The Dark Knight Rises - movie review
Who's saying what
Whether you'll like this film really depends on which Batman you like.
Which needs clarification, so allow me to elucidate. Back in the ether, Tim Burton, a fatuous monochromatic hack with, admittedly, moments of grandeur, flung two talented actors into an art deco mish-mash of Batman flavoured slurry. And whilst it felt like a darker, more real interpretation of the Dark Knight’s exploits, it only felt so because it resided soundly in the shadow of the sizzlingly high camp factor of the ridiculous Adam West helmed television series. Also, it has Kim Basinger. So much Kim Basinger.
And if you like that version of Batman, that's fine. It's equally fine, though somewhat better, if your Batman is the Batman of the animated series or, preferably, the Batman of the long running, multitudinous and staggeringly, gloriously voluminous comics. This is where Batman was born: on the printed page. Bruce Wayne has been swatted between some of the greatest comic writers in the business. Whether he's witnessing the death of his young ward, meeting with Commissioner Gordon for the very first time, or sharing a cathartic, terrifying moment of connection and ennui with his nemesis in a rain-spattered fun fair, the panels of Batman comics have birthed some harrowing material.
Which might be why Christopher Nolan, one of the smartest mainstream writer-directors currently working in Hollywood, feels like such a perfect fit. Batman Begins is arguably one of the finest examples of an origin story out there, with fantastic casting, a gut-burning Hans Zimmer score, and a plot that treads the line between hero and alter-ego perfectly. The Dark Knight blew critics away - though, let's face it, the views of critics shouldn't mean a whit if Batman fans don't agree. Once again, the performances, pacing and plot winded most viewers, leaving many to wonder just how long this frankly over-delivering reboot could last. Finally, Nolan announced a third and final installment. And here it is.
The Dark Knight Rises is, in a word, big. Big, loud, angry and deeply cathartic. Like a wounded animal, it thrashes and protests furiously, both inwardly and outwardly. If you've been watching the ocean of trailers or if you've read Knightfall, the source material, you'll be peripherally aware of many of the heavily altered trappings; Bane, angst, the passage of time, grappling with redundancy, explosions, Joseph Gordon Levitt and his unbelievably perfect face. More explosions. Oh, and more Zimmer. Zimmer delivers leitmotifs like a wrecking ball delivers sweet, sweet ruin to gutted apartment blocks, a comparison I'm sure he'd enjoy, or at least tolerate.
In the interest of your receiving maximum impact, I shall avoid spoilers, and instead focus on the good, and then the bad. The good? Well, Bale manages to recieve a weighty slab of time to bring Wayne to prominence once again; The Dark Knight, out of necessity, allowed other players to pull focus from our titular hero. Here, much of the film is dedicated once again to watching the inner and outer struggles of the man behind the mask, as he reassesses and rebuilds both the Bat and himself, and it's here that much of the film’s emotional core resides. Michael Caine delivers a typically excellent turn once again as Alfred, and most notably, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy excel as Selena Kyle and Bane respectively. Hathaway's interpretation of Kyle is, frankly, exhilarating and honest, and refreshingly non-sexualised. Hardy is... well, frightening. Truly frightening and, vitally, inscrutable. And sandwiched between these two polar opposites, once all bluster and once a brutal wall of a man, is Bruce. He's the axle on which this whole terrible, wonderful finale plays out.
The bad? Well, with so much to cover, sometimes the film seems to linger too long on seemingly non-vital moments. This is rare, but occasionally you'll find yourself urging a chase or explosion platter past to get to the real meal: time with the lead characters. And if you're a purist, the many deviances from the source material may irk you, but honestly, you should be used to it by now. Nolan has managed to capture the spirit of the series whilst doing a completely new take on it. It's also worth noting that the Imax screening I attended had horrendous projection issues; the image swayed giddily between full screen and squished letterbox every six or seven minutes. Can I blame Nolan for this? I could, but he'd be well within his rights to punch me in and around the throat for doing so.
Honestly, it's a miracle that such a fine trilogy ended on such a jarringly sound note. The Dark Knight Rises isn't just solid, it's rather excellent. Certainly not perfect, although I concede that repeat screenings will likely reveal unnoticed nuances and crannies in this huge, gorgeous movie. If nothing else - and it really is so much more than just this - it's an example of how a trilogy can, if handled smartly, tie together as a single story, rather than a series of silly moneymaking exercises. The Dark Knight Rises not only realistically tackles the physical and emotional ravages and consequences of a being Batman, but also makes the entire three-film story scintillatingly cyclical. Most trilogies feel like increasingly shoddily made Russian dolls. This? This trilogy feels like Russian dolls, too. But they're amazingly lifelike, very attractive, and totally want to party with you.