Sunday, 5 August 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Hopes were sky high for The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in Christopher Nolan's gritty, modern Batman series. Like a Resurrection Man dragging a rotting corpse from the putrid earth, Nolan has pulled the Batman franchise (which we all thought had suffocated under a quagmire of hammy lines and Technicolor tights) back into the shadowy half-light of the cinema screen. Unlike the Resurrection Men, who sold the corpses they acquired to doctors for study and dissection, Nolan has not passed Batman on to a reel of film critics for summary examination and eventual re-burying; he has re-fashioned it, and re-told it, bringing the phoenix out from the ashes in the way that only he could.

Eight years on from the untimely deaths of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the incarceration of the Joker (Heath Ledger), and the disappearance of the Batman (who has been falsely charged with the murder of Harvey Dent) the city of Gotham would appear to be picking itself up and moving on with its life. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has ensconced himself in his mansion, and spends most of his time in a dressing gown, making his way up and down the lonely hallways with the aid of a walking stick. Trouble soon rears its ugly head in the form of Bane, yet another masked man on a mission; he wants to break Gotham down to its component parts and institute a kind of anarchic martial law. With the help of the city's hottest new jewellery thief, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Batman flaps his way out of the shadows and back onto the mean streets.

While The Dark Knight was certainly a game-changer, The Dark Knight Rises manages to continue the intensity of its predecessor while upping the emotion. TDKR is a pretty heart-rending film, and never crosses over into mawkishness. The Dark Knight had the explosive death of Rachel Dawes; TDKR has the tragic image of a broken Batman, and the tear-jerking ultimatum offered to Bruce Wayne by his butler and life-long friend Alfred (Michael Caine). Nolan's Batman is one of the very few super-hero franchises that actually succeeds in creating true emotional involvement in the viewer.

This series has never been about focusing in on Batman; one of the greatest strengths of these three films has been excellent ensemble casting. In TDKR, the familiar faces of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman (as Commissioner Jim Gordon) and Morgan Freeman (as Lucius Fox) are joined by Anne Hathaway, who seems to slot perfectly into the sardonic yet heartfelt role of Catwoman, and Nolan favourites Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (both of whom also starred in Nolan's 2010 film Inception). Tom Hardy plays Bane with a mocking, superior humour which complements the character's extreme strength and political fervour, and manages to emote surprisingly well considering that half his face is encased in what appears to be a metal fist, but it's Joseph Gordon-Levitt who almost steals the show.

Many of us will remember Gordon-Levitt from his stint as Tommy Solomon on the '90s TV show Third Rock From the Sun; like Tom Hardy, in recent years his career has taken off in a big way. In TDKR, he plays John Blake, a plucky young police officer who catches the attention of Jim Gordon and begins to take up his mantle, liaising and bonding with the difficult Batman. Blake is far from being just your generic 'good guy'; he's a great guy. He's a capable lawman who has overcome a difficult childhood (and who is still heavily involved with the home for orphan boys where he grew up). He's clever, funny and tough, but Gordon-Levitt plays him with an acute sense of humanity; his shock at killing two of Bane's men is palpable. Expect even bigger things from this actor in the future.

The film's special effects are spectacular in the literal sense of the word; the mini fighter jet known simply as 'the Bat' is certainly handy for ripping through the night air, and disaster scenes such as the collapsing football field are brilliant in their harrowing reality. Hans Zimmer returns for the soundtrack, his familiar roaring orchestral hooks the perfect backing to the story.

When compared to The Dark Knight, as it inevitably will be (over and over again), The Dark Knight Rises seems to end the trilogy with a whimper rather than a bang. This is not a bad thing; while the second film was more concentrated on the terrifying spree headed up by the Joker (an almost unbelievably good performance from Heath Ledger which many believe played some part in his early demise) the third brings the main focus back onto the internal struggle. To quote Naomi Barnwell's great review over on Movie Farm: 'What do we do when we fall? We rise.'

The Dark Knight Rises is (obviously) a KINOLENS Film of the Moment, and is on general release in the UK.

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