the villain of the story, however this feels like just one of many openings to the film, and as such loses significant impact. As expected from a Nolan film the plot is incredibly complex, it's depth eclipsing the linear narratives seen within many of its comic-film companions.

In a film that boasts the top acting talent of recent years each of the players in this piece brings exactly what is expected of each of them, their best. Bale is yet again on top form, portraying a worn-down and disillusioned Bruce Wayne that has resigned himself to solitude, and then slipping with ease back into the Kevlar suit as his gravel voiced alter-ego. A truly monstrous Tom Hardy brings an assured performance as the cocky, intelligent, brutish Bane, posing the most real physical threat to the hero seen in any of these films. While his well spoken character is muffled by an imposing mask, very often to the point of inaudibility, the calm tone and unrecognisable accent add a layer of eeriness to this admirable foe. Finally, stamping a serrated heel in the face of any doubters or naysayers, and stealing much of the show, is Anne Hathaway's slinky thief, providing her fair share of one-liners and an ambiguity that is both present throughout the entire run-time and true to her comic-book counterpart.

Amongst the supporting cast are faces new and old, with Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman providing both emotional and narrative progression abound as Bruces trio of father-figures, Alfred, Gordon and Lucius Fox respectively. New girl Marion Cotillard oozes appeal and intrigue as Wayne Industries associate Miranda Tate, while Joseph Gordon Levitt's good cop John Blake provides a strand of hope and optimism amongst the chaos and destruction that is rife throughout the entire city of Gotham.

Technically the film is a triumph. Beautiful cinematography constructs Gotham as a perfect urban jungle, and then watches on as it is slowly deconstructed by Bane. Standout sequences include Batman's first outing in eight years, the bright lights of the cityscape illuminating the gripping chase sequence as well as the final encounter between the two adversaries amidst a snow covered Gotham. Editing does leave a little something to be desired, as Nolan has developed from the overly busy an hard to follow fights of his previous two films only to here slow things down a little two much, with none of the blows seeming to carry any impact, save for one truly brutal shot during the fight in the sewers. Hans Zimmer once again creates a score which perfectly underlines the action, his familiar theme present, to the point of booming over select sequences. The use of the unnerving, haunting chant from the trailers throughout much of the film is a genius move which aids the construction of a perfect tone full of despair and hopelessness.

It seems Nolan has taken this final opportunity to provide a little fan-service, with several nods to the comments made by the fan base from over the years. We see Batman's first appearance in actual daylight, drawing him out of his familiar shadows for a final brawl with Bane. The appearance of Holly Robinson will also surely bring a smile to several comic fans, while the inclusion of John Daggett, a fingerprint collecting business man with the purported ability to provide new identities is a potential one finger salute to those who claimed Clayface could never appear in Nolan's realist world.

The film opens with many story threads and promises which hype up the epic teased within the trailers, it proceeds with a particularly drawn-out second act which suffers pacing issues and the underwhelming re-showing of truly spectacular set-pieces that were simply exposed too much during the advertising of the film. However, as previously stated, this film is a slow-burner and the payoff is great indeed. The final act is captivating, exciting and refreshing. Everything about this film created the impression of an epic, and that is exactly how it ends. There are twists galore, and the film closes with as many potential endings as it had openings. With the exception of a single shot which will undoubtedly divide audiences, Nolan has constructed a brilliant conclusion to a brilliant trilogy. It may not reach the incredible heights of its predecessor but this film always possessed far more hype than it had any need for. This is the conclusion of a franchise, and what a conclusion it is.

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