Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

2012. Dir: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway. ●●●○○

Last week I admitted to being lazy, this week I'm going to admit to being a coward. I've been holdign back on my The Dark Knight Rises review because my opinion may be unpopular. So here we are, three weeks too late, I didn't much like the closing chapter to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. I felt it to be an ambitious, glorious piece of film-making sadly let down by an overstuffed, incoherent and dull plot. It is both an improvement and a let down compared to Nolan's previous work and I only hope he pares down his narrative fancies for whatever non-chiropteran project he works on next.

Seven years have past since the thrilling climax of The Dark Knight when Bale’s Batman took the fall for Harvey Two-face Dent’s murderous rampage and Gotham has radically changed. The Dent act, which allows draconian charging for organised syndicates has virtually destroyed the Falcone family interests and created a crime free zone, whilst an arrest warrant sits over Batman’s head. Bruce Wayne, with no crime to fight, has sunk into a deep depression, brooding over the death of Rachel Dawes and shut off from all society; an effort to create a cold fusion generator macguffin was thwarted when a Hungarian scientist pointed out how easy it was to turn it into a bomb and the entire R&D budget has been sunk in keeping the device, handily stored under the city, leaving Wayne industries close to insolvency, all in all things are not looking good for Batman.

Yet something under the city is stirring, gangs of youths are disappearing into the sewers, lulled by the promise of jobs still denied to the Gotham underclass. A few switched on cops led by aging Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and angry young pup (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are imagining the worst and wondering when the bat signal will once again need to be turned on. Even sophisticated jewellery thief Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) knows enough to spout warnings of a war coming, an inexorable tide that will bring the rich and powerful of the city tumbling to the streets. Yet even Kyle isn’t completely prepared for the changes, because it’s no campaigning Victorian with concerns about social harmony, nor is it the financial meltdown the real world has experienced, Gotham has a more substantial foe, international terrorist and towering brute Bane (Tom Hardy in a mask) is about to reveal himself as Gotham’s reckoning.

Two paragraphs of exposition on and I’ve yet to mention other key characters brought forward from previous movies (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy) and new batch (Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine, Tom Conti, Ben Mandelsson) all of whom almost have story arcs of their own to get through, even if the arc precludes the possibility of character development. Inevitably many of actors get shafted in the screen play, we've seen plenty of Morgan Freeman's witty and taciturn technogeek, and not just in this trilogy, but Marion Cotillard who really should make an impact in order to justify her ropey romance with Bale and her third act journey, yet Miranda Tate is always a cypher to the audience, seemingly there only to give the fanboys something to shout about at the end.

Instead of the supporting cast Nolan turns the camera back on the Batman, returning to the story of a scared orphan falling down in order to learn how to get up, an angry child emotionally scarred by his parents untimely death and his battle to clean up the streets. It's thematically linked to the first film in that examination of Bruce Wayne's psyche and the surrogate parental relationships formed with butler, Alfred, and Liam Neeson's Ra's al Ghul and the infamous League of Shadows.

Against this most introspective of comic book hero's it takes a really special performance to steal the limelight, and alas Tom Hardy's Bane whilst superficially fulfilling the flipside to Wayne - a man who started with nothing intent on destroying the world order rather than protecting it not to mention the yin and yang of their masks - is given so little to do about from a couple of rousing, only just decipherable speeches and a chance to pummel the Batman. Indeed Bane is able to build an army and mount a revolution yet the audience aren't given a chance to understand what makes his men follow him, not just into battle but also to a sacrificial alter.

When considering the film I find myself constantly returning to Bane, his plan and his motives. Each time I confuse myself more and more, did Bane want to stir up a revolution to overturn corrupt capitalist society, or was the whole thing a ruse to get Batman so riled up he crawls out of a hole? Doesn't Bane and his key accomplices know the bomb will explode? Did Nolan not think it would be interesting to see the results of Bane's tyrannical overthrow, or was a montage of the rich being thrown out of their hotels enough to satisfy? It's not even as if the politics of the film hit the zeitgeist, Bane doesn't represent the 99% as he's pushing not for equality of opportunity and social justice but another kind of inequality. Even the attack on Gotham's own stock exchange isn't to break the bank but to make some high value transactions of his own. It's the filmic equivalent of Robespierre and Idi Amin keeping the masses in place by routinely executing the old order and redistributing wealth with reckless abandon.

Thank God for Anne Hathaway, from the moment she appears on screen her cat-burglar (geddit???) steals every scene, by turns vulnerable, playful and vindictive, she's the proof Nolan could help create significant, rounded female characters (sorely missing from most of his back catalogue).

Technically this film delivers in spades. Wally Pfister knows how to use IMAX cameras like no-one else in the business, there were times I was as giddy as a school-girl watching the camera work. Lindy Hemmings costumes, always a highpoint of the series once again impress, from the stylish duds of Gotham's partying rich to Gary Oldham's cardies and from the utilitarian suggestion of cat to Anne Hathaway's suit to Bane's coat, which I fully expect to see everywhere this winter.

Overall though I have to say it doesn't matter how much I try to big up the successes in The Dark Knight Rises, the bar was simply too high to climb. Flawed and unwieldy this is not the closing episode any of us wanted and I can really only recommend it to fans of the Batman.


Alex in Movieland said...

Well, I think I liked it more than you did: which means I thought it was ok-good, but not great. :) it's like a 7.5/10 for me. maybe an 8, i'll have to see it again in a couple of months.

I disliked the ending and some... uninspired writing choices. But technically, I agree: superb.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

This is a very good write-up, and essentially sum up a number of my issues with it.

Bane is such hazily drawn villain for the big things Nolan seems to want to do. But, I think unlike many trumpeting the film, I've never felt a personal connection to the trilogy, so the big moments don't have as much as an emotional effect on me.

(And, Marion - is this her worst performance from 07 to now? Is it just the script or is it her?)

Runs Like A Gay said...

The thing is I really did like it, I was, whilst watching it, absolutely blown aware by the visuals and pace. Yet when I tried to process the story it all fell apart.

I like to think it wasn't a bad Marion performance, just a badly drawn character that she didn't know what to do with. I'm just going to forget about it when I think of her work.