Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – Review (Spoiler-Free Edition) - Comic Book Movie

With exceedingly high expectations resting on its shoulders, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is the conclusion to a trilogy that has altered the mind-set of modern-day cinema. Therefore it is of no surprise that one could describe Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy as a journey, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ being its climatic finale.

As the end-credits played to the sound of Hans Zimmer dramatic theme, I admit it took several moments to compose myself into some sort of state in which to even begin to take in what I had just witnessed over the 2 hours and 45 minutes run-time of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’, for those few of you who have skilfully avoided the synopsis and plot details, begins with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living life as a total recluse, cut-off from society in his family manor, rebuilt after the events leading to its destruction at the end of Batman Begins. Much was said and made of the decision to begin ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ eight years on from the ending of ‘The Dark Knight’ and it had both positive and negative results.

With Bruce beginning the film in the manner he does, we do truly see how the death of Rachel and the events of ‘The Dark Knight’ have affected his state of mind and perception of life. Bruce’s Howard Hughes-like lifestyle in the film’s beginning, sets the tone for the movie well, much to the talent of Michael Caine’s Alfred, who is truly the emotional connection in this movie, if not the entire trilogy for that matter.

In agreement with the majority of reviews so far released for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, Anne Hathaway threatens to steal the show as The Cat, pun well and truly intended. The script, written by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, however restricts Hathaway in her role, with only enough screen time in which to impress but not dominate. Was this intended so as to avoid what ultimately happened in The Dark Knight, with Heath Ledger taking ownership of the movie on his performance alone? Beautiful, elegant, devious, comic, mischievous, charming, vicious; the list well and truly goes on for words to describe Hathaway’s performance and portrayal of Catwoman. The film’s first third belongs to her and rightfully so. But as stated, the script removes her from the limelight after a dazzling performance in the film’s opening third, instead resorting to give her brief appearances amidst a chaotic and action-packed second-half. When used together, Bale and Hathaway have unbelievable chemistry, with Selina’s elegant, if slightly vicious charm, working brilliantly off of Bruce’s cold caged demeanour.

Whereas Batman Begins lacked a fully-fledged villain, The Dark Knight survived on its. The Dark Knight Rises gets sadly caught somewhere in the middle. Bane, played by Tom Hardy, is at times terrifying, and other times embarrassing. He has presence, no question. But this presence I found to fade out as the movie progressed, and rapidly. Christopher Nolan has praised Tom Hardy for his ability to act with his eyes, something he needed to do not only well, but incredibly well for Bane to fully work, mask and all. Hardy has excellent acting skills, but the mask, an initially terrifying feature that gradually becomes ineffective, provides his character’s fundamental flaw: his voice. I am sorry to say, that for me, much of what he does say is unintelligible. And the common occurrence of Bane saying something and me having to replay the line in my head so as to try and better understand what was in fact said, made for an unwanted distraction. Many different suggestions have been made regards the inspiration for Bane’s accent. Hardy himself has told reporter’s what that was. But the fact of the matter is he sounds English and one who is very highly educated. The desire of Nolan to portray Bane as both a brute force, but also as an intellectual individual with a ‘brilliant brain’, is clear in the way Bane speaks. However, the idea of Bane being smart as well as incredibly physical and strong, never quite comes to fruition. His tone of voice and the accent used, does attempt to show an intellect in his character, but this never works. Discussing the movie afterward, there was a consensus that I support, that Bane’s accent needed a darker, deeper approach to support his physicality. Simply put, the contrast between Bane’s appearance and voice is ineffective and makes for a character that feels unpolished and unfulfilling, even if the opening scene in which he hijacks a plane and later, the sewer fight between him and Batman, are moments of cinematic brilliance.

Along with these disappointments and slight successes comes Bane’s plan of attack on Gotham. The threat to the city is not only wearisome, but also rather infuriating. Nolan’s previous Batman films have each involved a threat on Gotham that is, if not always conceivable, was at the very least original.

The film pushes the sense of epic to its maximum with fast, loud and often impressive action sequences, however the action itself is let down by the plot.

This feels an appropriate time to talk of my thoughts on the film’s length and pacing. The opening hour, although starved of Batman for the majority, was thoroughly entertaining, making good use of Selina Kyle’s introduction and portraying Bruce Wayne’s reclusive response to events eight years previous. However, the film falls undeniably flat after an interesting and engaging first hour. Thankfully, the film finds a new lease of life and re-energizes for what is a non-stop final third.

The film tries to force the issue with multiple stories being told simultaneously, not all of which are successful. Joseph Gordon Levitt as Detective Blake is very good, if not fully attached to the film as part of a trilogy. He balances an emotional, caring side of the character with a tough and committed city cop persona seamlessly. However, the major flaw in his character is that he is new to the trilogy and therefore doesn’t feel as connected to the story of the three films as someone with as much importance placed upon him should.

The film has many other flaws including pacing issues, various plot-holes and a tendency to use character’s dialogue as a way to explain to the audience the numerous plot-points, all of which were hard to keep track of. Of the three films in the trilogy here, Nolan’s use of the non-linear style of story-telling is at its weakest. The score, although very similar to that of ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’, is effective, if slightly too loud at times.

In pushing the epic, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ falls flat in places, unable to disguise what is a sub-par script and plot when compared to those that have come before it in the trilogy. Despite this, the film boasts moments of both pure spectacle and heartfelt emotion, truly solidifying Nolan’s trilogy to be among the best movie trilogies in the history of cinema. However, as an ending to what has been a hugely successful trilogy, both critically and commercially, the film suffers to conclude satisfyingly; with elements of its ending feeling severely rushed, sacrificed in both length and effect in order for more time for the film’s laborious middle section.

A satisfying conclusion in many ways and in others not, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ has me caught in conflict as to whether it lived up to expectations or not. One thing is for certain however, and that is that there is great sadness in the knowing that this is the end of Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman.

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