Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review - The Dark Knight Rises

Batman faces his greatest challenge yet in The Dark Knight Rises, in which Gotham city is threatened by potential nuclear Armageddon at the whim of a coldly calculatory and brawny terrorist, forcing the reclusive billionaire to dust off his batsuit after eight years out of the saddle. How to move on from the emotional and physical scars incurred from that fateful clash with The Joker and Two-Face, unaware of the even greater emotional and physical hurdles to come? As it proves the greatest challenge yet for Batman, so too does The Dark Knight Rises prove the greatest challenge yet for the trilogy's writer-director-producer Christopher Nolan. How to follow up the unprecedented commercial and critical success of his 2008 hit The Dark Knight with a third and final chapter that can satisfy geeks, general audiences, and critics alike? Well, he may have stumbled across that finish line somewhat, but cross it he has, giving his franchise the epic and stirring conclusion it deserves.
Compositing numerous character arcs and plot threads with which Batman aficionados will already be familiar, The Dark Knight Rises takes off with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) been shaken from vigilante retirement upon the appearance of a new villain in town; the mask-wearing international master criminal Bane (Tom Hardy) who enacts an ambiguous plot which Wayne's concerned butler Alfred (Michael Caine) suggests might be connected to foes from Batman's past. It doesn't help matters that the Caped Crusader's list of allies is as flimsy as his injured right leg. The city wrongfully holds him responsible for the death of Harvey Dent eight years earlier, but he still has friends in GCPD Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), a young cop named John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), and wealthy socialite Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) whose investment in Wayne's company have yielded a clean energy source which could be weaponized if allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Also along for the ride is anti-heroine Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a slick cat burglar whose allegiances are in question and flux as she tries to steal and slink her way out of an increasingly dangerous Gotham.

With such a wealth of Batman mythos serving as their inspiration, Nolan and his co-writers (brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer) have made The Dark Knight Rises a series capper of thematic density, but unfortunately not quite one of thematic finesse. While The Dark Knight focused its subtextual eye on the spectrum of morality and its relation to anarchy vs. order, the motifs explored here are a sprawling mix that shift in and out of prominence depending on the progression of the narrative – the strength required to move on from grief, the cost of redemption, drawing strength from fear, self-preservation vs. fighting for societal good, capitalism and inequality, courage and cowardice, and more are all blended into the ambitious screenplay. But what Nolan's cerebral undertones boast in complexity they sacrifice in precision, making it difficult for any one theme to resonate much beyond the scene(s) of its examination. That certainly doesn't mean that they don't resonate at all, just in fits and starts, but there's still a lot of food for thought simmering beneath the surface of this movie.
But even if you couldn't care less about what's simmering beneath it, the surface of The Dark Knight Rises something to behold. The structure of this three-hour epic is not, has some allege it to be, unsound, but it is oddly paced at times. Such is the case with a three-hour movie, to which a tight and tidy three-act structure cannot always be applied. Mostly, those 164 minutes just fly by, thanks in part to Lee Smith's editing, in part to the spectacle of the action, and in part to the compelling performances which keep us perpetually engaged. Bale is once again a rock solid centre, evoking more of Wayne's tortured psyche than we've yet seen in a Batman film. Standouts among the other returning cast members are Gary Oldman, arguably the franchise MVP for his utterly convincing performance across the three films as Commissioner Gordon, and Michael Caine, who in a brief but unforgettable masterclass of acting delivers the single most moving scene of the entire trilogy. Anne Hathaway is a sultry delight as Catwoman, channeling some previous incarnations while still making the character her own, and Tom Hardy is mesmerizing as Bane, whose already commanding physical presence is made all the more threatening by the obscurement of his mouth (his voice is a bit like Sean Connery doing Darth Vader, which is easier to get used to than it sounds).

As we've come to expect, Nolan's craft is immaculate. Chris Corbould's dazzling practical effects captured by Wally Pfister's immersive photography makes a strong case for the film to viewed in IMAX wherever/whenever possible. Additional incentive to seek out an IMAX theatre is a heightened appreciation of the thunderous soundscape. Richard King's sound design here equals his career best, especially the extensive adr work on Bane's dialogue dubbing. And Hans Zimmer's mighty, bass-driven score (buttressed by compositions from the previous two films) can never sound more powerful than when heard through a formidable IMAX sub-woofer. The action is beautifully staged and executed, the fight choreography improving vastly upon the somewhat confusing fisticuffs seen in The Dark Knight, particularly in the centrepiece bout between hero and villain, which will surely satisfy any fanboy's need for that one iconic moment.
We can (and in all likelihood will) debate the relative quality of The Dark Knight Rises against its predecessors Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but we can't debate the lasting influence of Christopher Nolan's achievement on modern pop culture. By infusing the pulpiest of comic book legend in a hyper-realistic setting, eschewing the Gothic stylistics of Burton or the campy gleefulness of Schoomaker, Nolan forged a bold contemporary fantasy of social relevance, artistically legitimizing an entire genre. Superheroes and supervillains do not exist in our real world, but as The Dark Knight trilogy makes vividly clear, the values that they stand for do exist, and the battle they wage against each other is real and ongoing. Where evil and chaos persist, so do goodness and hope. Too deliver such a meaningful message from a pile of old comics with such pertinence and intelligence, is indeed a significant cinematic achievement.

***1/2 out of ****


  1. I enjoyed this movie, and there's no denying its intelligence, but I don't know.. I was a bit disappointed. Besides the fact that I think this is the weakest one in the series, a felt it was a bit too 'ambitious' for its own good. Such to the point that it betrayed its sense of realism. It actually felt the most comic booky of the bunch. It discussed real world issues, but blew it up a bit much. But I did enjoy it though, and those 2 3/4 went by in no time. I would've given it a 3 stars

  2. It was a really well made movie. True it didn't meet up to the amazing bar raised by the first Dark Knight, and Tom Hardy isn't as good of a villain as Heath Ledger's Joker, which was one of the best performances of the 21st Century. And amidst it's small flaws, Nolan has made a satisfying epic franchise, and whether you are a geeky fanboy (myself included) or not, you will love this movie.

  3. It's really a shame about the victims in Aurora, Colorado.

  4. I loved this movie. You have a point on there being far more themes in this film than in the previous two, but I sort of felt that that was one of its strengths. It was placing perspective on the trilogy rather than trying too hard to be its own installment.

    Speaking of, how do you view its oscar chances? (Beyond the given technical award fields) Even though it wasn't as well reviewed as TDK it is possible that the academy will grace it with some love in the bigger categories as a way of awarding the entire series. Kind of like how Return of the King won 11 awards because it was more final and epic in scope than the previous films?

    1. I don't see any noms beyond sound, fx, and cinematography. Best Picture is a slight possibility with an expanded field, but the ROTK comparison doesn't convince me. The previous to LOTR films were also Best Picture nominees, which the previous two Batman films were tellingly not.

  5. This movie was awesome!

    Incidentally, I've just given you an award! If you want to accept it, stop by my blog.

  6. Hey whats up with ur Raviews/Ratings section? Can't access it :S